The primary function of a nail gun is to drive nails into materials like wood and plaster. This simple power tool uses compressed air, electricity, or gas to propel the nails into your material faster than if you were to use a hammer. But with various types of nail guns on the market, each designed for different uses, it’s hard to know which one is right for you. So, to avoid hammering away until you’ve got a headache, below are all the things you need to consider when purchasing a nail gun.
The Two Firing Mechanisms of Nail Guns
There are two kinds of firing mechanisms in a nail gun that can dictate your workflow for the specific project you’re working on: dual-contact firing and sequential firing.
This design allows you to fire a nail by holding down the trigger and then pressing the nose of the gun against the work surface. This allows you to continue firing nails at a fast pace without having to release and re-press the trigger each time.
This design means the nail will not fire until after you release the trigger, ensuring a higher level of precision with nail placement. Please know that you will need to press the nosing of the gun onto the work surface to unlock the trigger before it can function.
All tools, including all types of nail guns, demand strict attention to safety protocols to avoid malfunctions and serious injury to yourself or those around you. Below are some basic safety points to consider:
- Wear appropriate safety glasses and other equipment as specified in the manual
- Secure your work surface and keeps hands, feet and other body parts clear of all firing areas
- Never point the nail gun at another person or animal
- Keep others, especially children, far away while operating the nail gun
- Disconnect the nail gun from the power supply before performing maintenance, adjustments or clearing a jam
- Inspect the nail gun before each use and do not operate if any of the parts appear damaged or need replacing
- Do not use the nail gun in proximity to combustible elements such as dust, gas or vapor
- Do not alter or customize the nail gun
- Adhere to the manufacturer’s instructions for use, maintenance, and safety
Aside from the firing mechanisms, you also have to consider the model of the nail gun and its source of power.
How Do I Know What Kind of Nail Gun I Need?
With variations in size, weight, framing, and finish, all types of nail guns are an asset to any construction, repair, and woodwork project. Each model is tailored to a specific purpose, so it is important to know what your goals are before purchasing.
- For larger projects like building decks, constructing room additions or framing houses, use a framing nailer.
- For assembling furniture and installing cabinets, trim and molding or wainscotting, use a finishing nailer.
- For precision work, use the stapler or a brad nailer.
- For roofing work and the application of shingles, use a roofing nailer.
- For hardwood flooring, reduce your installation time with a flooring nailer.
- For specific tasks, such as nailing in tight spaces, use a palm nailer.
Another thing to consider is how the nail gun generates pressure to fire the nail at high speed. The catalysts for this pressure include compressed air (pneumatic), fuel or gas, and electricity.
Pneumatic Nail Guns
This design is most common on construction sites, as its sheer power and performance positions it as the best option on the market. Pneumatic nail guns are the most powerful of all options, as they use an external air compressor, connected via an air hose, to supply the intense pressure needed to nail deep into thick surfaces. The connection hose can be cumbersome as it limits mobility during use.
Fuel-Driven Nail Guns
Unlike the pneumatic models, these cordless designs offer complete mobility with no tethering to compressors or air hoses. They do not rely on compressed air; they use fuel-cartridges that feed small amounts of fuel into a combustion chamber. It only takes a spark from the model’s battery to ignite the fuel and generate the force needed to drive the nail into the desired surface. A slight, costly drawback of these models, is the need for replacement cartridges for long periods of operation.
Electric Nail Guns
These models generate the nailing force needed to function by using electricity. Electric nail guns use an electric motor which can be directly plugged into the wall or run off rechargeable batteries. While they do not output the same amount of power as the pneumatic models, the freedom to operate them almost anywhere and the interchangeable batteries make them popular.
The Big 7 | Different Types of Nail Guns
As mentioned earlier, there are many types of nail guns on the market because there are many types of
demands for personal, DIY projects to professional construction sites. As a general rule of thumb, the name of the nail gun relates to the kinds of tasks it can undertake.
