If you’re a framer, one truth is self-evident: your nail gun needs the right air compressor if it’s to be worth owning.

But air compressors are complex power tools in their own right, and the market is full of companies claiming they have the thing you need. Who’s right? Who’s wrong? Whose compressor is worth investing in? Let’s find out.

In a hurry? Here’s our top pick.

Table of Contents

10 Best Air Compressors For Framing Crew

Prices pulled from the Amazon Product Advertising API on:

Craftsman Air Compressor, 6 Gallon, Pancake, Oil-Free

The Craftsman has been built with an understanding of your needs first and foremost in mind.

Completely oil-free for easy maintenance, it’s a 6 gallon pancake air compressor with a PSI of 150, meaning it can get to some heavy-duty work right away.

Rapid compressor recovery time and a recovery of 90 PSI means it should give you no start-up trouble, even in the cold.

And it comes with 13 accessory kits, so it’s ready for all the jobs you need it to do, and a 1-year limited warranty, so you can buy it with confidence.

Pros

  • Rapid compressor recovery time means it works well right away
  • Oil-free, low maintenance operation means no fuss
  • Easy start-up, even in the cold, delivers reliability
  • Accessory kits make it multi-functional

Cons

  • The price is high for the capacity it delivers

Bostitch Pancake Air Compressor, Oil-Free, 6 Gallon

This Bostitch Pancake Air Compressor gives you heavy performance in a mid-budget compressor. A 6 gallon pancake compressor with a 150 PSI pump, it delivers oil-free pumping at high levels of performance.

The Bostitch, like the Craftsman, delivers the rapid recovery speeds you need. If there’s one issue though, it’s that the Bostitch is pretty loud – around 78.5 dB. It also carries a 1-year warranty.

Pros

  • Oil-free, low maintenance pumping makes your job easier.
  • Rapid recovery time speeds up your framing time
  • The 1-year warranty means buying with confidence

Cons

  • This is a loud compressor, at 78.5 dB

DEWALT 20V Max Cordless Tire Inflator

The calling card of the DEWALT DCC020IB 20V Max Inflator is a high-pressure inflation mode, with a peak impact.

That automatic action means it also comes with an automatic shutoff module that helps prevent inaccuracy.

Featuring easy-read LED lights so you always know where you are with it, the DEWALT Max gives you no fewer than three power sources – 20 V batteries, 12 V DC or even a 110 V AC.

With elements like a Presta valve adapter and a tapered nozzle, it feels refined and precise, without ever lacking the power you need to get the job done.

Pros

  • Three power sources give you options
  • High volume inflation potential means it makes short work of most jobs
  • LED lights deliver rapid clarity on the status of the compressor

Cons

  • For all its rapid inflation, it’s not the fastest compressor available

Porter-Cable Air Compressor Kit, 1.5 Gallon, Oil-Free

The Porter-Cable CMB15 is both oil-free and fully shrouded, with impressive low peak power. Its tank is only 1.5 compared to the bigger players, but it still delivers impressive support for your framing work, without undue complication or fuss.

With rapid recovery time and 150 PSI, it performs at the level you need, while an inlet water drain valve keeps a clear pressure inside the valve.

Being oil-free, it’s also a low-maintenance tool, delivering impressive rate of use and productivity.

With a low 120V start, you should be able to wake it up easily, even in the cold, and if you’re going for a smaller-scale compressor, it’s hard to beat.

Pros

  • 150 PSI means it delivers the compression you need
  • Oil-free, low maintenance compression means it’s a plug-and-play tool
  • The water drain valve maintains clear pressure
  • Should work easily even in the cold

Cons

  • Prone to heating up sometime

Makita MAC2400 2.5 HP Big Bore Air Compressor

The Makita MAC2400 has a 4.2 gallon capacity, and its low amperage draw means you get very low noise production when you start using it, for a sweet, smooth start-up.

The pump on the Makita MAC2400 is oil-lubricated, keeping the temperature lower than some oil-free options, and maintaining that smooth operation.

An operating pressure of 130 PSI means you have enough pressure to operate two nail guns with no waiting.

The cylinder in the Makita is made of cast iron, to reduce wear and increase the lifespan of your pump. It’s also easily removable for cleaning and maintenance.

Pros

  • 130 PSI is enough for two nail guns
  • A cast iron, removable cylinder makes for a durable compressor
  • Constructed for easy maintenance

Cons

  • Cast iron makes for a heavy compressor

Makita MAC5200 3.0 HP Big Bore Air Compressor

When you need to break out the big guns, the Makita MAC5200 3.0 is a reliable tool to reach for. It combines power and portability and helps you get the big jobs done.

