Shop air compressors are very much like the heater in your home: If it’s working, you really don’t pay it much attention. Only recently when we had a hiccup with our five-gallon Ridgid twin-stack did the thought even come up that this was a 5-year old unit that had put in hundreds of hours of tireless service. We decided to see how our favorite old compressor does against a field of modern competitors.
We shopped around until we found a good representative product from several manufacturers. The rules were pretty simple: Each unit had to be available at a home center or gear equivalent, needed to be in the 2-to-5 gallon range, and finally had to be able to power the shop tools we put into circulation on a regular basis such as trim guns, air blowers, and so forth. Four challengers to the Ridgid arrived in the shop for test. They are, in manufacturer’s alphabetical order: Bosch CET4-20, Campbell Hausfeld FP2602, Hitachi EC 89, and Makita MAC2400.
The goal is to get a good bead on what you’re really getting from a bunch of machines that, other than tank size, look quite similar to one another. All of them are quite different and make up a wide spread over the operable range of small portable shop/site compressors — which was really the point. So we began the comparison/test on the basis of specs, portability, performance, noise, features, price, and ease of maintenance.
To make stats simple to compare, we put together a small chart with the size of the tank in gallons, horsepower, cut-in and cut-out pressures of the the motor, and the all-important Cubic Feet per Minute of air rating for each (with the exception of the CH, which didn’t list that information — read: Low).
Now that we have that out of the way, you might ask what the hell that means; we know we did. Based solely from the chart data we can say the Bosch and Makita lead the way with both the most horsepower and CFM, with the CH and Hitachi rounding out the other end of the spectrum. This should come as no surprise, as anybody with a few hard-earned dollars to spend on compressors could look at the spec sheet at the big box and tell you the same thing. So we pressed on.
Our compressor lives in the middle of the action under the miter saw, and doesn’t move unless we haul it out for maintenance. However, this is not so at every shop or job site. So we decided to carry each a distance of 150’ to find out how much each one would tear us up. We tested each one on a different day to minimize any fatigue issues from carrying a competitor.
As you can plainly see from this colorful yet completely scientific chart, by measures of magnitude the clear winner was the CH — also not surprising. The clear loser did surprise us a little, however. Though it’s the penultimate by way of curb weight at 72 lbs. to the Makita’s 77 lbs., the Bosch just kept banging into our legs and making life hard to deal with. To be fair there is a Bosch version of this compressor with wheels, so if you had your heart set on the Bosch and wanted to constantly move it you could do so without rupturing something — but that did nothing to ease the bruise on my thigh.
To test performance, the only way we could figure to make real performance tests was to run each unit as our shop compressor for a few weeks and see how it went. In part II of our compressor test, we’ll show you how each unit did in actual performance testing, and which ones left us with bones to pick.