What Kind of Nail Gun Do I Need?
We have come a long way from the old hammers- which require a lot of effort to get the job done- to the modern nail gun. A nail gun, or a nailer as others would call it, can place your nails accurately and with no more effort than it takes to pull the trigger. Whether you are a professional builder or a DIY enthusiast, having a nail gun, and choosing the right one for that matter can make it a lot easier to get the job done and with excellent efficiency and accuracy.
There are different types of nail guns, each more suitable for certain jobs or situations than the other. It there helps to evaluate your specific needs or what you what to accomplish before you go out shopping for a nail gun.
Nail Gun Types by Mode of Operation
Gas operated (pneumatic) that need an air compressor
The pneumatic nail gun is powered by a compressed air supply. It is the most popular type of nail gun. If you need something powerful that can handle heavy-duty tasks, this is the nail gun for the job. When choosing a pneumatic nailer, it is important to consider the compressor’s capability. The compressor’s pressure (PSI) and volume (CFM) ratings should not be less than the requirements of the nail gun. The compressor should also be able to handle the combined load in case you are planning on running other air tools in addition to the nail gun.
You can check out these posts we did about air compressor sizing to understand the requirements better
The main challenge with these nailers is mobility restrictions. The compressor’s air hose limits your movements. This can be a con, especially if you want something to easily move around with.
Electric nail guns
There are two main types of electric nail guns:
Corded electric nail guns
Corded nailers run via an appropriately rated extension cord which plugs into a 110/120 volt outlet. With power coming from an electric outlet, these nailers don’t limit you on your work time. They are also long lasting tools. But like the pneumatic type, the cord can limit your mobility as it needs to be plugged in for the nailer to run. These nailers can be a good choice if you like the idea of a corded electric nailer, and you have electrical outlets in the areas you would use it in.
For this type of nailer, I recommend the 3PLUS HF50S. It is a heavy-duty tool with impressive driving power.
Cordless electric nail guns
Cordless electric guns run off a rechargeable lithium-ion battery. They are a good option if you don’t want to be limited on mobility when working on your project. While this type of nailer isn’t as powerful as a pneumatic, there are many that are highly reliable to get heavy work done.
Being limited on your work time is the challenge, considering it uses battery power. But most of these types of nailers carry enough power to provide what you need. You can also buy extra batteries, which are sold separately just in case.
For this type of nailer, I recommend the Hitachi 18V cordless brad nailer. It is powered by compact 3.0Ah Lithium-ion battery and is also compatible with all Hitachi 18V Lithium-Ion slide-type batteries.
We did a roundup of the best battery-powered nail guns. You can check it out for more insights
Choosing a Nail Gun Depending on Application
Nail guns are known for their effectiveness and versatility. Some models work well in heavy-duty, high volume applications, while others are more suitable for small projects.
These come in three power types namely pneumatic, gas-powered, and electric (battery-powered or corded). They are commonly used to position pieces of wood that will be used to support an overall structure or for stabilizing wood that is used for framing doors and other similar entryways. They handle large projects, like framing houses, building decks, or constructing room additions.
For a framing nailer, I recommend the Freeman PFR2190 Pneumatic framing nailer. It comes with a 21-degree angle that allows you to drive nails into a variety of different materials at varying angles and spaces.
Palm nailers are small, handheld tools and are effective at driving nails in tight spaces. You have to reload them after driving each nail since they don’t have onboard nail storage. Most palm nailers are designed to drive large framing nails, joist hanger nails, or other bulk nails that are similar in size. They are generally inexpensive and are most popular as pneumatic tools running off an air compressor.
One top-rated palm nailer I recommend is the Senco PC1195 Mini Palm Nailer. It is 50% lighter than traditional hand nailers and features a magnetic nose that holds nails in place for safe, accurate placement.
These are lighter than the typical framing nailers and are more suited for assembling furniture and installing molding, cabinets, and trim. Finish nailers use headless nails and thus there isn’t much of a hole size left when the nail is shot.
My pick for a finish nailer is the DEWALT D51276K Finish Nailer. It uses 1-inch to 2-1/2-inch 34 degree collated nails.
These are basically the smaller cousins of finish nailers (here is a detailed look at the difference between a brad nailer and a finish nailer. They are designed to be lightweight, easy to use nail guns that can shoot brad nails. Brad nails are thinner and have a smaller head compared to standard finish nails.
Brad nailers are best used for projects where you don’t need a whole lot of strength and holding power, or you are concerned about the hole size the nail creates when shot. They can be used for jobs like attaching paneling, installing baseboard, fastening decorative molding, and making picture frames and other small woodworking projects among other tasks.
