The need for an air compressor can extend far beyond that of nail guns. Perhaps you’re doing some home renovations that require multiple pneumatic tools. But what exactly is a pneumatic tool?
A pneumatic tool is any sort of tool that runs on compressed air. The benefit of this type of tool is that it offers a more lightweight solution for several tasks including drilling, c
utting, hammering, riveting, and nailing.
These tools generally have fewer electronic parts to minimize repeat maintenance. Nail guns offer the power to drive in fasteners or nails for any sort of framing, siding, roofing, or finishing job (interior or exterior).
With the use of these types of pneumatic nail guns, comes the need for a high-quality air compressor.
Air compressors come in an extremely wide range of shapes and sizes, which is why we’ve crafted this handy comprehensive air compressor buying guide to help you determine the best air compressor for nail guns.
Let’s first explore our top five options before we break things down a little further.
What is maximum pressure? Do you need a portable air compressor? Is a six-gallon tank large enough? Can an air compressor easily power a brad nailer?
This guide will explore what you need to consider when purchasing an air compressor, all the specifications of these types of tools (and what they mean), and lastly our choice for the number one air compressor for nail guns – factoring in both price and functionality.
Top Five Best Air Compressors for Nail Guns
1. Metabo HPT Quiet Air Compressor 125 PSI
Oil-free like most of the models in this list, the Metabo HPT quiet air compressor is an easily transportable air compressor that is lightweight (25 lbs), while still retaining all the features you could ever possibly need from an air compressor.
A noted feature is the reduced noise level at only 59 dBs. This means the sound and noise level will barely make an impact in terms of distraction or complaint while you’re working through your project or using the compressor residentially.
The motor is protected by an overload protection circuit which shuts off power in any detected overburdened scenario. There’s also a 2.8 AMP direct induction motor for more prolonged use.
The full specs include a max pressure of 125 PSI, air delivery at 40 PSI / 1.3 CFM or 90 PSI / 0.8 CFM, and 125 PSI with the pressure switch off.
2. Craftsman Pancake Air Compressor
The greatest benefit to the Craftsman Pancake air compressor kit is that the whole compressor is ready to use right out of the box by virtue of all the added components – even if you don’t have any other parts aside from your nail gun.
The compressor offers a long run-time, with some users reporting having used the compressor for six to eight hours continuously (on and off use throughout one project; not non-stop) with zero issues.
They do, however, recommend that you use the air compressor on a 50% duty cycle. This means using it 50% of the time.
The Craftsman Pancake Air Compressor offers 90 PSI at 2.6 CFM (150 max PSI).
3. Bostitch Pancake Air Compressor, 150 PSI 6 Gallon
Having a built-in Bostitch high-flow regulator means maximized air tool performance from this little air compressor that weighs only 29 lbs. It is very lightweight so you can easily use it for projects which require movement. The tool works great right out of the box – if you’re already set up with all the required equipment.
You can purchase this within a variety of options, including with/without a hose (premium kit), which comes with a 50-foot hose. Alternatively, there are three other kits (some with nailers, some without) that come with either a corresponding 25- or 15-foot hose.
Users report the compressor having no trouble reaching 150 PSI under testing, within a couple of minutes.
4. DeWalt Air Compressor 135 PSI
Extremely easy to operate and despite the smaller size, users report no issue using the DeWalt air compressor 135 PSI with nail guns doing 16-gauge, 18-gauge, and 23-gauge nails.
All around, the unit doesn’t have the power for major tasks but is better suited for light/moderate jobs including framing.
5. California Air Tools CAT Air Compressor
A sleek-looking design unfortunately doesn’t quite add up to a sleek-functioning air compressor. The California Air Tools CAT air compressor is quiet and powerful – and it is by no means a bad or poorly functioning air compressor, but there are definite drawbacks and a premium price tag.
Many online reviews report random drops and dips in pressure. A major concern is multiple reports of unwanted air leaks while working that had customers returning the units to get replacements (which seemed fine).
Factors to Consider When Choosing a Nail Gun Air Compressor
Before diving into our number one pick – and before you do your research – it is always important to educate yourself fully on the kind of product you’re purchasing and this means every aspect of the product, regardless of your level of pre-existing expertise.
