Show here is the new Harbor Freight Fortress 1.2 HP 2 gallon 135 PSI ultra-quiet oil-free professional air compressor, item no. 64596.
They say it’s 80% quieter and up to 28% lighter than “other compressors in its class.” When you load the page, they have a video clip comparing it to a Porter Cable pancake-style air compressor. They also say that it delivers “up to 50% more runtime than similar jobsite compressors.”
The Harbor Freight Fortress air compressor is priced at $190. The “competing” model they show in the video looks like the Porter Cable 150 PSI 6-gallon 2.6 SCFM (at 90 PSI) compressor that’s on sale for $99.
But, I’m curious – how does it compare to a similarly styled and spec’ed California Air Tools 1 HP 2 gallon quiet compressor, currently $148 at Amazon? I would argue that the California Air Tools 2010A is a more appropriate representation of tools in the Fortress’s “class.” At least, that’s the comparison that customers should be making.
Noise Rating: The California Air Tools 2010A has the same noise rating – 60 decibels.
Capacity: Both have the same capacity (2 gallons). The California Air Tools compressor has a rust-free aluminum tank. The Fortress tank construction is unspecified.
Airflow: The California Air Tools compressor has a slightly higher airflow rating (2.20 CFM at 90 PSI vs. 2.1 SCFM).
Pressure: The Fortress is capable of operating at a higher pressure – 135 PSI vs. 120 PSI.
California Air Tools mentions the 2010A’s recovery time, Harbor Freight doesn’t mention this for their Fortress air compressor.
Weight: The California Air Tools compressor is lighter, at 34 lbs vs. 37 lbs for the Harbor Freight Fortress.
Power Draw: The Fortress air compressor says it draws 2.8 amps, but the user manual says 7A. The California Air Tools model draws 8.5 amps.
Fill-up Time: The California Air Tools compressor can be completely filled to max pressure in 50 seconds, or from 90 to 120 PSI in 14 seconds. Harbor Freight does not disclose fill-up times for the Fortress compressor.
Safety Certification: California Air Tools says that their compressor is UL certified.
Couplers: The California Air Tools compressor has (1), the Harbor Freight Fortress has (2).
Warranty: The Harbor Freight model has a 90 day warranty. The California Air Tools has a 1-year warranty.
Other features are similar, such as both having tank and regulator air gauges, drain valves, and emergency pressure valves.
The Harbor Freight Fortress air compressor certainly makes a compelling first impression, but their product description and comparisons prompted me to immediately compare it to a similarly spec’ed California Air Tools air compressor.
The Fortress compressor looks good – literally. Its front panel gives it a cleaner look than the California Air Tool’s open layout.
Spec-wise, the Harbor Freight Fortress has a slight lead in some areas, and the California Air Tools in others.
For small capacity air compressors, popular for trim work or other light use, one quick-connect coupler will usually suffice.
Given that the California Air Tools compressor is more than $30 less expensive ($148 vs. $190), there’s an additional advantage there. California Air Tools also tells you more about what you’re getting, with more detailed performance specs and information.
Personally, I’d be more inclined to go with the California Air Tools 2010A compressor. If the Harbor Freight Fortress were less expensive (it’s not shown in their Black Friday 2018 flyer), and there were more details about its motor and performance specs, its higher pressure ceiling could make the competition a bit tougher.
Why are specs important? While the Harbor Freight Fortress has a max pressure of 135 PSI, how long does it take for the tank to fill from empty or the preset cut-off (the manual says 105 PSI)? The California Air Tools compressor can fill from empty in 50 seconds, and refills from 90 PSI to 120 PSI in 14 seconds.
Which would you buy?
I’d say they’re from the same manufacturer. My 1.6 gal. California Air Tools compressor looks substantially identical to the Fortress.
From CAT website: The Quiet Flow Series is specifically designed for the DIY and Homeowner customer.
