Whether you’re a sole trader, a professional in the building trade or work as a mechanic, there’s a good chance you’ll almost always want an air compressor on hand at some point.
These are great, versatile tools that work in just about every field from automotive, aviation, construction, panel beating and more, and so we’re certain you’re always on the look out for the best of the best.
That in mind, we’ve compiled a list of all Australia’s best air compressors for you and given you a few tips and considerations to keep in mind when you’re shopping for these awesome little tools on your own.
If you’re stuck on understanding price, style, brand or just about anything else, we’ve got it covered for you in our article below.
All of that said, let’s get into finding the best air compressor for you this year!
A Few Things to Consider
As we mentioned above, we want to give you a few tips and considerations before we get into choosing all of the best air compressors for you. This information will let you understand a little more about compressors and help you choose the best one for your own use case.
Like with many power tools and other on-site essentials, there is rarely ever a one-size-fits-all air compressor.
Some of our readers may need something with an ultra-large tank capacity and a rather low PSI count, whereas others don’t need the huge tank, but need something that offers a tonne of pressure.
Those points out of the way, we used all of the considerations below to help judge our top air compressors too, which means you can rest assured we dove pretty deep to find the best air compressors out there.
Let’s have a look at some essential things to consider when buying an air compressor.
The Power Source You’ll Be Using
Off the top, an integral consideration is understanding how you’ll be powering your air compressor.
We say this because some of our readers have powered worksites almost all the time, whereas others may be working in new-build developments without power and no generator on hand. And that in mind, you’re going to want to mull over where you’re most going to make use of your compressor and for which reason.
When you’ve considered your need for power, you’ll have a few options to choose from.
The most common being the 240V and the 120V options that run from typical electrical outlets. These are going to be the more effortless to use in that there’s no fuel required and they’ll be able to run continually without any power drop.
Some air compressors that are electrically powered also come in compact sizes and are portable too, which means taking them too and from a powered site isn’t too much of an issue. They’re generally liftable by one person and able to be used with just one person.
Keep in mind the smaller models do use less power and this means running them on a tray back generator isn’t going to be too much of an issue either.
When it comes to the unpowered sites, and those locations where a generator can’t be taken with you — there are the gas powered air compressors. These are, again, exceedingly powerful and won’t let you down when it comes to getting a lot of kick.
However, being a little more fiddly means that you’re most likely to reserve these for those times you need a tonne of pressure, but also a lot of portability too.
To end, there are a few battery-operated air compressors hitting the market too. Though, in the past these weren’t too great, major leaps in power efficiency and battery cell density have meant that you’re still able to get a fair bit of kick from these compressors.
All that out of the way, those are the three power considerations we ask that you keep in mind when finding your personal version of the ‘best’ air compressor in Australia for 2021.
The Tank’s Capacity
A second consideration that is quite important to keep in mind is the volume of air that your compressor is able to keep hold of when you’re using it.
This is where you’ll be able to rely on your compressor when the engine isn’t running and you’re able to store compressed air without too much of an issue. As you may already know, your tank will dictate how much air can be held in the compressor, though the pressure of the pump will also alter the amount of air.
The higher pressure your air compressor, the more air can be compressed and stored in the tank.
In all though, the larger the tank, the more air you’re getting access to.
The PSI or the CFM Rating
To one of the more integral factors when investing in a new air compressor, the CFM and the PSI rating will need to land at the top of your list.
To break things down a little, the CFM is the measurement which gives you some insight into the amount of air that the compressor is able to sustain. This is generally measured around 90 PSI, so keep this in mind.
It’s good to keep in mind that your required CFM will depend on the type of work you’re doing, for example, for an air sander you’re going to need a very high CFM for prolonged work. However, for something like using a nailer, the CFM doesn’t need to be too high — and so keep this in mind when making a purchase. You’re going to want a compressor that aids your work, rather than slows you down and requires you to take routine breaks for the compressor to catch up.
For the PSI, this measurement is essentially the rating of the air compressor’s ability to pressurise the tank. To keep things simple, the more pressure or the higher PSI rating, the more pressure or air you’re going to find stored in the tank.
For us, we would suggest you kick off your search for compressors with a minimum of 125PSI on offer, however it’s a good idea to head higher toward the 200 PSI range to make sure you’re covered should you need a higher pressure for some workflows.
