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Our compressor test has finally come to a close, and here are the results. We looked at all manner of compressor tools and tests and found what we consider to be some truths and untruths about what’s handy and what is scrap. To be honest, we didn’t find any flaming bags of poo in our test, just some compressors built for different kinds of jobs and a few we didn’t really get along with for one reason or another.

Performance

As you might expect, performance testing was largely a matter of looking at the numbers. The more CFM the tool required, the more challenging it was to keep up using low CFM compressors. So an 18-gauge brad nailer might go 50 brads before it needs to cut in on a 4.2 CFM compressor, where something like the CH got somewhere around 12 brads. Did both do the job? In a word, yes.

However, there was a large difference in how fast the tank refilled and how quiet it was while doing so. Compressors like the Bosch and Makita would only kick in for a few seconds — the DeWalt and Hitachi for around 20 seconds and something like the CH would go chugging on for a full minute or so.

There was also the matter of what you were going to be doing with the compressor. For instance, intermittent or continuous tools will make a large difference in what compressor you use and how well it works. Intermittent tools like 18 gauge nailers running at 90 psi (or even framing guns) might be fine for lower CFM rigs or compressors that have a cut out of 130 or 165. This is because you aren’t using it all at once and the motor can catch up to your use by replacing pressure when you’re lining up the next shots.

But when we hooked up an air-powered drill (continuous) with a CFM rating of around 6.5, the results were, well, not good. A few seconds of pulling the trigger and every one of the tested machines was pedaling at top speed to keep up. Eventually they all spun down into gasping out whatever the pump would push. The lesson: Don’t use continuous tools higher than the CFM rating of the compressor, or they won’t perform like they should.

So to better understand where machines that seem similar on the outside really start to differ, we put up a few baseline numbers.

  • Price: You get what you pay for. Try as we might to exclude it, cost is still a heavy factor in our tool purchase decisions.
  • Noise: We threw a decibel meter onto this task. We tested each unit in our show at a distance of 5 feet in the same spot for each and reported the reading. Your shop will most likely produce a different reading since all shops are constructed differently and are of different size.
  • Weight: How much dead weight you’ll have to schlep around if you carry it.
  • Fill Time: From 0 psi to the machine’s cutoff, timed by a stopwatch. Basically, for how long is this thing going to wake the dead before it’s ready to go in the morning.
  • Oil/Oil Free: Oil is often a hassle. It’s also required for most of the compressors on the shelves today. If you’re one of those folks who just don’t want to deal with oil, we have a few oil-free compressors on the list as well.
  • Tank Material: Most of the field is good old-fashioned steel. Okay, everything but the Ridgid. However, when you look at what some other brands did with steel, you begin to see how much difference proper application of construction and design can do in the ole’ weight department.

With that in mind, let’s get on with it.

Despite being a little awkward, weighing in at 72 lbs., and the vertical tank arrangement which proved not as comfortable to lug around as other setups, the Bosch had just about everything else going for it. The control strip located between the tanks was both convenient and easy to use. The drain lever was located at the front (which is the only one in the test with that feature) and generally didn’t have an issue. It filled 18 seconds faster than the next best compressor in the field, and its adjustment knob was extremely easy to dial in and operate.

One of 3 oil-free compressors in the test, the 6.0 gallon Bostitch had the largest tank of the bunch. Though it’s got a good setup and a solid set of standard controls, the Bostitch proved that volume isn’t quite everything. The 2.7 CFM airflow was good but didn’t have the overall power of operation the others had. Sporting the second-highest noise rating @ 95 dB made for a loud reset when the pressure had to be brought back up to the cutout level. It did prove to be relatively easy to carry about, though, with its pancake form factor that everyone remarked was better for transport.

If you only look at the performance numbers, the CH is outclassed in almost every way. It’s not really fair to pit the little CH against a field of pros, but we did it anyway — and here’s why. It’s a cheap way to get compressor power without spending $200-300. The CH will get the job done: It’s not pretty and there are better tools for anything heavier than sports equipment duty, but you can flip the switch and make it happen with this. Say what you wish, but that’s worthy of note.

