Help with decision on small air compressor for shop

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Forum topic by empty5853 posted 02-15-2013 02:04 PM 7005 views 0 times favorited 28 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View empty5853's profile


30 posts in 3388 days

02-15-2013 02:04 PM

Hey All,
You guys were very helpful on my questions about a dust collector so I thought I could pick your brains again. I’m looking for a small compressor for my shop. My old one ( Thomas 200ST ) is a good one that I’ve had for years but it’s just too loud. I’ve been looking for awhile now and I think I’ve narrowed it down to these 2. I’m only an amateur woodworker and not a contractor who’d be using it 8 hrs. a day. I don’t paint and only use air tools occasionally.

GMC SYCLONE 4620A Ultra Quiet & Oil Free Air Compressor
• Ultra Quiet – Only 70 decibels – 30% less than other brands
• Oil-Free – No Maintenance – 3000 hour life cycle
• 2.0 Hp Rated/Running
• 7.00 CFM 40 PSI & 5.30 CFM 90 PSI – Max 125 PSI
• 4.6 Gallon Aluminum Tank – Rust Free
• Weighs 64 lbs
• $369 shipped

Rolair VT20TB 2HP Quiet Wheeled Compressor
• 100% duty cycle motor for long life and durability Stainless-Steel Reed Valves and Splash Lubrication Ensure Longer Life
• Low motor speed reduces operating noise of unit (website says it’s 79 dba)
• 2.0 Hp Rated/Running
• 4.80 CFM 40 PSI & 4.20 CFM 90 PSI – Max 125 PSI
• 3.2 Gallon Steel Tank
• Weighs 80 lbs
• Heavy duty wheeled dolly cart makes it easy to maneuver and reposition compressor
• Start/stop pressure switch with integrated on/off lever
• Handy utility box allows you to store tools and accessories
• $329 shipped

My Opinion/Thoughts on them:

PRO – Low noise Light weight Aluminum Tank A little more CFM

CON – Cost Brand reliability/longevity

Great reviews and well know brand
100% duty cycle

Weight – 80 lbs vs. 64 lbs (but the Rolair is on wheels so…)
Lower CFM – 4.2 vs. 5.3 (but is it THAT big of a difference)
Louder – 80 dba vs. 70 dba (but again, is it THAT big of a difference)

I know there’s others out there. I’d appreciate any input (hopefully from someone who has one) on what you think.

Take care and thanks.

Mark T.

28 replies so far

View JayT's profile


6002 posts in 2445 days

#1 posted 02-15-2013 02:55 PM

I don’t have either of those, but a few comments and words of caution.

Noise ratings mean nothing. The problem is that there is no standard for where to take readings and in what environment so every company has their own setup. The GMC could have been done outside at 10’ away, while the Rolair was done 3’ away in a 12×12 room, or vise versa. All else being equal sound doubles for each 3db increase. That said, most compressors rated at 80db or below are very quiet.

The other aspect of sound is how often the motor must run to keep the tank filled and how long it takes to do so. I’d rather listen to a bit louder compressor that can fill the tank in less than a minute, rather than a slightly quieter one that runs three times as long/often.

Who builds the GMC? As you point out the Rolair is a known brand, but do you know who actually manufactures the other.

Weight is a two edged sword. Lighter means less to carry, but also makes it more inclined to dance around when the motor is running.

Another compressor I would encourage you to look at is the Makita MAC2400. I don’t have this one, either, but know several contractors who have either it or the slightly smaller MAC700 and they absolutely love them. Quiet, reliable and total workhorses.

For complete disclosure, I mostly use a Porter Cable C2002 pancake compressor in my shop. Like you, I’m a hobbyist, so it’s used with nailers, inflating, dusting off projects, etc. It is a very good unit, but if you want something quiet, look elsewhere.

Here, here, and here is a series of three articles comparing several small compressors. Regardless of what compressor you are looking at, their testing process and conclusions will give you something to think about.

Edited for completeness.

-- In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock. Thomas Jefferson

View MJCD's profile


582 posts in 2605 days

#2 posted 02-15-2013 03:23 PM

I too have the PC Pancake, and it has served my modest needs very well – small nailers, inflating tires, blowing-down my dust collector bags and cartridges, the shop, and shop tools. I’ve had it for 4 years, at least – it’s noisy, but it came with three nailers and has met all of my needs.


View MJCD's profile


582 posts in 2605 days

#3 posted 02-15-2013 03:24 PM

By the way, none of these companies actually make their branded air compressors – there are two or three companies that do this for a living – manufacturing to a standard specification, and then brand the product based on a contract.


View SamuraiSaw's profile


515 posts in 2199 days

#4 posted 02-15-2013 03:56 PM

I’ve had a PC pancake compressor for many years (I think I’m on my 3rd one) and they are good compressors. I’ve even done small spray jobs with it. It truly is loud, but as Jay pointed out recovery time is a big factor. I have a larger compressor in the shop which is considerably quieter, but runs much longer to recover.

Look for one of the “kit” deals that has a compressor and some nail guns. It’s a good way to build your tools and the smaller compressor will do all you need.

-- Artisan Woodworks of Texas....

View crank49's profile


4032 posts in 3205 days

#5 posted 02-15-2013 04:07 PM

Something is seriously wrong with the stated capacity of the Rolair. 4.80 CFM 40 PSI & 4.20 CFM 90 PSI – Max 125 PSI
Either the 4.8 CFM at 40 PSI is too low, or the 4.2 CFM at 90 PSI is way high.