It’s practically unbeatable when you need a combination of versatility and power, giving you 6.5 CFM at 90 PSI pressure, and 6.9 CFM at a pressure point of 40 PSI. That’s enough to finish every conceivable framing gig.

The Makita MAC5200’s wide-bore cylinder has a capacity of 5.2 gallons of air, which means you can use it professionally with no qualms.

Oil-based lubrication keeps the compressor smooth, cool and relatively friction-free even on bigger jobs.

Pros

  • The cast iron built bore cylinder holds up to 5.2 gallons
  • Operates up to 140 PSI to power through any job you need doing
  • The sturdy construction means it will be with you for years to come

Cons

  • It’s very loud compared to some compressors, producing 90 dB, which is beyond acceptable limits in some workspaces

California Air Tools CAT-4610AC Ultra Quiet & Oil-Free

The California Air Tools CAT-4610AC combines aesthetics and performance in a way that will help you do the jobs you need to do, while – in contrast to the Makita – being ultra-quiet.

With a motor running at just 1.0 HP as standard and 2.0 HP at peak usage, you can still get airflow 3.10 CFM at 40 PSI.

So how quiet is quiet with stats like those? We’re not going to say you won’t hear the California, but at roughly 60 dB, you’re certainly within tolerances for a domestic environment.

Despite all this, the California is surprisingly durable – it claims over 3000 hours of lifespan, so once it’s in your hands, you can be sure of it for at least the next 5 years.

And while you wouldn’t immediately think this compressor had a 4.6 gallon capacity, this is what we find, meaning it gives more than either our expectation or the price point promise.

Pros

  • You can get 120 PSI max pressure out of the California
  • 3000+ hours of lifespan means you’re buying a compressor that will last you years
  • It promises to be ultra-quiet, and produces just 60dB of noise
  • It comes with a surprising 4.6 gallon oil tank in rust-free aluminum.

Cons

  • There are few safety guards to protect it from any workplace hazards

VIAIR 150 PSI High-Flow Air Source Kit

The VIAIR 150 PSI High-Flow Air Source Kit tells you a lot of what you need to know in its name alone.

A maximum working pressure of 150 PSI is good enough to do all the powerful and pressured jobs you need it to do – especially as you can get 40 minutes of continuous use at that level.

You can use the VIAIR both indoors and out, since it works at both peak power and low power. Coming with a 1-year manufacturer’s warranty means you can buy and try the VIAIR 150 with no risk.

Pros

  • 150 PSI maximum working pressure is good enough for all your jobs
  • It’s a sealed compressor, meaning extra security and durability
  • It comes with a pressure safety release valve
  • It comes with a 1-year warranty to increase your confidence

Cons

  • It’s another loud compressor

Eagle EA-3000 Silent Series 3000 Air Compressor 125 MAX psi Hot Dog

If 60dB is still too loud for you, the Eagle EA-3000 could be more in your line. How about a fully-functioning air compressor with a noise footprint of just 40-45 dB?

Low in noise, it’s also among the least energy-thirsty compressors on our list, taking just 6.5 amps of current at full operating capacity.

If you work mostly from home, you’re going to be happy with that when your next power statement hits the mat.

A 1HP motor, and an air pressure range between 100-125 PSI and 125 PSI makes this a perfect choice for semi-professional framing jobs.

It uses a slow rate of RPM too, so it should minimize wear and last for a lot longer than some more hardcore, ear-splitting machines.

Pretty mobile, beware the weight of this compressor, which is more that it seems either to warrant or on first glance to possess, meaning you get a shock when you lift it.

But it’s worth adjusting to its 39.7 pound heft, as it gives you that combination of power and quietness that might well make it a winner for some framers.

Pros

  • It’s an oil-free, low-maintenance pump with a double piston
  • It brings a 1 gallon fuel tank to your compression party
  • Extremely low noise levels make it a very friendly compressor

Cons

  • This is a heavy puppy, weighing in at almost 40 pounds, which means hand-carriage is not recommended

Grip-Rite GR152CM 1.5HP 2 Gallon Twin Tank Compressor

Need a budget-friendly compressor in your tool store? You could do a lot worse than the Grip-Rite FR152CM.