To end, just about all air compressors have their own PSI and CFM ratings and each tool you’ll use will also have a different PSI and CFM requirement. You’ll need to make sure you do all of your research when it comes to getting these to match up.
A quick tip from us is to always choose an air compressor that offers more CFM or PSI than you’ll think you will need and go from there. It’s always better to have more than less when it comes to compressors, even if it does cost a little bit more.
Support for Couplers
Much like a double adapter for your power outlets, a coupler enables you to share or split the air coming from your air compressor for use with multiple tools.
In some workflows, you will need to use more than one tool at a time, or swap between two tools and it is a whole lot easier to have two of these nifty devices plugged in at the same time, rather than taking them on and off the air compressor’s hose again and again.
Keep in mind that when it comes to actually using both tools at the same time, you’ll be sharing the air from your compressor and this means that you’ll need a higher CFM and PSI to keep things running smoothly. Again, this is where having a higher CFM comes in the most handy.
Choosing an Appropriate Noise Level
Another key consideration to keep in mind is making sure you understand the noise level that comes with each machine.
You will likely already know that air compressors can be incredibly loud, and this means you’ll either want to have hearing protection on hand, or to find a compressor that is quiet enough for you to work without it.
One of our biggest considerations here is to determine where you’ll be using the compressor. For the enclosed space, you’ll be better off choosing something that is a little bit quieter as the echo and rumble might make working somewhat uncomfortable over long periods.
None of us enjoy having our ear plugs in at all times, and so a more silent air compressor might be something to consider.
Getting outdoors and on to site, you’ll be in the all-clear for a bigger and noisier air compressor model. You’ll be less likely to experience a loud echo and be able to use your machine more comfortably.
A point to keep in mind is that some of the more quiet models will offer a lower air delivery and so for the tools that demand a high delivery of air, you’ll need to continue with your louder air compressor.
The Run Time or the Duty Cycle
As with a vast majority of power tools and other hardware, you’ll be restricted to a use time based on the tool itself.
For air compressors, this occurs because you’ll need to let the appliance cool off and recuperate after a long period of use. This is typically required to let the compressor operate safely and not to cause any damage to the motor or the tank.
In most air compressors you’ll find a 50 per cent duty cycle which essentially means that you’ll need the same amount of cool down time as running time. For example, running the compressor for 20 minutes straight will require a 20 minute cool down time.
There are models out there which have a 100 per cent cycle and this means you’re not really going to need any cool down time at all — though these can be quite costly. However, in the professional or commercial environments, these are often a requirement.
Though for us, we would suggest a 50 per cent duty cycle given that most of our readers aren’t going to need something incredibly high-end.
The Pump Type
To keep things simple here, there are two different types of air compressors you’ll find on the market today and these are the oil and oil-free models.
Both of these work quite similar, however, one of them you’re going to need to add some oil every so often. The other, doesn’t require any sort of upkeep and you can simply make use of it without needing to lubricate it.
That in mind, the lubricated models will require you to keep an eye on their oil levels every so often and that means there is a tad extra maintenance required here. However, you’re going to be in good hands with either model — and the choice between oiled and oil-free will typically come down to your budget.
The Air Compressor Designs
Before we dive into our top air compressors, we have one more point to go over to help you make the choice a little easier.
There are a few different types of air compressor designs on the market and these are all crafted in a way that is ideal for a different set of workflows. Depending on the work you’re doing, you’ll be able to streamline your workflow and essentially get more done at a site without the need to work as hard.
All of that in mind, we do suggest you be quite pedantic about the design or ‘type’ of air compressor you’re choosing. It can greatly enhance or inhibit how much of a project you can get done throughout the day, and that’s always something to keep in mind.
That said, let’s have a look at the most common air compressor designs and why they might be a good fit for your workplace.
The Pancake Compressor Designs
These are going to be the air compressors that are designed in a rather circular and flattened way where you’ll find the pump sitting on the top of the tank rather than the side or underside.
For the perks of these compressors, you’re going to find them being rather compact and designed to slide and fit in somewhat small spaces. That in mind, these are going to be a top choice for those who need their compressor to fit in spaces that a larger cylindrical model won’t fit.