We received a lot of email and comments about the DeWalt when it wasn’t included in the original test, so much in fact that we halted the test and got one to compete at our own expense. What’s interesting is the DeWalt runs in the middle of the pack all the way across the board. Our biggest complaint with the DeWalt was that the screw valve drains and the single hose coupler put it behind the other more modern contenders as far as features go.

Our tester got so fed up with the screw valve that he ripped it off and installed an extension piece and a lever valve so he wouldn’t have to “…fiddle with that damned screw valve tucked under the bottom of the world.” Overall it was solid and performed well, but there are much better models out there — quieter, too.

The Hitachi was almost identical to the DeWalt in most ways. The same setup, same feel, same performance specs, and it costs about as much. It did have one flaw we weren’t fond of — the oil. The EC 89 takes SAE 5w-50 synthetic motor oil, which sells for $8 at the local auto parts store I had to visit before we cranked it for the first time. I understand why they did it of course — better coating and longer wear — but in my humblest of opinions they ought to tell you that in big letters on the box before you cart the thing home or to the job site.

About the only other functional differences between the DeWalt and Hitachi was the Hitachi has a lever drain valve on each of the twin tanks at the bottom, and the gauges are in one spot near the hose fitting instead of one on the tank and the other on the regulator. It felt very much like the difference between Ford and Chevy trucks in the 90’s. Pick which ever one you like for its style: The power and features are about the same.

The Makita was the surprise of the test. Not only did it rock the house on performance, beating all before it except the Bosch with the speed of fill from a dead start, it was only 3 dB louder than the much-smaller CH. The air filter on the Makita also reminded us of a 68 Mustang (which helped) and the lock on the pressure regulator (just push and turn slightly to lock) was about as sure-fire as controls get on a portable compressor. The form factor was also familiar and gauges were easy to read. Try as we might, we just couldn’t come up with much to nit-pick with the MAC2400.

The Porter Cable was almost shocking when compared to others in its class. It’s oil-free, which is a big plus to begin with. It was also maintenance-free as far as we could tell, because nothing came off the motor and there were no filters to be seen. The 4-gallon pancake and small footprint are unmatched even when compared to the smaller CH. The controls are easy to operate and located centrally on a pod, but the same pod also has two hose fittings.

The 2.6 CFM easily powers two 18 ga. nail guns but its tendency to dance (mostly due to lack of heft at just 33 lbs.) when the compressor was active was, in truth, a little annoying. However, that was the only real strike against the Porter Cable. In everything else when brad nailers or finish guns were hooked to it the c2004 was poetry in motion due mostly to the 165 psi cut-out. The mid-range CFM, cut in/out, form factor/weight, and double hose fitting seems purpose-built for light gun work.

Our beloved Ridgid proved to be loud (116 dB, the loudest of the test) and expensive ($350) compared to all the other competitors, which sold for at least $30 (and sometimes hundreds) less. Plus, once we had heard the soft hum of the Makita, saw the jaw-dropping speed of the Bosch, and witnessed the sheer sweetness of the Porter Cable, the Ridgid just seemed old and slow. To be fair, it IS old and slow; however, one could almost buy two Porter Cables for the price of one Ridgid. We like the Ridgid but not as much as some of the others sitting next to it in our test. The Ridgid’s crown has been stolen and its place of glory toppled.

Awards and Accolades

Though absolutely all the compressors in the test performed well and did their jobs, four machines stood out to us when all marks were tallied.

Best Value: Campbell Hausfeld FP2602
We keep saying it and will continue to say it: There’s something to be said for sheer cheap function. The CH just makes the most sense if you’re going to tackle a trim project once every two years and air up the household basketball or the little one’s bicycle tires. At $60 the FP2602 is just about unbeatable.

