The simple air compressor is one of those tools that, once you have one, you can find 1,001 ways to make use of it. For as much as I use mine for clearing dust off my bench, spraying paint, or driving nails, I also use it equally as much to pump up a bicycle tire, car tire or inflate basketballs. Choosing the best air compressor for home garage settings will make your life both in the woodshop and around the house so much easier.
When I was first outfitting my shop the first major tool I purchased was a tablesaw. And the second was an air compressor. When we moved into our old home it had a classic 1980s kitchen of golden oak cabinets. Not exactly a modern look nowadays!
We removed all the old doors, painted the cabinet frames white, and made new shaker style doors. As we wanted to spray the doors to achieve the cleanest finish possible, my next purchase was a 10-gallon Harbor Freight air compressor and a spray gun.
Looking back I wish I had gone with a different spray setup as the tank on the Harbor Freight air compressor wasn’t quite bit enough for my intended use. It worked well enough though to get the job done.
5 years later and the air compressor is still going strong although it is a big bigger than I have space for in the new shop and it is deafeningly loud which is a big downside when I’m in the shop at night. Waking the baby is a big no-no!
What I Would Look for in the Best Air Compressor for Garage Workshops
Knowing what I know now about my space and air compressors here is what I would look for in a new air compressor for my woodshop.
Note that this guide is for garages or small home workshops so we won’t be focusing much on some of the features found primarily in industrial level air compressors .
Choosing a Quiet Air Compressor
A lot of air compressors are loud. Like really, really loud. For that reason I often find myself avoiding using the compressor at night (same with my planer) as I don’t want to wake any kids up.
Luckily, newer air compressors coming out on the market now offer a far quieter motor, perfect for garage workshops.
The Makita Quiet Series air compressor clocks in at a relatively quiet 60 decibels. And many of the popular small pancake-style air compressors come in on either side of 80 decibels. Certainly not a whisper but not quite as loud as some of the compressors at the higher end of the range.
If you’re working with a small shop space then size is most likely a factor when it comes to choosing an air compressor for the garage. The Harbor Freight model I use has a tank that lies horizontal to the ground and takes up an inordinate amount of floor space. While it is easy to wheel around and thus pretty convenient when doing home projects, it is mostly just in the way the other 99% of the time.
Pancake, “hot dog,” or vertical standing air compressors tend to have a far smaller footprint, typically between 17 and 20 inches square, and are great for tucking under a bench or next to a stationary power tool.
Most air compressors for a home garage will offer between 125 – 150 PSI. This is typically more than enough for most tools you’ll find in a garage workshop. Most tools require up to 90 PSI to operate properly.
The biggest driver for whether the air pressure on a compressor will meet the needs of your tools is the CFM.
That brings us to…
CFM, or Cubic Feet per Minute, is how much air the compressor produces at 90 PSI.
A few things to consider with CFM:
- An air compressor with a larger tank, say 10 gallons, with a 2 CFM rating means you’ll be able to run tools off the compressor for longer before the motor kicks back on. A unit with a 2-gallon tank but the same CFM rating will have to cycle on and off far faster.
- CFM isn’t always a constant number as the tank drains and the unit cycles on and off. So if you’re looking for an air compressor to run a tool that states it needs 4 CFM to run properly, then choosing an air compressor that maxes out at 4 CFM may lead you into trouble as that rate may dip lower at times. Multiplying your highest CFM tool by 1.5 is often a good rule of thumb to figure out what CFM you need from your air compressor.
Small tools like a brad nailer require very little CFM that any size air compressor can provide. On the other hand, air tools like impact wrenches or paint sprayers may require 4 – 8 CFM.
There is a pretty close correlation between the motor size and tank size with most garage-level air compressors. At the end of the day, though, the tank size doesn’t really matter all that much.
If you’re using tools that require short bursts of air like a brad nailer, then a smaller tank is just fine as it won’t be cycling on and off very frequently anyways. If you are using air tools in more continuous operation, then a larger tank can be handier as, although it will theoretically still run the same amount as a compressor with the same motor size and a smaller tank, it will be cycling on and off less frequently.
With all that said, I do like the 6 – 10 gallon size range as I can use it for operations like clearing dust or driving brad nails for quite a while before the motor has to kick back on.
The Best Air Compressor for Home Garage Workshops
Here are a few of the best air compressors for home garage workshops that should fit users’ needs, both big and small.
