An air compressor might be one of the most useful tools you’ll ever own. A good one can turn your garage into the ultimate DIY den.

Knowing how to choose the right air compressor, however, can be difficult if you don’t have a lot of experience using one. Let this short guide help you find the right tool for you and your needs.

Rotary Compressors

These compressors use two helically-opposed rotating screws in a sealed chamber to squeeze air.

These machines have fewer moving or touching parts and often require less maintenance than others while offering the potential for high power output for extended periods of time.

Reciprocating Compressors

These compressors work much like a car, using pumping pistons. Air is sucked into the pistons chamber and compressed quickly and pushed into a tank as the pistons extend and retract.

These machines create a lot of friction that can lead to maintenance down the road, though newer technology is helping protect the parts against wear.

Scroll Compressors

These compressors use the same technology as many refrigeration systems to compress air with two circular pieces in close rotation.

These machines are 100% oil-free and produce the cleanest air of any compressors.


When looking at compressor size, you’re really talking about the size of the air tank on a compressor. Air compressors of any type are available with tanks that range from 1 gallon of air to 60 gallons.

The smaller the tank size, the more often the motor has to run to fill the tank with compressed air. To choose the right size tank, consider the jobs you plan to tackle with your air compressor.

If you plan to stick to mostly small jobs, with short bursts of work, you’ll have no trouble with a smaller tank. If you need extended, uninterrupted airflow, opt for the larger tanks.

Different tools require more or less air availability, as well. This chart can help you get a good idea of where you should start.


Different types, brands, and makes of air compressors come with different optional features.

Sound Control

If you want an air compressor with quiet operation, there are machines that can do that in a variety of ways. Loud, echoey garage workshops can benefit from these compressors.

Variable Speed Drives

These allow for flexibility in project size and type and can be ideal for the average DIYer.

Variable Frequency Drives

These compressors have the ability to work off A/C or D/C batteries making them portable when necessary or better fit for wider ranges of workshop spaces.

Choosing the Right Air Compressor

It is important that you consider your space, the types of projects you want to tackle, and the types of pneumatic tools you need to use in conjunction with your air compressor in order to make the right choice.

If you’re still not sure where to start, read the reviews or talk to a professional before making any purchase.

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