Q&A / 

Framing Nail Gun

DEAR TIM: I've always wanted a powered nail gun to do rough carpentry. I realize they're expensive, but I want to treat myself and I really feel I'll get value out of it for all the projects I've got in my future. What are the pros and cons of the different tools? There are air and gas-powered tools available. It can be pretty confusing. Do you use these tools? If so, do you have any tips to share? Brian S., Buffalo, NY

DEAR BRIAN: Oh, if I had a penny for every nail I've shot with my different framing nail guns I just might give Sir Richard Branson an offer to buy his Necker Island paradise! I can tell you these tools are enormous time savers, and they're wicked machines that can be deadly. They must be treated just the same as you would treat a loaded handgun or a rifle.

Here's a great air-powered framing nail gun.  Photo Credit: Tim Carter

Here's a great air-powered framing nail gun. Photo Credit: Tim Carter

Let's talk about what these tools can do first. Most of them shoot an assortment of nails that allow you to do just about every rough carpentry task I can think of. You can bang together stud walls, laminate structural headers, attach plywood or oriented strand board (OSB) sheathing to walls and roofs, etc.

The tools can be adjusted so that you drive the nail the proper depth. Be certain that you always follow the building code requirements for both the type of nail, the shape of the head and the depth to which it must be driven. Be sure the nail gun you decide to purchase will work with code-compliant nails.

Thirty years ago, I was using the most popular and rugged nail gun that was made at the time. My Senco SN4 gun was an air-powered beast, and drove thousands of nails per work day without jamming. It worked tirelessly from sunup to sundown. You just had to feed it a couple of drops of oil each morning, and it was happy as a clam.

My Senco gun got it's air from a gasoline-powered air compressor. This machine was an extra expense, it needed fuel, and it required regular maintenance so that it would start. It was also noisy. Many carpenters use much quieter electric compressors. The advantage of my compressor is that it could be used where there was no electric.

Some years later, I switched to the impulse gas nail guns made by Paslode. Oh my did that gun become my favorite. To be free of the heavy compressor, the hoses, the noise - that was really liberating. I could have 50 nails shot or more with that gun long before you would have my old Senco up and running. The impulse gun just needed it's battery charged each night. It always had enough power to operate all day long.

You can get electric-powered nail guns, but the only ones I've been able to see are finish nailers. Something tells me it will take a significant advancement in technology to have a cordless battery-powered framing nail gun.

Before you make your final purchasing decision, be sure to calculate all the costs. If you decide to go with an air tool, you'll need a compressor, hoses, fittings, etc. Think what will happen if you need to use the tool somewhere else and how will you get all that gear to the job site?

With my impulse nailer, the entire tool and everything you need fits into a small case you easily carry with one hand. I can take it anywhere I want. I can even use it at a remote site all day where there is no power. I just need to charge the battery pack at night back home or at a cabin.

Safety is something you must think about all the time with nail guns. They call them guns for a reason. People have been killed with them and seriously injured. On one of my jobs years ago, one of my helpers nailed his big toe to the sub-flooring because he was going too fast. I almost had a 16d framing nail shoot into my chest one day because I was doing something foolish.

On another job, an air-powered air nailer shot two nails in quick succession because of a hair trigger. The gun bounced off the stud, hit me in the head, broke my glasses, and knocked me off the ladder. When I came to, blood was streaming down my face. Three hours and four stitches later, I was back on the job site. Do I have your attention yet? Treat these tools with the utmost respect.

Don't use these tools when you're fatigued. A mistake can be deadly. Always read the instruction manual, especially all the safety warnings. Don't ever leave these tools around children of any age. They're highly curious about tools, and these nailers will fascinate them.

If you keep your new nailer clean and follow all maintenance instructions, it should give you years of great service. I can tell you when I have to hand nail just a few nails, I always wonder why I just didn't open up the case of my nail gun and use it. But doing it the old-fashioned way makes you really appreciate the luxury of these great tools.

You can watch numerous nail gun videos that show the different guns and how they work. Just type "nail gun video" into the AsktheBuilder.com search engine.

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