Best Portable: Porter Cable c2004
The c2004 was the delight of the trim carpenters. If you are looking to power trim guns (even two trim guns at once) and aren’t packing this little pancake compressor, you might want to consider trading up next time you go to replace a rig. It doesn’t have wheels because it doesn’t need them. It’s small, packs enough CFM to power any trim gun(s) all day without issue, and because of the 165 psi, cut out doesn’t kick in very much. Great little unit.

Most Power: Bosch CET4-20
The sheer huff-and-puff power of this motor gets the tanks filled quicker than any other unit in our test. It’s perhaps not the most elegant, like the Makita,, and doesn’t have the charm of the Porter Cable but for raw lung power and speed, the Bosch is just better than the rest of the field, hands down.

Best Overall: Makita MAC2400

I don’t think any of our testers (including me) were ready for the Makita. It’s heavy and light blue, but once you get past that it’s just the sweetest compressor taken as a whole. If the air filter and the lack of bleeding ears when it hums to life doesn’t get you, the 4.2 CFM (same CFM as the Bosch if not quite as quick on the startup fill time for some reason) makes you forget any features you weren’t fond of. Plus the baja grill, lever bleed valve, pressure lock and fat handle are welcome features in an already-impressive stable of race winners. For those folks looking for the best without compromise — this is it.

Cet4-20 Compressor [Bosch]
FP2602 Compressor [Campbell Hausfeld]
EC 89 Compressor [Hitachi]
MAC2400 Compressor[Makita]
d55151 4 Gallon Twin
[DeWalt]
d55151 Street Pricing [Google Products]
CAP2060P 6g Pancake Compressor [Bostitch]
CAP2060P Street Pricing [Google Products]
c2004 Pancake Compressor [Porter Cable]
c2004 Street Pricing [Google Products]

 

24 Responses to TM Portable Shop Compressor Test: Part II

  1. Mark Mel says:

    Not sure if you tried the Porter Cable c2004 with a framing nailer. I have this compressor and I use it when I don’t feel like lugging out my larger compressor.

    It runs my Bostitch N80CB-1 Coil Framing Nailer just fine as well as the finish nailers that you mentioned in the article.

    I probably wouldn’t use it when framing a house but when building a wall or light remodeling it sure beats moving the larger compressor.

  2. Fong says:

    Nice compressor comparison test guys. You covered all the important stuff without going into too much detail; easily digestible by the social media generation. The noise of the Ridgid is very surprising especially considering the price tag.

    One recommendation is to add a feature matrix so we can look at the all the specs at once without scrolling up and down.

    My old Grizzly is on its last few gasps of life so this is very timely information. Much appreciated.

  3. Sean O'Hara says:

    @Mel yes, we used trim and framing guns as well as an air blower and a pneumatic drill on all the compressors in the test.

    I would also agree with your thoughts on the c2004. It will run a framing gun with no problem but something with a slightly higher CFM might be better if you were say running two of them and framing a house.

  4. Matt says:

    I have a Bostitch compressor fairly similar to the one tested. It is loud, but I’ve found it adequate for my needs (working on bikes, powering tools for short period of time). You can get a reconditioned one on Amazon for just $126 with a brad nailer! (mine was reconditioned and it’s serving me well).

  5. Bill says:

    I have a Ridgid twin stack and think i can agree that it is loud, wish I would have heard it before buying it. It might be the most powerful of the bunch, based on CFM rating at 90psi and 40psi, one of the reasons i bought it. It is stated as putting out 4.9 CFM @ 90psi, which is higher them most portable compressors. It’s not that bad to use as long as it is not in the same room or you are wearing some hearing protection.

  6. jeff_williams says:

    I’m with Matt. Recondition Bostitch combo kit (3 finish nailers) but mine was $180 (now $226). The nailers were new but the compressor reconditioned. Thanks for the comparison. I’ve always wondered how my choice stacked up. If the Bostitch gives up the ghost the Makita looks like a great choice.