My pick for a brad nailer is the Hitachi NT-50AE2 18-gauge Brad Nailer. It features selective actuation that allows a user to select bump fire or contact fire modes with the simple flip of a switch.
Flooring nailers are used to secure a new floor to a stable foundational underlayment. They use one of two types of fasteners: staples or cleats. There are two basic types of flooring nailers, manual and pneumatic. A manual nailer has a spring inside of it. When you strike the nailer with a mallet, it drives a nail into the flooring. The pneumatic nailer is used in a similar manner as a manual nailer; however, a pneumatic uses air pressure to help force the nail through the board.
When choosing a flooring nailer, take into account the thickness of the flooring, as well as the type of wood. Softer wood will not require as much force as hard, more dense wood.
For a flooring nailer, my pick is the DEWALT DWFP12569 2-N-1 Flooring Tool. It is a versatile tool that can work with both cleats and staples for use against many wood species and thicknesses.
These are designed for applying roof shingles . They generally use shorter nails with larger heads, and can also be used for siding and similar materials as well. Roofing nail gun models also offer switchable contact or sequential trip, and tool-free depth-drive adjustment.
My pick for roofing nailer is the Bostitch RN46 Roofing Nailer. It is a 3/4-inch to 1-3/4-inch coil roofing nailer with a lockout mechanism preventing firing when empty.
Fencing nailers and staplers are basically specialized framing guns that may be designed for heavy finishing work. These help secure the slats and other detailed pieces you may be included in the design of your fence. Some fencing nailers are more durable for framing purposes as well.
The Freeman PFS9 Pneumatic 9-Gauge Fencing Stapler is my pick for a fencing nailer. It is powerful and durable and features a comfortable T-handle and belt hook for fatigue-free fencing. Check this post we did for more fencing nailers.
As the name suggests, a siding nailer is used for installing siding in your house. They are popular for use with fiber cement and wood siding applications. Typically, they use nails ranging anywhere from 1-1/4” up to 2-1/2” in length.
The Metabo NV65AH2 HPT Siding Nailer is one reliable siding nail gun I can recommend. It accepts 16 degree wire collated coil siding nails from 1-1/2”- 2-1/2”. It also accepts 15 degree plastic collated coil siding nails from 1-1/2” – 2-1/4”.
Nail Gun Types by Nail Loading Configuration
Nailers are available in strip and coil nail loading configurations.
Coil nailers, also called siding nailers, use flexible strings of nails joined by wires forming a round magazine. These types of nailers are more compact and can fit into more places than models that use nail strips. A coil nailer holds more nails than other models, which allows you to drive more nails than strip nail guns before reloading.
Strip nailers use nail magazines arranged on a cartridge or a long slender strip that slides into the gun. The nails are held together by strips of paper, plastic or wire. These nailers are easier to handle as compared to coil nail guns, due to their configuration which distributes the weight of the nails.
Other Things to Consider
There are several other things to consider when choosing a nail gun. Among these is the nailer features. While there are common features that you are likely to find in most of these tools, some come with features that improve the effectiveness of the nailer or make them safer to use among other things.
Here are some of the features to consider and the purpose they serve:
- Large triggers make it easier to operate the nailer with gloved fingers.
- Carrying cases protect the tool from damage during transportation.
- Protective guards prevent damage to the tool and also protect a user from flying debris. As they can wear with use, look for guards that you can easily replace.
- Nail size adjustment lets you change nail sizes as you switch tasks.
- Onboard work lights improve visibility of the work surface.
- Nail gun directional exhaust systems allow for the channeling of the tool’s exhaust.
- Jam clearing systems makes for easy maintenance, preventing nails from jamming in the mechanism.
- Depth adjustment allows for control on how far the tool drives a nail into the work surface.
Safety Precautions When Using Nail Guns
Like other tools, nailers also require attention to safety. Make sure you are following the instructions from the manufacturer for use, maintenance, and safety. The following are basic safety information when using nailers:
- Inspect the nail gun and repair or replace damaged parts before use.
- Wear safety glasses and other safety gear as specified in the tool’s manual.
- Keep your hands, feet and other parts of your body clear of the firing area. Use clamps when you need to secure work pieces.
- Before performing maintenance, ensure you have disconnected the tool from the air compressor or power supply.
- Do not use a nailer near flammable gases or liquids.
- Use the fasteners that the manufacturer specifies. Each nailer has specific requirements for the nails or fasteners.
If you still can make up your mind as to the right nailer to choose for your project, you can always go for an all-purpose nail gun. These are designed with multiple capabilities and are suited in a number of operations. For an all-around nailer that can reliably secure lumber for framing, I would recommend the Bostitch F21PL. Besides wood, this nailer can also be used on metal joist connectors.