There is currently a 15% off coupon for compressors. It shows this compressor so very little chance it’s not eligible. So bringing it down to about $162 is pretty good.
I think I’m still going to get a California Air Tools version. I had a limit of $200 and I see Amazon has the twin tank 4gal and the hotdog style 5.5gal for just under that.
I have a Senco hotdog that just won’t die but even with IR All Season synthetic oil it still pops the breaker in my unheated STL garage. Went to HF and discovered they have a 1 gallon version. Perfect for topping off tires and blowing up slalom ski course turn balls.
I have the California Air 2010A. I use it in the basement so it has to be quiet so not to disturb the household. It is has a low hum when on and it’s quick to fill, you can just about hear it from the first floor.
My only slight complaint is that red pressure knob you see in the photo is cheap and stiff to turn.
Stuart the Porter Cable is 150 psi, not 90.
Sorry, I should have clarified. Yes, it’s 150 PSI, but its airflow is 2.6 SCFM at 90 PSI. In Harbor Freight’s video, they don’t show the model number, but the airflow rating is shown, and that’s the only way the Porter Cable is identifiable.
FYI: My Porter Cable is rated at 150PSI but the Auto cutoff is around 130-135 PSI.
The California Ultra quiet 2010A’s is currently listed at Home Depot as a special buy $147 . I might just pull the trigger.
At least the pump/motor looks to be the same design as the California air tools. I’ve had good luck with the 2hp version of these compressors. In fact I have run a couple of these in a light manufacturing application for medical devices. The price gap between these and an extra on hand vs any other quiet oil free compressor is huge. So we had a $300 compressor feeding into $3k worth of desiccant dryer and filtration. Ran great for 3 years until we needed more capacity and got an oiled scroll compressor.
When you report on something you should never guess.
Unfortunately, Harbor Freight’s incomplete and conflicting specifications make it impossible to know for certain. Their website says one thing for the power draw, their PDF user manual says another.
When you have one motor drawing 8.5A, and another drawing lower amperage, whether 3A or 7A, the higher power motor is going to be doing more work, which I’d assume translates to faster tank-filling speed. You’re welcome to suggest alternate possibilities.
Perhaps I should have phrased it differently; I moved fill-up time to its own section.
As for the conflicting amp draw, I do know that an empty compressor draws lower amps than an almost full one. They may have gotten their wires crossed on that.
Stuart. I bought this one today the little brother of the one you mention in this article.
It was priced at $149.99 locally. If you use the harbor freight coupon database (https://www.hfqpdb.com) there’s a coupon that knocks it down to $129.99 before taxes if applicable in your area. For me it was $134 and change with tax where I live. Here’s the exact coupon I used on my phone.
Initial impressions are it’s a decent unit for what it is. It is very quiet. Air flow is good enough for pin nailing, brads, staples, or occasional air inflation duties. I’m likely to giving it to my cousin as I owe him a small compressor (blew up his oil free 6 gallon pancake a while ago). I didn’t buy the other version you have in your article here for a couple reasons.
First of all there aren’t any applicable coupons that make $189.00 sound like a better deal. Although I’m sure HF will soon discount the unit somehow or another it’s not worth it to me right now. Purely this because CAT has better options for the money in my honest opinion. I hope HF realizes CAT has their stuff priced a lot better or are hoping nobody knows about CAT or finds out either. I don’t know how they can justify their pricing as it right now.
The model I bought competes directly with this unit from CAT (https://www.amazon.com/California-Air-Tools-CAT-1P1060S-Compressor/dp/B01LYHYHEA/) which is a pretty good price difference.
The model you state in article is more expensive than the CAT 2010A aluminum 2 gallon which I have already and bought last year at $135 on Amazon. (https://www.amazon.com/California-Air-Tools-2010A-2-0-Gallon/dp/B00TDNKBMC/).
CAT even has the 5 gallon 5510SE and 8 gallon 8010 hotdog models that are $149.00 and $178.00 respectively which are a much better proposition than the Fortress models.