  7. Jeffz says:

    When it comes to running continuous tools (e.g. drills, sanders) the situation is worse than you think: If you draw enough air to keep the motor running most of the time, then the air doesn’t have time to cool off in the tank. Moisture won’t condense out until it reaches the tool, where the air expands and cools; the tool will keep spitting water. A water separator won’t help — it only removes water that has already condensed into liquid. Bottom line: you need a big enough compressor and a big enough tank to run the tool mostly on air that has sat for a while. I’ve personally experienced problems running a DA sander, rated 4.5 scfm @ 90 psi, from a 220V 20-gallon compressor that nominally puts out 5 scfm. For a 20-gallon tank, I’m guessing you’d need a 12-15 scfm air pump (and a water separator) to get 4.5 cfm of reasonably dry air continuously at 90 psi.

  8. rick says:

    awesome writeup! You guys really knocked that one out of the park!

    Very neat to see how the tools compare side by side!

  9. JD says:

    I’ve got a Makita MAC700 which is a one tank and 2hp version of the one you guys reviewed, and I must say it’s one of the sweetest little compressors out there. It is exceptionally quiet, and with it and my finish gun I’ve pretty much redone all of the trim work in my old brick ranch. It runs so smoothly and quietly that I’ve been able to do a lot of the remodeling after my wife’s hit the hay and not woken her up. Noise level is way below the typical oil less type. It also handles with ease any of the typical home owner air compressor needs (bike tires, car tires, etc) like a champ. That gets passing grade my book. Amazon occasionally runs them on more of a discount. I picked up mine for about $125.

  10. fred says:

    Thanks guys for the thoughtful piece. Might give Makita a try for our next jobsite compressor buy

  11. ddt says:

    Good review, but how is the new GMC compressors?

  12. C Mack says:

    Absolutely incredible comparison piece guys! I am a novice when it comes to air power and what I liked about the article the most was I didn’t get a “THIS IS THE COMPRESSOR YOU SHOULD BUY!” script, I got the info/food for thought to go with what will be my first compressor.

    What an undertaking all the testing must have been, thank you for the service. I might be mistaken but in all my time surfing previous posts this seems to be the largest side by side by side by side,…. etc, comparison test done here on TM. Yes?

  13. ttamnoswad says:

    More reviews like this one. Good job. Very helpful for us that like to make informed decisions.

    Please apply this template to as many topics as possible.

  14. JC says:

    @JD – where’d you get a MAC700 for $125? And how long ago was it?

  15. PutnamEco says:

    Great post, I really enjoyed reading about the different compressors. Looks like some of the newer models have improved, like Porter-Cables pancake, the last version of that compressor was among the loudest compressors that I have ever heard.
    I would have really liked to know what the duty cycle of the compressors was though. It really does make a difference in my purchasing decisions. sometimes I get a little over optimistic as to my compressors abilities, such as when I get “extra” help on a roofing or siding job and really start to tax my compressor. It is nice knowing that my twin stack compressor (a Thomas T-2820ST) was designed to be able to handle the extra loads of near continuous use, rather than stand the chance of burning out something that wasn’t designed for that kind of abuse.
    I would have chosen the Bosch over the Makita for its continuous duty cycle versus the Makitas 50% duty cycle, for what I do with my twin stack. Although, YMMV if you have a higher priority in your purchasing decision than the ability to supply air near your compressors capacity for a long while, As it did with my decision to choose the Mac 700 as my trim compressor, due to its low noise output, knowing that for that use it would not see near constant run time even if I have a couple people working off of it.

  16. JD says:

    @JC->From Amazon. I got it about two years ago. Like I said the price will fluctuate at Amazon. Just watch it for about a month or so and it’ll drop (maybe not to $125) but you’ll probably get a better deal.