Another CON you didn’t mention with the Rolair is the tank size.
Not only is it steel, which will rust, but it is 30% smaller which means the pump will be running more frequently.

Rust is a problem because compressed air is HOT and can be full of moisture. When the hot moist air cools it condenses on the inside of the tank. That’s why air tanks are required to have a drain.

The difference between 70 and 80 dba is significant because the scale is logarithmic in nature.
In an industrial manufacturing environment we can’t expose workers to 80 dba for a full shift, but 70 is under the limit and permissible.

The manufacturer of the GMC explains the conditions for their sound rating test on their website. It was at 3 ft I believe. But I’m not positive about that.

There are many other machines out there. Generally look for the slowest speed (RPM) you can find.

I have a very old cast iron Craftsman that is belt driven at about 700 RPM. It’s heavy, quiet, and with a 2hp induction motor it is powerful enough for me. I also have a little Porter Cable “pancake ” type that I like because I can throw it in the car or truck and take it to jobs and on the roof or in the attic. It manages to have a reduced run cycle by pumping up to 150 PSI. An alternate strategy to compensate for the small tank. But, when it’s running it is noisy.

View StumpyNubs's profile


7689 posts in 3035 days

#6 posted 02-15-2013 05:46 PM

If you have a Harbor Freight near you they are having a sale. Just sayin’...

-- Subscribe to "Stumpy Nubs Woodworking Journal"- One of the crafts' most unique publications:

View empty5853's profile


30 posts in 3388 days

#7 posted 02-16-2013 01:44 AM

Thanks all for the input.

California Air Tools make the GMC (or at least markets it). Home Depot and Sears also carry them.

those numbers came directly from the Rolair website –

My first compressor was a PC kit deal. I got a pancke compressor along with a brad nailer, hose and fittings. Love the brad nailer (still have it) but hated the compressor. It was so LOUD!!!. You’d have to wear ear protection in the next room.

View alexdom_89's profile


98 posts in 2530 days

#8 posted 02-16-2013 01:54 AM

I have a bostitch combo from lowes and its quiet and pumps up to 150 psi and compensates for the smaller size. I would recommend it even for the size.

View kizerpea's profile


775 posts in 2602 days

#9 posted 02-16-2013 01:46 PM

I just ordered the emglo 810-4m $350 shiped…emglo makes the dewalt compressors u see at the pics…15 amp. oiled compresssor…


View JesseTutt's profile


854 posts in 2345 days

#10 posted 02-16-2013 02:00 PM

I just did a scan of Home Depot’s web site, there are several in the 20-30 gallon range for under $300. I have heard good things of the Husky brand. When I need to replace my compressor I will be seriously looking at the Husky.

-- Jesse, Saint Louis, Missouri

View HorizontalMike's profile


7770 posts in 3148 days

#11 posted 02-16-2013 02:06 PM

Advice is to go as large as you practically can go. You will not regret the added capacity and rating.

I bought my Craftsman 33gal oil-less compressor over 10yr ago when I really did not have much need for anything but pumping up tires. I moved into impact sockets doing some motorcycle repair and since getting into WW-ing I am using it even more… nail and pin guns, etc. It is loud when it runs but it runs less often and I find myself using it all of the time to dust off my projects prior to finishing and/or between coats. Once you have this much air, you will find more and more ways to use it, IMO. 8-)

-- HorizontalMike -- "Woodpeckers understand..."

View Shawn Masterson's profile

Shawn Masterson

1325 posts in 2183 days

#12 posted 02-16-2013 03:13 PM

to kizerpea “emglo makes the dewalt compressors”
this is false dewalt bought out emglo for the name and shortly after decided it was cheaper to buy the pumps in mexico. the original owners of emglo bought out the tooling and after the allotted amount of time went back into business under the name “jenny”

so if you bought a Dewalt by emglo you have B&D compressor not that that is bad, but you didn’t get an Emglo.
sorry to burst anyone’s bubble

View empty5853's profile


30 posts in 3388 days

#13 posted 02-16-2013 03:56 PM

You make a good point about “going bigger than you think you need”. I kind of have that philosophy on most things. I need to revisit it here too. The only thing is I wanted to be able to take the compressor to a worksite occasionally.

Lots to think about guys.

Thanks again.

Mark T.

View Shawn Masterson's profile

Shawn Masterson

1325 posts in 2183 days

#14 posted 02-16-2013 06:06 PM

then just have 2. if it is much bigger than a pancake the it is a hassle to take out. and a pancake just won’t do it all in the shop. you can find cheap pancakes on CL. aside from the shop compressor I have a 6gal pancake and a 1/2 gal mini from senco for a few trim nails like in a bath room or trim a single window when you don’t want to drag out the pancake

View a1Jim's profile


117416 posts in 3811 days

#15 posted 02-16-2013 06:25 PM

Mark I agree with having a larger compressor ,as you knowledge and shop grows you will find more and mores uses for compressed air. I would suggest at least a 20 gallon tank and 3-5hp. I prefer to have my compressors out side to save floor space and cut down on noise and for safety. I just build little dog houses for the compressor outside my shop and pipe the air and electricity through the wall . If you can bump your budget a little high you could have a unit like this that would let you use a spray gun and use air sanders.

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

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