Thanks for the info and insights!
I heard there’s a 15% coupon right now, but even then, the California Air Tools 2010A is lower priced, and possibly the better buy if one doesn’t mind the lower max pressure.
I should have mentioned I own both the 2010a bought from Amazon at just below the current pricing and the 1 gallon model I also mentioned. I wouldn’t go any other direction than CAT right now. Hopefully HF lowers pricing to be more competitive and expands the range. They don’t have an edge over CAT as it stands.
Also as some more information CAT has an eBay store. At the end of the year they tend to clean house and put a lot of stuff on that eBay store whether it’s complete units, demo units, tanks, compressor motor / pump combos separately, etc. I’ve scored a couple of their motor / pump units very cheaply this way that I’m using in air brush setups. You just have to be patient that’s all.
Further on compressors on general I’m hoping either Rigid (or more preferably) or Dewalt put their cordless compressors on a price break soon. I’d be very tempted to buy either one if it was the case for brads, staples, inflation duties, and air brushing for automotive paint touch up jobs.
Your coupon saved me $14 today!
You would think in this day and age given the speed and ease of finding genuinely comparable items as has happened on here (The California unit is clearly a more honest comparison) that sales/marketing/PR departments would not be so misleading the only thing I can think off is the believe their customer base is too lazy to check.
With regard to the hp a higher horsepower indicates potentially more power available however some producers do not want a If it running at full tilt conatantly because to do so can lead to increased breakdowns so it is not an absolute measure.
But the PC model is far more ubiquitous and well known. It’s not about an honest comparison, that’s what places like ToolGuyd are for. It’s about comparing it to something that most people already know about.
Why would I tell you about an orange when selling you an apple just because everyone knows what an orange looks like?
Not everyone reads websites such as Toolguyd I stand behind belief it is lazy (dishonest possibly) sales people producing a non comparison which they know most potential purchasers will not bother investigating. If the producer wanted to run a proper comparison they could have compared it to the California product, or not given it has very similar capabilities and is cheaper.
For a long time comparison advertising was effectively barred in the UK because the rules meant you had to highlight the similarities and the differences particularly price, even with more relaxed rules it is still fairly unusual because of the potential for no publicity is bad publicity for your competitors product.
“up to 50% more runtime than similar jobsite compressors.”
What does this mean for a corded tool? Shouldn’t the runtime be infinite as long as it’s plugged in?
They’re talking about the runtime of connected air tools, “compared to standard 125 PSI compressors.” I really don’t know how to interpret that without knowing more specs.
Wouldn’t that just be based on tank size then? If they are comparing their 2-gal compressor to the PC 6-gallon, then it seems like the PC 3x the runtime.
Incomplete and contradictory specs (in a product release bulletin, video, or instruction manual) are a red flag for me. Alas, that’s all too common.
Further, a 90-day warranty is unacceptable. Unlike product specs (where there is a calculated trade-off between features, quality and price (etc), the warranty offered is purely an economic decision. Could they (in a nanosecond) offer a 1-year warranty? Of course. That they choose not to tells you a lot: it literally says that they know it will cost them a lot of money to do so. I would never consider a compressor with a 90-day warranty.
I know this has been said before, but Harbor Freight has got to do better than a 90 day warranty on their premium brands. The price point a lot of these brands is getting close to known good quality brands with decent warranties.
You would think they would want to put a good warranty on these products to attract people and reassure them that you’re actually trying to put quality products out.
They want to sell the extended warrantees. But I agree that some of their recent premium stuff is overpriced….the Bauer 20v impact gun with two batteries is just as much as a Milwaukee without batteries. The Hercules saws are about $20 shy of the Dewalt models…..
When it comes to Harbor Fright, I’d be too worried that something like an “Ultra Quiet” compressor would be TOO quiet – because it’d stop working.