  17. IronHerder says:

    Nicely done review, TM staff. And thanks to Jeffz for the hot air, I mean, the mini-lesson on hot air in a compressed air system. I had a dim appreciation of hot air problems, based on information in a Harbor Freight manual, of all places. I cobbled a few lengths of straight copper tubing into loops to make sure that the air from my compressor was cool before it went into my water separator, just because that seemed to be a good idea. Now I know why it was a good idea.

    What I really need to do is read the reference book that TM commenter Cameron Watt recommends, but until then, I will continue to learn from TM commenters. Thanks to all of you.

  18. Matt says:

    @jeff_williams –

    That’s actually the deal I got as well – I just mentioned the one linked b/c the price has gone up on the 3-tool kit to where it isn’t as good a deal as it used to be.

  19. Dr Bob says:

    Excellent comparison test. For my next compressor, I now know what to look for.

    I bought an el-cheapo air compressor somewhat like the CH, except I think my tanks are larger, the thing is heavier and it’s oiled.

    Main use is to pump up tires and blow stuff, someday I’ll get a 3/8 inch socket air wrench. It does have adequate pressure and volume to run a small nailer.

    The only problem I have with it is that it sits in the garage and the compressor motor can’t overcome the thick viscosity of the oil, so it can’t be used under 25F. The manufacturer claims I must use non-detergent compressor oil, which I can’t find a lower viscosity oil. Since the darned thing cost so little, I thought about using some synthetic 0-30 Mobil 1 in it regardless.

    Does anyone know where I can get cold-weather compressor oil or what would happen if I used a detergent oil such as Mobil 1 vs. a non-detergent oil?

    Second, are these low CFM compressors capable of spray painting? I didn’t buy it for that purpose, but it would be nice if it could.

    Thanks in advance.

  20. PutnamEco says:

    Re:
    Dr Bob Says:
    Does anyone know where I can get cold-weather compressor oil…

    How many lifetimes supply do you want?
    Go to ecompressedair.com

    I’ve heard you can use 3-in-One MOTOR oil ( comes in a blue can, NOT the common red can), Not going to vouch for that..
    I’ve also heard of people using turbine oil…
    ————————
    what would happen if I used a detergent oil such as Mobil 1 vs. a non-detergent oil

    Your compressor would fling dirty oil around inside itself shortening its life.

    You could keep your compressor inside until you need it or alternatively you could purchase a quality oil less compressor. I bought a Thomas T-2820ST partly for its cold weather performance and I have never had a problem with cold weather start ups.

  21. fred says:

    While oil lubricated compressors tyoically have the advatantage of being quieter and longer lasting – we keep a few oiless compressors for site work where extremely low temperatures or uneven terrain (oil sumps like to be close to level) make them a better choice.

    Regarding using a small compressor for spray painting – you may run out of air in trying to spray a large surface. You probably need to take a look at the spray gun’s air requirements to see if your comperssor can keep up. For small jobs – an airbrush or small gun like some Sata’s might do – but for larger jobs think about something else. We switched over years ago from pressure pots to an air mix (Kremlin) system in our spray booth – and would never go back – the transfer efficiencey being so much better. (We do use Badger and Grex airbrushes for some fine detailing) I know others who like HVLP systems – but I’m have no issues with the Kremlin system so – see no need to change. This may all depend on what you spay , need to vary fan shape etc. Our house painiting sub brings Titan and Graco airless sprayers to some jobs – sucking right out of 5 gallon pails – and spraying through extension wands and swivel heads to get even coverage on some surfaces. Some swear that airless is also the way to go in spray booths.

    Maybe spray painting would be a good topic for toolmonger

  22. Hector says:

    I would like to add that the makita operates at 12.4amp

  23. vern says:

    also the bosch is 4.2 @ 100 psi

  24. Dan champagne says:

    I need a new comoressor matched to a good hvlp sprayer. so,the cfm @ 30-40psi has to be pretty high to apply a good finish on the furniture that I build. Of cource cost is a major factor, as I have a small shop. Dan

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