Best Overall Air Compressor – California Air Tools Ultra Quiet Oil-Free and Powerful Air Compressor, 10 Gal, 2 HP
The California Tools standing, ultra quiet 10-gallon air compressor ticks all the boxes of quiet operation, smaller standing footprint and higher CFM to power any number of tools you may throw at it. This air compressor features a 2 HP motor and offers 5.3 CFM at 90 PSI.
The unit is small enough, with a 16 x 16 inch footprint, to easily tuck away in the corner or wheel around the shop.
California air tools are known for their quality build and this unit is no exception. This air compressor is rated at 3000 hours of cycle time which dwarfs many other home garage air compressors in this price range.
The motor runs at a lower speed of 1680 which means it only produces 70db during cycling. This is perfect for the home garage where noise is of a greater concern.
If you’re looking for an air compressor for your home shop that can handle everything from nail guns to paint sprayers to air-powered tools this unit is hard to beat.
Best Pancake Air Compressor – Craftsman 6 Gallon Pancake Air Compressor
Pancake air compressors are almost ubiquitous in home wood shops as their small size and affordable price make for the perfect combination for most woodworkers’ needs. And if you want to point to the pancake air compressor most often found in these shops, it is the Craftsman 6 gallon air compressor.
This unit has over 8,000 reviews on Amazon and for good reason. It’s combination of price, performance, and reliability make it a great unit for small shops or occasional air tool users. We love these features for woodworking as it is great for clearing dust or driving brad nails during glueups.
I also love using the air compressor on the lathe when turning hollow vessels, as it is a great way to clear wood shavings from the inside of the piece. And this is the perfect unit for that type of application.
This air compressor features a 6 gallon tank, 2.6 CFM at 90 PSI and 150 max PSI capability.
The noise from this air compressor is right in the middle of most units at 71 decibels.
Best Quiet Air Compressor – Makita Quiet Series, 1 HP, 2 Gallon, Oil-Free, Air Compressor
Makita’s new Quiet Series air compressors are offered in three different tank and motor sizes to fit most of your garage shop needs. These units feature an impressively quiet 60 decibel motor. As a comparison, a normal conversion is usually at around 60 decibels as well so it would be quite easy to be able to talk alongside this air compressor without missing a thing.
The motor features a low speed, oil free design which should lead to a longer life with no maintenance. On the mid-range model the motor is 1hp and offers 2 CFM at 90 PSI.
I love how the entire unit is built into a roll cage which makes this a great job site air compressor or easy to push under a work bench.
Best Cordless Air Compressor – Milwaukee 2 Gallon Oil-Free Cordless Air Compressor
With the expansion of tool company’s cordless tool lineups, it was inevitable that cordless air compressors would join in on the fun. The Milwaukee 2 gallon cordless air compressor is one of the best options in this space.
This cordless air compressor is one of the quietest on the market at only 68 decibels. The batteries powering the compressor are capable of filling it approximately 5 times which, using a finish nailer as an example, would give drive around 1,200 nails before you run out of power.
This air compressor would also be a great option to take out camping or rafting where you need to fill inflatables like a bed but don’t have access to an outlet.
If you already have cordless tools in a different ecosystem like Dewalt or Ryobi, they also offer cordless air compressor options.
Best Large Home Garage Air Compressor – California Air Tools Ultra Quiet 60 Gal Compressor
California Tools’ 60-gallon air compressor is the best large air compressor for folks who have heavy airflow needs in their home garage. If you are a frequent user of air tools like grinders or sanders then this large capacity, dual-motor air compressor will have you covered.
This air compressor features twin 2 HP motors that offer 10.6 CFM at 90 PSI. That is enough air flow to power almost any air tool you can throw at it. Impressively, the unit only produces 75 decibels while running. This is far lower than the ear spilling 90 produced by my little Harbor Freight air compressor!
Despite its large size, this air compressor still only has a footprint of 21 x 29 inches. This makes it easy to tuck away in the corner when not in use.
Note that this air compressor requires a 220v outlet.
Final Thoughts on the Best Air Compressor for Home Garage Workshops
As you can see from this list, adding an air compressor to your home garage doesn’t have to break the bank (or your ear drums!) If you’re looking to add a compressor for small tasks around the workbench or to power your air tools for a car restoration then you’ll find an option that meets your needs.