Sure, plenty of times, you’ll need the big guns, but that’s not every time. If you need something a little bit lighter and more flexible, the 1.5 HP Grip-Rite is an easy first reach.

Sturdy yet compact, it draws just 8 amps to deliver you 1.5 HP of power, and you can turn it up to 2 HP if you need it at peak point, giving you 3.4 CFM at 40 PSI. If you increase the PSI to 90, you drive down the output to 2.6 CFM.

The Grip-Rite’s capacity’s nowhere near bad at this price point either – it will give you 2 gallons, which for this kind of lightweight compressor is more than adequate.

In fact it verges on the impressive, which is why it makes it onto our list. With a pump up time of 50 seconds, it gives you recovery times of 10-12 seconds, which it’s easy to turn into a regular, almost musical rhythm of compression.

Soundwise, it’s pretty high, but by no means the highest we’ve encountered. 75dB at its maximum means you may well wince, but frankly, we expected it to be higher than that, all things considered.

And what it perhaps throws away on noise levels, it more than makes up for in terms of durability – you’re looking at a budget-friendly compressor that can do over 4000 hours without falling to pieces!

As an oil-free pump, it’s also pleasingly low-maintenance (like many of the better scoring compressors on our list).

And unlike some, it has a secure roll cage, so if you happen to drop it, you probably won’t damage its intricate and complicated heart.

Is the Grip-Lite ever going to take on the big guns and the higher-priced compressors on our list? No, of course not, they’re in totally different leagues.

But if you only have some low-end framing to do, you could save yourself at least half a fortune by going with the Grip-Rite and only using the power you need to get the job done.

Pros

  • The 1.5 HP motor and 3 gallon tank gives you more power than you might imagine
  • The price is low enough to do low-end framing work on a budget
  • The oil-free pump requires very little maintenance
  • With over 4000 hours of lifespan, it’s much more durable than you’d expect at the price

Cons

  • It’s a frill-free offering that comes with no accessories, so what you see is as much as you get.

Buyer’s Guide

When you’re looking to buy an air compressor to help you with your framing work, there are a few things to keep in mind.

Buy To The Scale Of Your Operation

If you regularly need hugely powerful compression, you’re not going to gain by just getting a smaller, low-capacity compressor with no frills or accessories. It won’t be fit for your purposes.

Similarly, if you only have some smaller-scale compressing to do, don’t spend money you don’t need to spend on a compressing behemoth. Tailor your compressor to your actual workload, not any notion of how it might be at some point in the future.

Then whenever it becomes necessary to get a compressor with a specific profile, you can consider getting an additional one that meets your evolving needs.

Sounds Important

The noise level of your compressor can be a critical factor both to how often and where you can use it, and to not driving yourself stark raving mad at the high decibel count.

If you need a compressor that can perform at a certain level, then by all means go for it, and the noise level be hanged, but if you can get one does what you need it to do, and that’s kinder both to your ears and the ears of everyone around you, it’s a no-brainer to go for the quieter of the two options.

To Oil Or Not To Oil

Make sure you know what you’re getting involved with in terms of oil and maintenance. Oiled compressors have an advantage in that they are more resistant to overheating and have a slicker, more friction-free operation.

But on the other hand, oil-free versions cut down significantly on the level of maintenance you’re regularly called on to perform.

Choose the option that best suits your work pattern and your dedication to tool-maintenance, because there’s no point getting an oiled compressor if you’re not going to spend the time you need to maintain it properly.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are oiled compressors or oil-free better?

They both have their pros and cons. Oiled compressors can have a slicker, smoother operation and are less prone to heat damage, because the oil acts as both a lubricant and a barrier.

But on the other hand, oil-free versions mean you have a lot less maintenance to do on your compressor. Whether either option is technically or objectively “better” is questionable – they’re each “better” for a certain temperament.

If you know you’re not keen on maintenance, go oil-free. If you’re prepared to put the time in, an oiled compressor can bring you genuine dividends in its smooth operation.

What’s the best PSI for an air compressor?

This depends on the kind of work you’re doing with it.

A PSI of 150 means you can afford to take on the hardest and most heavyweight of jobs, but if you don’t have that level of work to do with it, you can afford to come down the PSI scale (and the pricing scale) with no ill effect.

How much CFM does a framing nailer require?

The cubic feet per minute of air you need for a framing nailer can vary, so a precise answer is difficult to give.

Roughly speaking, if your compressor can give you 2.2 CFM or above, you’re in the right territory for a framing nailer.