Ask any trim carpenter their favourite style of air compressor and they’ll undoubtedly let you know that it’s the pancake compressor.
The Hotdog Compressor Design
One of the more common options out there are the long, cylindrical models, or the ‘hot dog’ designs.
These are the models that are still relatively small, though they’re designed to be long and thin which means they fit better in the trays of Utes and trucks and can just sit and mount to vehicles without taking up too much floor space.
However, there are some hotdog models which are quite large, which means these are better to sit or be mounted in sheds and other commercial workplaces. To add, a few of these models have wheels built into one end, which means you can lift up one end of the cylinder or tank and wheel them around.
The Twin Stack Compressor Design
Not too different in design from the hotdog models, the twin stack compressors are essentially a double model of the one above.
These lay two cylinder air chambers beside one another for a more compact design that holds a lot more compressed air. These are going to offer the most capacity when it comes to their volume to air ratio, however, they can be a little large.
Again, you are likely to find wheels integrated into these models which makes manoeuvring them in a shed or on a work site relatively simple and easy.
The Wheelbarrow Compressor Design
For our readers who are looking for a model that essentially takes things to a whole other level, you’ll want to invest in the wheelbarrow designs.
These are typically gas powered and that means you’re not going to need to rely on an outlet for these to operate correctly. They’re a little heavy, though with wheels and handles to move them around, the weight isn’t going to be too much of an issue.
In line with their size, there is a downside in that they’re sometimes too large and heavy to transport from site to site even though they’re an ideal off-site and unpowered model. You will need another set of hands to get these compressors into a ute or truck.
The Vertical Compressor Design
Offering a design that is reversed, these air compressors will have a single tank though with the pump and motor sitting on top of the tank. This will mean that they’re easy to stand and more around a shed or work site and they take up very little floor space.
These are also going to be your best bet when it comes to mounting them against a wall or on a tray back by the rear window.
In some cases, the heavier and larger models here are designed to be mounted, and so you will have to mount these versions for them to operate and stand correctly and in a safe way.
Our Top Choice Air Compressors for 2021
With all of our considerations out of the way, we’ll now get into all of the best air compressors for this year.
All of these models check off our considerations list and are designed for a number for different workflows. That in mind, you will need to consider how and where you’ll be using these air compressors before you leap into investing in one.
Of course, one compressor may get a great review from us, though it might not be the best option for you, your workplace or your workflow.
The VT25BIG Air Compressor by Rolair
Our top choice model for just about all use cases is the excellent VT25BIG model coming for Rolair.
This is the winner for us in that it checks off just about everything you could want in a compressor and that means you’re getting a great 120V motor here and a tank capacity of 5.3 gallons. There is also an ideal 6.5 CFM rating at 90 PSI which means you’re getting a rather compact motor but still a fair bit of kick from it.
When it comes to cost, this model is one of the more affordable out there and we’re sure it’ll be the perfect companion for just about all air-powered tools.
To end, the highly compact design also means this air compressor is one of the better models when it comes to getting it from site and into the back of a ute or truck for transferring it to project sites or back to the shed.
In all, this is our overall winner for the best air compressor for the price, size and portability.
The Pancake Compressor EC914SM by Metabo HPT
A second powerful-yet-compact model landing on our list is the EC914SM model coming from Metabo.
It offers the pancake design we talked about above which means its one of the more compact and less space-consuming models on our list. The shape means it fits and operates just about anywhere with ease and you will be able to place it into a ute or a truck without issue.
You’re getting a PSI of 200 coming into play here which means it does offer some rather outstanding performance when it comes to using air-powered tools. To add to this, there is a 4 CFM on offer here at 90 PSI which again means you’ll find that this is one of the more powerful and portable pancake air compressors on the market today.
The 6 gallon tank is a little bigger than our top choice model above and that means you are getting a bit more use out of this one per-refill of air.
That in mind, this air compressor did win an innovation award in 2020 given that it’s so powerful and also so compact.
The 18V Digital Inflator R87044 by Ridgid
To the compressor that’s an inflator-only we will suggest you head over to Ridged to get your hands on the company’s ultra-small R87044 handheld model.
This is going to be your best friend when it comes to the workflows that require a whole lot of tyre pumping and inflating duties. You’ll be able to get a tonne more done at work here without lugging around an actual air compressor and that means you’re going to be saving time and money for your business or clients.
