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Finding the right air compressor to use with your nail gun can be tricky because most manufacturers focus on pound-force per square inch or PSI. PSI might be an important measurement, but it’s not the only factor to consider when shopping for an air compressor for a nail gun.
We’ll explain the different types of air compressors and how to find the best one for your nail gun, plus offer up seven of the best air compressors for nail guns.
Bottom Line Up Front
For most nail gun applications, a mid-range air compressor with adequate CFM (more on that shortly) and decent capacity is ideal, which brings us to the Makita MAC700 Big Bore 2.0 HP Air Compressor as our recommendation for the best air compressor for nail guns.
The MAC700 draws low amps, is oil-lubricated for cooler operation, has a roll-bar handle for protection, durability, and maneuverability, and operates quietly given the power it has humming. You can operate most standard nail guns with the MAC700, making it an all-around great fit for many DIY applications.
Different Types of Air Compressors for Nail Guns
Even though most air compressors offer similar PSI ranges, not every compressor will work for every nail gun. Depending on the type of nail gun you have—whether a finishing, framing, or another type—you may benefit from either a larger or smaller capacity compressor. Here’s more on the options available, including combo kits and different types of portable air compressors.
A pancake compressor has storage tanks on the bottom of the unit to keep it stable and keep the profile trim. On top are the connectors and gauges, and underneath is a rounded, flat tank. Pancake compressors often hold less air than other comparable types of compressors, but they are portable and relatively small.
As the name suggests, wheelbarrow compressors have wheels and are portable via the wheel and a handle. Wheelbarrow compressors are a larger capacity and take up more space, but they are handy to move around wherever you need them.
Hot Dog Compressors
Hot dog compressors’ tanks are long and tubular, allowing for a more compact design without compromising on tank capacity. You can expect to see a single tank with a top handle, and these tanks often come in smaller sizes for easy portability.
A twin-stack compressor features two horizontal cylinder tanks, and the benefit is saving on floor space while still offering plenty of air capacity. Twin-stack compressors can be a bit more difficult to maneuver given their shape, but the tradeoff is often higher capacity.
Stationary air compressors are often upright tanks in larger capacities. Stationary units tend to serve shop and mechanic settings best, but some include wheels, so while they’re not as portable as a forty-pound tank, you can still maneuver them around your home or a job site.
If you haven’t yet purchased a nail gun and know you’ll be going for a pneumatic option, there are combo kits available. Both the nail gun and air compressor come in a package together, so you know they’ll work well together and provide you with the consistency and power you need.
Kits are typically a better deal than buying each piece separately, but they come with limitations. You may not find the exact style of nail gun you want with the compressor you’re hoping for, so sometimes buying separately is the way to go.
For those who already own a nail gun and just need a compressor, read on for more on narrowing down what you need and why. We’ve also included a kit option for those who require it.
How to Find the Best Air Compressors for Nail Guns
Not every air compressor is compatible with nail guns, and if you purchase the wrong one, you may find you’re unable to complete your nailing project. Here’s how to find the best air compressors for nail guns.
PSI and CFM
Most nail guns operate at a PSI between 60 and 120. There aren’t many air compressors that can’t handle those specs. Rather than focusing on PSI, it’s more important to look at CFM or cubic feet per minute.
CFM tells us how quickly a compressor can push air out to the nail gun. Too low a CFM number, and you’ll be waiting on the compressor to catch up while trying to drive nails. Waiting around makes the task take longer, and it will become frustrating within a matter of minutes.
Higher CFM numbers (at a reasonable PSI) mean your compressor can handle the output a nail gun requires—and many nail guns come with a CFM minimum requirement for reference. For most purposes, a CFM around 2.5 or above helps operate some types of nail guns.
Keep in mind, though, that certain nail guns require more power than others—consider the difference in power between a framing nail gun and a pin nailer. Operating a framing gun requires more power than a pin nailer, but operating a finishing gun takes even more power.
Knowing what type of power you require and what the CFM needs of your nailer are will help you make the most informed buying decision.
Read our full guide on how to find the best pin nailers.
No air compressor is lightweight or particularly easy to carry, but some models are better than others when it comes to ergonomics and transportation. Many larger models include wheels, and even small air compressors feature handles and even protective frames you can grab hold of to move them.
Consider how often you’ll need to transport or move the compressor and decide what size you truly need. Portability also depends on the weight of the materials and the tank’s construction; the tradeoff is lighter materials are often not as high-quality as denser and heavier materials.
