Nailing is an essential part of woodworking that involves the driving of nails into wooden surfaces for joining purposes. Traditionally, nailing was done using a hammer, but this was very dangerous because there was the danger of hammering yourself or the nail bouncing off.
Nail guns eliminate all these risks and they mechanize the process to make it easier to work on large scale projects with minimal fatigue. What exactly is a nail gun? Let’s find out.
What are Nail Guns?
A nail gun is a power tool that is designed to drive nails through wood. The force required to shoot the nails is provided either by electricity, compressed air, or gas, and this is controlled by a trigger.
The tool also has a cartridge that houses the nails, which are arranged in strips or coils for efficient feeding into the gun.
Types of Nail Guns
1. By Application
Photo: Metabo HPT
Framing nailers are what you use for heavy-duty projects. Most are powered pneumatically and as the name suggests, they are ideal for wood framing in construction projects.
They are available in two varieties: clipped head and round head framing nailers. These correspond to the type of nails that they fire.
Clipped head nailers have a slight advantage over round head nailers because their cartridges hold more nails. This makes them ideal for larger projects.
Read More: Clipped Head vs. Round Head Nail
That said, each type can hold nails that are up to 3.5 inches long and can join thick pieces of 2×4 lumber.
These nailers are meant for finish-carpentry work such as in installing crown molding, baseboards, and trims. For such tasks, these tools use 15 – 16-gauge nails that are 1 – 2.5 inches long.
The tools are designed for high precision work and most have an angled design for easy reach into tight spaces.
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Brad nailers are designed to shoot brad nails, which are thin 18-gauge steel nails. These nails usually vary in length from 0.5 – 2 inches. With these short and thin nails, brad nailers are ideal for working on baseboards, crown molding, and trim work.
As compared to a finish nailer, this tool is better for pinning thinner panels/boards because the thin brad nails prevent splitting.
Photo: Metabo HPT
As the name suggests, roofing nailers are designed to pin roofing sheets or shingles to the wooden frame. Considering that roofing requires round head nails, which provide maximum holding power, roofing nailers are usually designed for the round head nail type.
Because space is not a big issue for such projects, straight or angled roofing nail guns can be used.
Flooring nailers can either be manual, pneumatic, or electric (cordless). Regardless of the type, these nailers are usually used with thin 18-gauge nails to pin floorboards with tongue and groove joints to the floor.
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Pin nailers are found on the extreme end of the small size scale. They are very small and use very thin 23-gauge nails. These nails resemble pins due to their size and hence the name of the tool.
That said, pin nailers are used in the finest finishing carpentry work where high holding power is not required. This includes pinning thin veneer, installing small furniture trim, and upholstery work.
The tool can also be used to pin nails to temporarily hold glued pieces together to allow the glue to set.
This is a relatively new specialized tool that is designed to install siding boards. Before its availability in the market, most carpenters used framing nailers for this job. However, these fire longer nails than required for this task.
To install siding, you need 1.25 – 2.5-inch nails, and siding nailers are designed to shoot such nails.
Palm nailers are small palm-sized nail guns that are designed to shoot one nail at a time. The reason for this is that they are used to driving nails into very tight spots and therefore, they must be extremely small.
In fact, they are small enough to be used while tied to the palm using straps on one hand. Their small size makes them very affordable and they usually work with 1.5 – 3-inch long nails.
This type of nailer is used to drive staples, which are suitable for firmly attaching two materials. For instance, you can use it to fasten upholstery fabric to a seat’s frame, for repair work that involves thin panels or for pinning carpets to floors.
2. By Power
Pneumatic nail guns were the first type to be built and are still very popular to this day. They are powered using compressed air and their main engine consists of a piston and cylinder.
The air supply is directed into the cylinder from the rear end and once you press the trigger, a burst of pressurized air is released into the cylinder. Due to its high pressure, the air delivers a strong punch to the piston, which then pushes the nail with great force through the wood.
The piston is then pushed back into the cylinder using the same compressed air, ready for the next shot. This working mechanism makes the tool ideal for heavy-duty use, such as when pushing long and thick nails into hardwoods.
The reason why pneumatic guns are very popular is that they are affordable and lighter than the other types, and they shoot the nails at a very fast rate. However, you need an external air compressor to run this gun.
Electric guns can either be corded or cordless. Corded nailers are more powerful because they have an unlimited supply of power but must be plugged into a wall outlet. This limits their portability.
On the other hand, cordless nailers can be used anywhere but with batteries attached, they can be quite heavy and their power supply is limited.
That said, electric nail guns have an electric motor that compresses a high-tension spring inside. This spring stores the energy required to push in the nail into the wood, which is released once you press the trigger.
The main issue with this design though, is that the spring does not provide as much power as a pneumatic system. Therefore, electric nail guns are suitable for light woodwork.
Additionally, compression takes some time and thus, the nailing process can be a bit slower and this worsens when hammering multiple nails because you need to wait for the spring to be set after each shot.
Gas nail guns operate just like the pneumatic type because they have piston and cylinder engines. However, instead of using compressed air, they have an internal combustion system that pushes the piston.
Fuel is provided in the form of gas from cartridges, which is supplied to the cylinder. The guns are equipped with small batteries that supply power to a spark plug, which ignites the gas in the cylinder.
This creates an explosion that shoots the piston forward, which then fires the nail with a lot of force. As such, gas nailers are suitable for heavy-duty use. However, they can be expensive to run because the fuel cartridges must be replaced once the gas is used up.
1. Can a nail gun be used as a weapon?
No. Though the tool drives in nails with a lot of force, this cannot be compared to the one produced when firing a bullet from a gun. Additionally, nailers have muzzles that must contact the surface for the gun to shoot. Therefore, it is not a very effective weapon.
2. Are nail guns dangerous?
Nail guns have the potential to cause serious harm, especially at close range. They fire the nails as sharp projectiles and at proximity, they can cause puncture wounds in the hands and fingers.
3. Do all nail guns require a compressor?
Not all nail guns require a compressor. There are three types of nail guns by power and only the pneumatic type requires a compressor to run.
4. What is the difference between a finish nailer and a brad nailer?
Finish nailers shoot thicker and longer 15 – 16-gauge nails while brad nailers are designed to shoot thinner and shorter 18-gauge brad nails into wood. Both are meant for finish carpentry work but the brad nailer is meant for smaller workpieces that are more fragile.
More Detailed: Brad Nailer vs. Finish Nailer
Though they almost have a similar outward appearance, these nail guns are designed for different tasks and this is usually determined by the size and type of nail that they use.
As such, you need to pick the right nailer that is ideal for your project, and for this, you need to first determine which nail is best.