The compressor or inflater, rather, works through 12V connections in your car, though it also offers outlet support via the adapter which means plugging it into a wall or an extension cord at you shed isn’t too hard either.
Ultimately this is the winning product for us when it comes to keeping tyres forever inflated.
The MAC320Q Quiet Compressor by Makita
As we mentioned earlier in our article, air compressors can be quite loud and if you’re looking to work indoors or in a shed without always keeping your earplugs firmly fixed in place then you’re going to want to choose a compressor that is designed to operate quietly.
That in mind, Makita has you covered with their Quiet Series model that is a 3 gallon air compressor which operates a whole lot quieter than just about everything else we’ve seen so far.
There isn’t much of a compromise here either in that you’ll still find an excellent 135 PSI coming into play here along with a 2.6 CFM at 90 PSI which is a little on the lower side, though nothing to worry about.
You’ll find the model only needs 8.5 amps to operate efficiently which also means you have a lot of options when it comes to powering this model without an issue.
To end, the design here is relatively small and lightweight which means this is also a top choice for those who need a portable air compressor too. It’s easy to carry around and also keeps power use to a minimum so generator-based workflows aren’t a problem here either.
The M18 Fuel 2-Gallon Quiet Compressor 2840 by Milwaukee
We know that portability and operating an air compressor without a power cable is incredibly important for some of our readers and so battery power takes front and centre with the Milwaukee model.
Not only is the Milwaukee 2840 one of the most effective at operating at high pressure with only a battery on its side, but it also one of the more quiet on the market today and that means it is also a contender for those who need something that’s designed to be used in rather tight and compact indoor spaces.
It is a little costly and there is a dual purchasing option here with the bare compressor coming in at just $349 or the 12 amp battery included for the $598 price point.
You’ll find a competitor here in the DeWalt model if you do need a tank capacity above 2 gallons as DeWalt comes in clutch with their 2.5 gallon model.
In all the 2840 by Milwaukee is going to be a top choice should you need something powerful, ultra portable and designed to operate effectively under load with a battery.
The Light Industrial Air Compressor V5160PTO3X by Rolair
For our readers who need a model designed for use in a shed or commercial situation we ask that you take a look into the Rolair model V5160PTO3X.
This is going to be a winner if you need a huge tank in that there’s a 60 gallon option here and there’s a 21.1 CFM at 100 PSI. This in mind, you’re getting by far one of the most powerful air compressors on our list, and given that it stands vertical, you’re able to find a nice cozy spot for this in a shed without too much difficulty.
Keep in mind that it can be a little loud so you may need to install wall mufflers or sound dampeners if you’re not looking to keep ear plugs in a lot during your work day.
All in all though, the V5160PTO3X by Rolair is our top choice for those who need an air compressor designed for use in a workshop that you can rely on to output a tonne of pressure over long periods without a long cool down.
The Gas MAC5501G by Makita
Our final air compressor hitting the list is the wheelbarrow design coming from Makita.
It’s one of the bigger portable models out there coming with a full 5 gallon tank and a great, easy to wheel-around design. You’re finding a gas motor coming into play here which means it’s the model you can rely on when you need to head out to site to get some work done without a power source.
The motor on offer here is 5.5HP and you’re getting an ideal 12.5 CFM at a 90 PSI which is again, great for just about all of the air tools you’re going to be making use of.
Those points in mind, the Makita does take some points for being one of the more powerful, portable and reliable wheelbarrow models out there.
To end, being a Makita means you’re able to rely on this air compressor for years to come without any issues to be expected, and the Honda GX160 motor coming into play here ensures you’re in good hands when it comes to a responsive and powerful compression experience every time you use it.
With all of our top tips about air compressors out of the way, we’re sure you’re able to choose one of our top choices or make a choice on your own and still get a great outcome.
Our biggest tip here is to factor in a few things from the size of the model you’re looking to invest in, the sound it outputs and the PSI and CFM ratings. With those metrics in consideration you’ll be able to get your hands on something that suits your workflow the best and helps you you to get your day’s work done without a struggle.
Keep in mind that gas powered models should only ever be operated outdoors and never inside sheds or small spaces.