Compact air compressors

Photos by Rob Brown; Illustration by Len Churchill

Compact air compressors can power a range of tools, including pinners, nailers, staplers, drills, ratchets, and sprayers. Their small, compact size means they don’t take up a lot of shop space, they can be stored under a bench or even suspended from the ceil­ing, and they can be easily transported to a job site, or used around the home.

One of the most important factors to keep in mind when choosing a com­pressor is that it must have the capacity to deliver sufficient air for the tools you’ll use it with. It’s a good idea to choose your air tools before you choose the compressor. The key specification you want to look at is the CFM that the tool requires at a pressure of 90 PSI – the pressure requirement for most air tools.

Price: $100–$500
Weight: 20–75 pounds
Capacity: 1–4 gallons
Power: 1/2–2 HP
Output: .75 CFM at 90 PSI to 4 CFM at 90 PSI
Warranty: 30 days to 1 year

Get the Most Out of Your Air Compressor

Read the Owner’s Manual

Know your compressor before you use it. Most require a break-in period, and all need periodic maintenance.

Drain the Tank

Prevent the inside of your tank from rusting by opening the drain valve at the end of each work day. Release the air pressure in the tank first.

Clean the Air Filter

Prevent excessive wear on the motor and compres­sor pump by cleaning or replacing the air filter regularly. The more dust in your shop, the more frequently you should clean the filter.

Don’t Exceed the Duty Cycle

Most small compressors aren’t meant to be run all the time. Persistently exceeding the compres­sors rated duty cycle will reduce the life of your compressor pump.

Adjust the Regulator

Not all air tools require the same amount of air pressure. Adjust the regulator to match the pressure requirement of the tool you’re using – it will extend the life of your air tools.


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