Maybe it’s the case that they’ve got the same manufacturer as the California Air Tools models making them, but usually that’s how HF tries to dupe it’s customers – with cosmetics.
I don’t think I’d take chances with a compressor, and I’d go for the name brand with a year or more warranty over HF anything, with their 90-days and then you’re SOL policy.
Had an 8gal HF compressor for 9 years with no problems. Gave it away, AFAIK it’s still running. So I have no worries. The newer products are even more reliable. The rating system has put a lot of emphasis on quality.
HF is not a manufacturer. They are a re-brander. I have heard people bragging up their tool and running down a similar HF tool, which appear to be made on the same assembly line.
RE: California Air Tools compressor – Patience, people.
1) http://www.camelcamelcamel.com, set up a price alert for $100.
3) I bought my CAT compressor for $92 at Amazon, someone else (can’t remember who,now, had it for the same price at the same time, but I’ve got Prime so no issue about shipping costs).
4) If running Firefox, add Invisible Hand; you have to visit a site and display the product page for it to work, but it is useful.
It would seem that the warranty issue is a big deal for Harbor Freight products and while I understand completely that if their warranty period is shorter or the conditions more onerous that this could arouse concerns however if the product is finely priced reducing the potential for warranty claims may be part of achieving the price point. If a tool does not cost much is it reasonable to expect it to last forever? If longevity is an issue then just buy a more expensive tool with a longer lasting warranty.
The whole process of conducting warranty repairs involving as it does moving a single unit around a system designed to move multiple units means the logistics can cost a multiple of the value of the item also most of the specialist tool retailers who would historically have carried out the repairs are now required to return items to the producer, Paslode the biggest nail gun producer seems to be an exception.
80% quieter than a compressor that wasn’t made to be quiet. 50% more runtime in a 2 gallon 135psi vs 6 gallon 150psi. Most compressors kick in around 100 psi to 120 psi. Which means that this set to kick in around 50 to 60 psi if that’s what they mean by 50% more runtime. You would not be able to put 35 psi in a tire with that. What I’m curious about is where does HF find these brands that they sell and how is it that you never see any of them anywhere until HF starts distributing them. Does HF manufacture their own products? Or is there an actual company like SBD
that owns fortress, Bauer, Chicago electric, etc that distributes their stuff through HF? And if HF is really trying to make a push in the pro market, then the 90 day warranty needs to be obsolete. If they can’t offer at least a 2 year warranty for the price of something like this, then they will never be taken seriously. But as most of us know, the tools sold by HF rarely make past the 1 year mark which is why they have the 90 day warranty. Their shop tools ain’t bad. I’ve had my bench mount belt sander for almost 10 years with no problems at all. But I’ve never had any of their power tools last longer than 6 months. It’s pretty bad that you can get a $25 recip saw or a $15 angle grinder and it lasts just as long as their $100+ drill.
I think these super-quiet compressors are made for indoor use, basement workshops, sewing rooms, jewlers, etc etc.
I bought the harbor freight two gallon model a few days ago. So far I like it a lot. The tank fills in 45 seconds from empty that’s 0 to 135 PSI in 45 seconds. The tank fills from cut out 105 psi to 135 PSI and 13 seconds. It’s quiet and appears to be well designed and built. I used a super coupon and bought it for 160. Knock on wood time will tell…
In looking around at the various ultra quiet small compressors available, it seems several if not all the manufacturers are jumping on the band wagon with this same dual head compressor motor.
These are the same compressor motors used with Airbrush for decades.
Iwata Anna others have them in use and to own one you shelled out a pretty penny for one.
I can only presume the cost to manufacture these dual head compressor motors has dropped significantly. Hence everyone is using them on their tanks.
Interesting non review. I don’t understand the hit against HF on the comparison of this quiet mode with any pancake junk. Cal air has same comparison on their website. Just proves that it is quiet. It is insane to have a compressor that you can’t use without really good hearing protection. And all cheap pancakes are like this. The issue with ALL HF warranties is that they expect to sell you their extended warranty. A large profit for them and anyone selling extended warranties.