1. Framing Nailer
This is the most heavy-duty nailer of the group. Capable of working with nails up to 3.5″, the framing nailer is ideal for assembling and joining large wooden frames in big scale construction jobs and building projects.
There are two styles of framing nailers: clipped head and round head. A clipped head can hold a substantial amount of nails, making it ideal for high-volume projects. A round head cannot hold as many nails as a clipped head, but its use remains unrestricted by certain building codes.
The best tasks for a framing nailer include:
- Wood Sheathing
- Wood siding
An added advantage is the interchangeable firing mechanism. You can use sequential and dual-contact firing on this model, depending on your needs.
2. Flooring Nailer
The flooring nailer looks different from other types of nail guns because it is used to layer tongue-and-groove floorboards. It is placed at the edge of the floorboards and requires a nylon mallet to hit the plunger to drive in the nail, ensuring the correct angle and depth every time.
Flooring nail guns are taxing because of the constant manual exertion needed, which is why many professionals opt for the pneumatic models. They are not as versatile as other nail guns as their sole purpose is to lay floorboards.
3. Palm Nailer
As the name implies, these mini nailers operate in the same way as full-sized types of nail guns, but on a smaller scale. With a strap that goes around your hand for stability and comfort, this nail gun can fit in your palm and allow you to tackle smaller projects or tasks in tight and hard-to-reach spaces. Palm nailers are available in pneumatic and electric variations, with some electric options offering cordless solutions for freedom and portability.
Palm nailers do not use strips or coils like other types of nail guns; they use regular nails like a hammer. Basic models can handle nails between 1.5″ and 3.5″ in length, while heavy-duty models can drive in nails between 2″ and 6″. The small, light-weight design allows for extreme accuracy and use over extended periods, with fewer chances of fatigue. They are the most inexpensive type of nail gun on the market.
4. Roofing Nailer
Roofing nail guns are designed to drive nails into wood and other roofing materials with lightning-fast velocity. They are extremely powerful and heavy-duty, similar to framing nail guns but mainly used by construction professionals. There are three types of roofing nail guns:
- Spring loaded: The simplest in design using springs to generate the driving force
- Pneumatic: The most popular and most powerful type in this category, it uses compressed air to generate force
- Solenoid: This design sends electric currents through a coil to drive a magnetic piston that hammers the nail (electromagnetic polarization)
Restricted to its specific purpose, the roofing nailer has limited use, like the flooring nailer.
5. Brad Nailer
The pin-like nails this model uses make it ideal for finishing touches and delicate tasks. Brad nailers use an18-gauge brad nail, which is easily concealable in the wood because of the small head and diameter. They can also be used on 15 or 16-gauge nail projects, for a clean finish. These include:
- Crown Molding
- Trim Work
- Door and Window Casings
6. Finish Nailer
Similar to the brad nailer, finish nailers are ideal for
finishing carpentry work on a project. However, they can handle larger and thicker pieces of wood. Using a 15 to16-gauge nail, the finish nailer can be used on delicate woodwork and often provides a stronger holding power than a brad nail. Finish nailers are great options for assembling furniture, installing cabinets, trim and molding, wainscotting and baseboards.
7. Staple Gun
Not to be confused with other types of nail guns, a staple gun drives a staple (a fastener, like a nail) into a wide range of materials. Staple guns are highly versatile and appropriate for the most delicate applications:
- Carpeting or soundproofing
- Wood and fabric repairs
- Simple constructions such as birdhouses
Although lacking in power, the staple gun can provide the delicate touch other nail guns cannot, and they are always a handy addition to any household tool kit.
Nail guns (or nailers) have an extensive range of uses in construction, repair and woodwork projects, and with various models available on the market, it is understandable why they are a popular alternative to the conventional hammer. The speed, power, accuracy, mobility, and freedom they provide, enable you to approach any task with confidence and ease. We hope we have helped distinguish the different types of nail guns and their primary functions, but if you want to speak with someone further, visit your local hardware store today.