A hot dog tank and engineered Big Bore motor deliver plenty of power in Makita’s MAC700.
- Low amp draw
- Oil lubricated for cooler running
- Copper finned discharge tubing for releasing heat
- Roll-bar handle for portability and protection
- Automotive-style industrial air filter
- Oil sight glass
- Runs at 1,730 RPM
- 2.6-gallon hot dog tank
- 3.3 CFM at 90 PSI
Makita knows its power tools, so we’re not surprised they offer a fully-fitted air compressor suitable for operating nail guns. For most smaller nailers, you can get away with 3.3 CFM at 90 PSI, though for heavier-duty nail guns you may want to keep looking.
Big Bore sounds like it might be noisy and cumbersome, but Makita’s bulky compressor operates at a surprisingly low noise level. In most nailing applications, even including framing, you’ll enjoy a low-noise and high-efficiency experience.
Given the roll-bar handle, which helps offer protection and a way to maneuver the compressor, we expected a bit more coverage for the gauges. An oil sight glass and other gauges are out in the open, so to speak, and might not survive trips around in the back of a pickup truck, should you require the compressor in such a scenario.
- Engineered pump for quieter and more efficient operation
- Gauges are unprotected
Excell’s U256PPE pancake tank air compressor offers a low-maintenance quick-start solution for nail guns.
- 6-gallon pancake tank
- Cold weather start
- 1.5 HP
- Single-hand operation quick-connect
- Low voltage startup at 64V
- Rubber feet
Excell’s pancake tank compressor is portable and stands on its well thanks to rubber feet which prevent it from getting away while you’re working. Oil-free means less maintenance than comparable models, and a cold-weather start (plus low voltage startup) makes the compressor usable in a range of conditions.
Connections are accessible and quick regardless of what type of tool you’re operating, though any variety of nail gun should work well with the 2.8 CFM output. Depending on what type of nail gun you operate, however, you might experience delays.
Some noise is expected with the U256PPE, but given its high performance in other areas, we consider the noise a small drawback. Ear protection is always ideal while using power tools, as the experts tell us, and the noise isn’t so loud that it’s bothersome.
- Oil-free/low maintenance
- Doesn’t “walk” around
- Moderately noisy
Big Bore impresses us again in Makita’s MAC2400 with an impressive CFM via the twin stack tank compressor.
- 2.5 HP
- 4.2-gallon twin stack tank
- 4.2 CFM at 90 PSI
- Oil-lubricated pump
- Roll-cage construction
- Cast iron cylinder
- Runs at 1,730 RPM
Not all Big Bore air compressors are equal; though Makita’s MAC700 has impressive power in a small package, the MAC2400 offers higher CFM—enough to power two nail guns, according to the manufacturer.
We like the rugged construction, with a roll-bar style and cast iron all around, but the tank is tough to tote around. A handle helps with portability, but you’ll want to consider where to place it, as the components you need to access are on all four sides. Oil indicator, on-off switch, tank pressure relief, and gauges are all on separate sides of the unit.
Given the ample power and portability of the MAC2400, we can’t fault Makita for taking advantage of the exterior space for spreading out the controls—we just wish they’d made it a bit more accessible overall.
- Can power two nail guns
- Rugged roll-bar construction
- Components are on all four sides
An exceptional 5.3 CFM earns California Air Tools’ CAT-4620AC a spot on our list, and with its 4.6-gallon twin tank, power is the priority.
- 70 Decibel noise output
- Oil-free pump
- 4.6-gallon twin tank
- 2.0 HP motor
- 5.3 CFM at 90 PSI
- Operates at 1,680 RPM
A combination of high CFM and low noise output makes California Air Tools’ CAT-4620AC air compressor a great choice for powering multiple tools on a job site (or at home). Either multiple nail guns or a single nail gun and another power tool can both run off the CAT-4620AC without skipping a beat.
Air filters help with airflow and overall noise level, but other than filters, you won’t have much upkeep to worry about.
One drawback is although the CAT-4620AC is a portable compressor, it’s tough to maneuver around given its bulk and weight of it. We can’t complain too much, though, because the motor is low-maintenance and all the other features are on point for long-term usage without a lot of noise pollution.