For people complaining about the warranty on the premium line of tools from HF and their cost in relation to “name brand” let me say this. The 90 day warranty is a no questions asked, return to store and have it replaced. It’s broke, grab a new one. Other “name brand” tools are the same way. Many fail to realize that the 1 year warranty is a limited warranty where it covers failed parts only, and the tool must be shipped to the service center on your dime….both ways! This makes that “warranty” useless. Now…if you have a Harbor Freight near you the extended warranty is worth it for a tool like this, because again it is a no questions asked, bring it to the store and they replace it with a new one warranty. No shipping, no BS, just a new working tool. Lastly, if you are patient and wait…..all of the premium stuff from HF will have coupons to make them a fantastic deal. For example the Hercules compound miter saw…..with coupon is only $299 with a good blade. It also has a 1 year “use it, love it, or fully refund it” offer on it from them. Use the sucker for a year and if you hate it bring it back! That is significantly cheaper than the Dewalt model that is a direct comparison. With the extended warranty you’re still less money than Dewalt and if it breaks….take it in and get a new one, no stupid shipping! Same way with the compressors! Deals are there to be had, you just have to patiently wait for them!
You just nailed it!
Can you use an occasional framing gun? And 15ga. , 18ga. finish nailers?
Brad nailers are typically great with a compressor this size, finish nailers are typically okay, framing nailers can be possible but work better with bigger compressors.
I have a porter cable that I got from home depot for$200 including 4 nailers, on sale during the holidays. Then I found an identical package at Lowe’s with the Craftsman name on it.
I like it so far, except for the noise. i saw a fortress at harbor freight this week and the display was plugged in with a sign calling me to try it. i Couldn’t believe how quiet it was. I’m thinking of selling the pc and buying a fortress for my garage, keeping the 4 nailers. I don’t do high production work so the recovery rate is not critical.
Please excuse my ignorance but the claim 80% quieter than the competitor doesn’t seem right. In the video they compare the Porter Cable C2002 rated at 82 DBA against their 60 DBA compressor. I know DBA is logarithmic but i’m not good with numbers to do the math here but that seems like 80% difference for 60 to 84 DBA is way to much to be accurate. I understand they might have cherry picked these numbers for the original statement but come on HF. If they are doing a demonstration video and presenting numbers, they can’t swap the compressor and still claim the same numbers.
Secondly, as i’m sure you aware there is a new 4 gallon model in the Fortress line however if you look closely its actually 80 DBA. Not so much on the quiet side anymore. That’s almost the same loudness as they Porter Cable they were comparing to previously. Looking quickly at CAT’s website it seems their 1 and 2 HP series are 65 and 75 DBA respectively. Here this 4 Gal is 1.5 HP and 80 DBA….Seems like the Fortress line is not the “Quiet” line they were first introduced as.
Yeah i know there is more to it, HP, PSI, SCFM… My point is that Fortress is not the a quiet series in the absolute sense but relative instead. If i truly want a quiet Fortress model then i have to get one of the smaller options.
Jeff – Here is some help on the logarithmic computations:
– 3 dba quieter = .707 times the sound pressure
– 6 dba quieter = .50 time the sound pressure
-10 dba quieter = .316 times the sound pressure
-20 dba quieter = .10 times the sound pressure
So, at 22 dba less, the sound reduction is actually understated at “80% less” and is used by others for this same comparison, most notably Kobalt at Lowes.
Thanks for explaining but i am having a hard time understanding your numbers because of formatting.
The first two numbers are with dashes and spaces when the last two are with minuses. Are they all supposed to be the same? Are they negative numbers or just bullet points for your data?
Either way it doesn’t matter. The first part of my original post was just an uneducated rant that i shouldn’t have even included. I appreciate you take the time to show me.