How to Choose The Best Portable Air Compressor

Air compressors are mechanical devices that pump air using pressure. A portable air compressor is the best tool for any household or construction site that needs air because it goes wherever you need it.

This kind of convenience means you can focus on the task at hand, not stress about looking for a stationed compressor.

Why People Use Portable Air Compressors

Portable air compressors are some of builders’ and construction engineers’ best devices because they supply compressed air and power heavy tools that use kinetic energy. This makes driving nails and inserting screws easy.

Air compressors also come in handy at home for do-it-yourself activities such as inflating car and bicycle tires. For example, a portable air compressor can power up everything from an air-powered nail gun to air-powered wrenches.

And because the air compressor is portable, you can easily move it around, or travel with it to your job site (to serve as a backup for the stationary one) whenever you want.

Portable Air Compressors’ Top Features

Yellow portable air compressor
Thermal overload protection is a must-have feature. (DepositPhotos)

When looking for the best portable air compressor, there are several features to consider. These usually include size, power and portability.

However, some features are almost non-negotiable. These include:

  • Pressure Switch: powers the motor down once enough pressure has been supplied and pressure inside the tank has reached a specific value.
  • Thermal Overload Protection: cuts power to the motor when the compressor starts to overheat while in use.
  • Roll Cage: protects the compressor’s vital and delicate parts and prevents them from damage.
  • Drain Valve: Removes accumulated moisture that collects inside the tank over time.
  • Portability

How Portable Air Compressors Work

The rate at which a compressor supplies a volume of air is noted in its cubic feet per minute. If you want to know how much CFM your compressor needs, you first must know how much CFM the tool you want to power requires to work.

If a compressor produces 6 CFM at 90 pounds per square inch, its ability will be restricted to tools with air requirements up to 6 CFM. In other words, the higher CFM required by your air-powered tools, the more power your compressor must have.

Positive displacement air compressors take in air and reduce the air space to increase pressure, while dynamic compressors use mechanical rotating impellers to convert pressure into air.

Positive displacement compressors are more common, and most of the models that homeowners, mechanics, woodworkers and contractors use belong to this category of air compressors.

Choosing the Best Device

Ryobi’s 18-Volt ONE+ Cordless Portable Air Compressor is perfect for inflating a tire or turning a pneumatic finish nailer into a cordless finish nailer.

Here are the different types of portable air compressors, so you can choose the best one that meets your needs.

  • Handheld Air Compressors: These are perfect for quick jobs around the house, such as inflating tires and basketballs. They have a standard 35 to 150 PSI.
  • Pancake Air Compressors: These are pancake-like in structure but generally weigh less than 35 pounds and perform the same functions as other categories of air compressors.
  • Hot Dog Air Compressors: These have a body that resembles a hot dog; they are typically bigger than pancake models.
  • Air Inflators: There’s a saying: All handheld air compressors are air inflators, but not all air inflators are handheld. While air inflators aren’t necessarily handheld, they’re compact enough to easily move around.  
  • Twin Stack Air Compressors: These come with two hot-dog-shaped tanks to lower operating costs and maximize efficiency.
  • Wheeled Portable Air Compressors: These have wheels for easy mobility. They come in small, medium and large sizes.
  • Portable Vertical Air Compressors: Though smaller than stationary air compressors, these pack performance in a wheeled device.
  • Wheelbarrow Air Compressors: These are heavy to lift but they come on wheels to aid movement while in use.
  • Truck Mount Air Compressors: You can easily mount these in your trunk or the back of your truck and take them wherever you need them.
  • DC Air Compressors: These work with the direct current supplied by built-in batteries’ power. You can take them virtually anywhere with no power supply.

Though portable air compressors come in different sizes and shapes, selecting the one that best suits your needs is the most important thing.

Visit the home center, tell employees there about your present and anticipated project needs, and they can help match you with the best air compressor for your household.



  1. I am now in my 70’s, and have done carpentry work most of my life, especially “Framing!”
    But I’m still ready to learn something new! I have never gotten to the place where I think I know it all!
    I appreciate good advice when I need it! Thanks for all you share! Charles.

    • Glad to hear you enjoyed this content! Please share it with friends — that’s how we’re able to create similar content.


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