- Exceptional CFM at 5.3; can power multiple tools
- Low noise output
- Difficult to lift/move
A four-piece (three-tool) kit with a powerful air compressor and every nailing tool you’ll need, BOSTITCH’s BTFP3KIT uses a six-gallon pancake tank and provides fuss-free operation.
- Three-tool kit
- Brad Nailer (SB-1850BN)
- Straight finish nailer (SB-1664FN)
- Heavy-duty crown stapler (BFTP71875)
- 15-foot air hose
- Oil-free pump
- 6-gallon pancake tank
- 80 dBA operational noise level
- 2.6 CFM at 90 PSI
An oil-free pump and relatively quiet operation are two of our favorite things about the BTFP3KIT, but for consumers who don’t already have a nail gun handy, the kit will round out your toolbox.
A brad nailer, straight finish nailer, and heavy-duty crown stapler come with the six-gallon pancake tank setup, and although you won’t get optimal efficiency operating two tools at a time via the compressor, compatibility and convenience are key.
A sturdy handle helps with portability, and rubber feet keep the tank from moving while you’re working. All gauges and buttons are on the face of the tank, which helps swap out tools and check performance levels.
- All-inclusive nailing kit
- Decent CFM for a single tool
- Cannot run multiple tools at once
- Relatively loud
For job sites and multi-user projects, Industrial Air’s ILA188354 compressor generates plenty of power for multiple tools and multiple users.
- 30-gallon vertical portable tank
- Twin-cylinder oil-lubricated pump
- 120V dual voltage motor (also converts to 240V)
- 144 PSI Max
- Pre-attached pneumatic tires
- Quick-set regulator
- 5.7 CFM at 90 PSI
For professional contractors—or DIYers with a long honey-do list—you can’t beat the convenience of a 30-gallon vertical tank air compressor with enough output to power multiple tools at a time. Add pneumatic wheels to the setup, and even though the ILA188354 might weigh as much as you do, it will prove it’s worth its weight on the job site.
Given the bulk of the ILA188354, you might expect excess noise, but it’s reasonably quiet for all the output it possesses. Per the manufacturer, Industrial Air products aim to fulfill the needs of professional mechanic shops, livestock operations, and service trucks, so we can expect a high level of performance even if it’s just home DIY we’re working with.
- Exceptional CFM
- Relatively quiet operation
- Bulky to transport/store
Excell’s L23HPE delivers competitive CFM in a hot-dog tank style with features for powering up in remote environments, making it ideal for those who travel for jobs.
- Oil-lubricated direct drive pump
- Single-hand operation quick connect
- Cold weather start as low as -4 degrees Fahrenheit
- 3-gallon hot dog air tank
- Low voltage startup capability of 87V
- 3.8 CFM at 90 PSI
- Max pressure 135 PSI
Excell’s L23HPE air compressor comes with a cold-weather start, a feature helpful in off-grid scenarios and anywhere else remote. 87V startup capability helps get a project going, too, despite lackluster working conditions.
Portability is key here, too, as the L23HPE is only three gallons in a handy hot-dog style tank with a top handle. You can move it more easily than larger tanks, which is a nice feature considering it’s fairly loud and you likely won’t want to work right next to it.
For quick-finish projects and remote location work, Excell’s three-gallon model is handy to have around, even if moving it is a bit of a pain given its heavyweight construction. Robust construction is a nice feature, but it does mean this tank outweighs many larger versions.
- Cold weather start
- Quite loud
Comparing the Options
|Product||CFM||Tank Type||Tank Size|
|Makita MAC700 Big Bore||3.3 at 90 PSI||Hot dog||2.6 gallon|
|Excell U256PPE||2.8 at 90 PSI||Pancake||6 gallon|
|Makita MAC400 Big Bore||4.2 at 90 PSI||Twin stack||4.2 gallon|
|California Air Tools CAT-4620AC||5.3 at 90 PSI||Twin stack||4 gallon|
|BOSTITCH BTFP3KIT||2.6 at 90 PSI||Pancake||6 gallon|
|Industrial Air ILA188354||5.7 at 90 PSI||Stationary||30-gallon|
|Excell L23HPE||3.8 at 90 PSI||Hot dog||3 gallon|
Knowing what goes into selecting an air compressor ideal for power tools such as nail guns will help you make the best purchasing decision and get the best use out of the machine you end up with.
Together, the right nail gun and air compressor combination can provide you with years of powerful output suitable for hobbyist work and even professional-level contracting.