You need to keep in mind what kind of project(s) you’ll be using it for, along with the time required to complete your task. Continuous, labor-intensive projects would likely require a larger, more powerful compressor or an auxiliary tank.
There are some handy resources online, such as this guide, that can help you determine how to pick an air compressor in five simple questions.
However, sometimes additional clarity is needed about the actual uses of the product and technical specs before you can understand what you’re getting into. First, let’s discuss what a brad nailer is and why it can require a portable compressor.
Brad Nailers: Pneumatic Nailers vs. Electric Nailers (Which is Best for You?)
A brad nailer is a type of nailer that is exceedingly common among DIY and home improvement projects. It can also be used for general carpentry, interior trim, furniture, or any job that calls for attaching woodcuts or securing them via 18- or 16-inch brads (the nails used).
Now, there are two types of brad nailers – and this distinction is where the use of an air compressor comes into play.
One type of brad nailer is the electric, which comes with a built-in electric motor that can drive the nails through wood efficiently – it is however more energy intensive and much heavier.
The other option is the pneumatic nailer. This is the kind that uses compressed air to drive the nails into wood (or other surfaces). A lightweight hose is attached to the compressor, which then feeds the air into the gun. Pneumatic nailers produce a cleaner and more polished finish and are generally used in professional settings.
Pneumatic nailers tend to offer more power and flexibility with job tasks when compared to electric since the air compressor can provide the ability to easily conquer roofing, flooring, or framing.
Oil-Free Air Compressors
While some air compressor systems and nailers require oil to stay lubricated to ensure proper nail firing, oil-free compressors do not have this requirement, making them much more appealing as they require far less maintenance.
So, how do these oil-free air compressors work? Oil-free air compressors have materials to help protect the mechanism without the need for lubrication, or they have no contact inside the compression chamber of the compressor.
Oil-free compressors will often use things like Teflon or water-based coatings to keep the mechanism functioning. Any lubrication of gears or bearings is external to the actual compression chamber resulting in an oil-free air supply. Some of these air compressors are even designed to not require any synthetic or oil-based lubrication altogether.
When you purchase or are looking for an air compressor, you probably want to opt for one designated as oil-free. Oil-free compressors are much easier to store long-term and they are easier to use in cold weather without damaging the motor. They’re also generally much lighter and more portable.
All About CFM, PSI, and Tank Size
Three essential factors to consider when purchasing an air compressor are the CFM, PSI, and the overall tank size of the unit.
Most of the air compressors for jobs requiring a nail gun will be portable air compressors. There also are single-stage air compressors, meaning they are smaller models and can easily be transported or moved manually. Two-stage air compressors compress the air twice, have storage tanks, and can hold significantly more compressed air.
The air compressor’s capabilities are often measured by the CFM and PSI, although with using one for nail guns you generally don’t need to worry too much about having an extremely high PSI.
PSI means “pounds per square inch.” A higher PSI provides more compressed air based on the tank size of the unit.
CFM means “cubic feet per minute.” This is the total amount of air delivery that is possible in this measurement. A higher CFM is generally only a concern if you’re using multiple tools or need a sustained period of use for a more intensive task.
Tank size is much more self-explanatory – but equally important. A larger tank will retain a higher PSI for a longer time. The standard range for the kind of models we’ve been looking at is between one to six gallons.
What is ‘PSI’ and how does it impact the functionality or utility of my air compressor?
PSI seems to be an extremely important factor when determining the usefulness of your air compressor. The acronym stands for “pounds per square inch.” It is used to measure or determine the amount of the force of air coming out of the compressor.
When it comes to nail guns, however, the truth is you won’t need an air compressor with an exorbitant PSI – most commercial air compressors, regardless of their PSI, will be able to handle an air gun. You’ll want to opt for a higher PSI if you need it for other heavier tools, though. This also applies if you’ll be using it for more intensive and prolonged jobs.
What is ‘CFM’ and how does it relate to choosing an air compressor?
