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If you’re shopping for a new air compressor, consider the ways, and how often, you’ll put it to use before buying the cheapest one. Everything depends on how much you’ll be running it, and what you plan to use it for. Compressors that cost less than $100 are very portable and will do a fine job of running a trim nailer, filling tires or blowing dust off your clothes—but that’s about it. You’ll have to be patient; they take a long time to get up to pressure and to fill tires. If you do decide on a cheap compressor, consider it a “throw-away” tool and be prepared to replace it when it dies. Virtually any repair will exceed the replacement cost.
If you can Offer to spend about $300, you can get a portable compressor that’ll power most DIY air tools and last for a couple of decades (see Photo 2). Look for a compressor with a cast iron cylinder, oil lubrication and air output of at least 4 cu. ft. per minute (cfm). You’ll have to change the oil on schedule to keep it humming. But the longer life outweighs the hassle. Also be aware that oil-lubricated compressors inject a fine oil mist into the air line. So you’ll need to invest in a separate hose and a filter if you’re going to use a paint sprayer.
You can find less expensive, oilless compressors ($129 to $199) that will put out 4 cfm, but don’t expect them to last as long. And you’ll need to wear hearing protection—they’re LOUD!