Air Superiority – The Best Air Compressor for a Garage

An air compressor, by itself, is not really a tool you can get a bunch of things done with. Instead, it’s a necessary power source for other air tools. Tools such as an air impact wrench, air ratchet, brad nailer, blow gun, grinder, and even a small sandblaster can all be run using compressed air. This makes an air compressor one of the most versatile pieces of equipment you can have in your home, shop, or garage. In addition, air tools have the advantage over their respective power tools when it comes to size and weight since each air tool runs off a power source that does not need to be part of the tool itself.

Note: Looking for a portable air compressor that plugs into your car’s cigarette lighter? See our 12 volt air compressor reviews >

One other advantage over power tools is that you never have to worry about constantly charging batteries since a compressor can run nonstop for hours on end. Even if you were to only inflate tires with it, the best tire inflator in the world is worthless without an air compressor. That said, most people find that they end up using them for a variety of things making compressors one of the most important things to have in a garage or shop. Below are our top picks.

Remember:  Don’t forget the air compressor hose!

TOP PICK:

California Air Tools CAT-10020C (updated model)

Even though brands such as Makita, Craftsman, and DeWalt get all the attention, California Air Tools makes some of the best home garage air compressors in the business. The CAT-10020C is a 2 horsepower, 10 gallon unit that puts out 5.3 CFM of airflow at 90 PSI, enough to power pretty much any air tool you throw at it with the maybe exception of a heavy duty impact wrench or sander. The 10 gallon tank is large enough that the compressor can run for longer periods of time while small enough that it’s still easy to wheel around and quickly fill up with air. 2 quick release connectors allow two tools to be used at the same time. Perfect when multiple people are involved in a project. Large wheels make moving it around and storing the CAT-10020C a breeze.

One of the best things about this California Air Tools compressor is how quiet it is compared to others. Measuring at only 70 decibels, it’s one of the quietest around , especially for an oil-free model (requires almost no maintenance). You’ll be able to carry on a conversation without shouting or listen to music while working. Sure, you can buy a similarly sized unit from a cheaper, more common company, but what good will that do you when it breaks down in a couple years. If you want a solidly-built, good performing, quiet compressor that requires almost no maintenance, be sure to check out the California Air Tools CAT-10020C. This unit is quite possibly the best 10 gallon compressor we’ve used and it means business!

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RUNNERS UP:

Industrial Air ILA1883054

This 30-gallon Industrial Air compressor is one of the best values for a powerful, long-lasting unit. It’s for those that require a larger tank size than the California Tools model due to air tools requiring continuous use such as die grinders and sanders. The 5.7 CFM at 90 PSI makes it all possible. These units also run cooler since they don’t have to work as hard. Sure, the huge tank will take a good 5-6 minutes to fill up but you can literally let it sit for a couple weeks with absolutely no air leakage. The ILA1883054 is wired for a standard 120-volt outlet but can also be converted to 240-volt. You will be hard pressed to find another large air compressor with the specs of this one that you can simply plug in to any outlet.

If you’re worried about the noise factor, you’ll find that this Industrial Air model is extremely quiet and your neighbors will have a hard time noticing you’re running the unit even at 10pm. Build quality is excellent and there’s no reason this oil-lubricated unit won’t last a good 20 years with minimal maintenance. Don’t be tempted with similarly sized Craftsman or Campbell Hausfeld units… the Industrial Air ILA1883054 is a far better option due to the low noise and better build quality. It’s arguably the top rated 30 gallon air compressor for your money.

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Rolair JC10

Not everyone needs a large compressor to have around the house. If you only plan on using a compressor for inflating tires, installing trim, or putting up a fence, a smaller and more portable unit makes more sense for all-purpose home use. Weighing under 40 pounds, the JC10 is easy to move from room to room and is considered by many to be the quietest portable air compressor out there measuring at only 60 decibels (compared with the normal 80-90 for oil-free models. It offers excellent quality and features for the price. Unlike the larger models, you can easily stow it under your work bench or carry it to your tool shop that’s behind the house.

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11 Responses to “Air Superiority – The Best Air Compressor for a Garage”
  1. Blazers77

    Why no love for Makita? I’ve never even heard of the top two picks.

    • Chris

      Nothing particularly wrong with Makita compressors for a portable unit… they seem to be pretty popular and I personally still use my 5 year old Makita cordless drill. But California Air Tools models are at a different level. Bigger tank size, more CFM, and much quieter for only a bit more money. They also have a great reputation for quality.

      Same goes for Industrial Air when you need something a bit bigger.

  2. CJ

    Great info. I just bought a smaller model California Air Tools compressor (the 1610A) since it will only be for light duty work. Awesome compressor. So quiet and plenty of air for my needs. I’ve been using it with an old air hose I had from an old Central Pneumatic compressor. Is it worth getting a new hose?

  3. Steve

    Can I get the Rolair at the local big box harware or Sears? I would like to save the shipping cost.

  4. Tony

    What about for a poor man’s garage compressor that can handle framing as well?

    • Chris

      Honestly, I’ve used a cheap Porter Cable pancake compressor for framing projects for years before upgrading. It worked just fine. Here are a couple options: Porter Cable or DeWalt

  5. Jimmy T

    I am trying to build a budget garage in my house for restoring my 1955 GMC. I would like a compressor that can handle some 1/2″ drive impact work as well as some sand blasting and painting down the road. Everything I find for myself seems to suggestI need industrial grade, but I’m not running a mechanic shop all day every day, just want enough power to tear down an engine or suspension when I am doing the work. Any suggestions?

    • Chris

      For an impact wrench, any compressor with around 5 CFM & 90psi will do, even portable. The issue with sand blasting and painting is that you need continuous air meaning that you’ll need at least a 20-30 gallon tank. Even then, you’ll still need to let it catch up once in a while. The 30-gallon Industrial Air unit above would be a good choice without moving up into a much higher price range. Much better performance in my opinion than something like a similar sized Craftsman compressor.

  6. Gary Doski

    What about for continuous use like sand blasting?

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