Another acronym you’ll see quite often when looking to purchase an air compressor is ‘CFM,’ which stands for “cubic feet per minute.” This essentially is a measure of how much air can be moved in a matter of a minute. The higher the CFM, the more airflow, and more power. It tells you how much air the compressor can produce at a certain pressure level, and indicates overall performance quality.
Does a higher CFM mean a better air compressor for nail guns?
Not exactly. A higher CRM means that more air can be put out at a certain pressure level. Again, like with PSI, you don’t need a higher CFM to have a functional air compressor for nail guns – if that’s the sole thing you’re using it for. A higher CFM can support larger, heavy-duty tools and applications, but usually, this just means a bigger and bulkier air compressor.
This handy guide shows you how to accurately determine the size of the air compressor required, based on your needs.
Take a look at your nail gun and how much CFM is required – this should be indicated by the brand/manufacturer. If you’re using multiple tools that require to be run at the same time, this is another important consideration to keep in mind.
If you’re looking solely for a nail gun, take the required CFM and multiply it by 1.5. This also applies if you’re using multiple tools – add up the total, and multiply by 1.5 to find out your required CFM for selecting an air compressor.
Choosing the Best Nail Gun Air Compressor Brands Available
We’ve compiled our top five list by researching the most reliable, reputable brands. The focus is on finding an air compressor for nail guns, brad nailers, or smaller power tools specifically. Please note that if you need an air compressor for larger jobs or more intensive power tools we recommend double-checking the CFM and PSI requirements compared to the number of tools you’ll be using.
Craftsman Tools prides itself on having U.S.A.-made products, made right in Fort Worth, Texas and established in 1927. Most of Craftsmans’ product line includes a full lifetime warranty, as outlined on their website. People may be surprised to learn both Craftsmans’ Tools and DeWalt are owned by Stanley Black & Decker.
Much like Craftsmans, Bostitch is also owned by Black & Decker. Founded in 1896, Bostitch is one of the longest running companies in the game – an American company that specializes in designing and manufacturing fastening tools (nailers included). The origin of the company lies in producing staplers and commercial stitching machines, which have rapidly progressed outward to encompass mechanical hand tools and pneumonic tools.
One of the most established and well-regarded brands in the power tool and hand tool industry, DeWalt has been around since 1922, with unmatched credibility that is reaffirmed by the myriad of positive reviews across any purchasing platform for their products.
California Air Tools
Specifically manufacturing air compressors in San Diego, California – California Air Tools proclaim to be leading the way in terms of ultra-quiet, efficient, oil-free compressors. This newer company, founded in 2002, introduced its specific “ultra-quiet” air compressor in 2009 and has been manufacturing quality products ever since. Don’t let the outdated web page fool you – these products are extremely high quality and comparable to the most well-known and established brands like those under Black & Decker.
Metabo is a brand that was established in 1924, is headquartered in Germany, and is known for its production of hand drills. They have long since been a reliable manufacturer of power tools for professionals and DIYers alike. Recently acquired by Hitachi in 2017, the company continues to function as a power-tool manufacturer: producing thousands of different models.
Our Top Pick for Best Nail Gun Air Compressor
Our best air compressor for nail guns is the Bostitch Pancake air compressor, which is oil-free, six gallons, and functions at 150 PSI.
Packed with a high-efficiency motor, this thing can easily start up regardless of the climate or weather conditions – with countless reviews commenting that it quickly gets up to the required pressure and holds that level of pressure easily for a prolonged period. The Bostitch is a choice for those with air compressor needs or more demanding applications.
As such, there are connectors to multiple hoses, so you can use them with multiple tools at the same time. The air hose also has a pretty good length of 25 feet, which means you can use it safely for applications like roofing.
At a level of 2.6 CFM / 90 PSI, with a maximum of 150 PSI all in a sub-35 pound package, this compressor can stack up against the rest with ease and provide you the power you need to get any sort of home improvement job done that requires a nail gun (or two).
Of course, all of our top five picks do make great choices, and we want to reassure you that you really can’t go wrong with any of these models if you’re looking for a quality air compressor in a reasonable price range for the sole purpose of nail gun use.