What is a Nail Gun? FAQ

What is a Nail Gun? FAQ 2

If you are a professional construction worker or a seasoned DIY fanatic, you already know the potential benefits that nail guns bring on board.

Extremely powerful, accurate, and incredibly quick, nail guns can be a fantastic addition to any tool collection.

Of course, a hammer and a few pairs of nails can get the job done. However, it will not only take you relatively longer, but the final job may also not be as professional as you would like it to be. This is why you want to equip yourself with a nail gun.

These amazing machines precisely launch nails at high speeds, embedding them in a piece of wood in only a fraction of a second. Simply put, a nail gun will save you hours of toil and sweat!

What is a nail gun?

A nail gun is simply a power tool that drives or propels nails arranged in a coil or strip into a piece of wood. A nail gun is also referred to as a nailer. It is a highly important tool in the field of farming, carpentry, construction, and roofing.

Nail guns are usually driven by pneumatic or compressed air, electromagnetism, a small explosive charge (for powder-actuated tools), or highly flammable gases such as propane or butane.

How does a nail gun work?

What is a Nail Gun? FAQ 3
Brad nail gun air nailer tool and helmet for construction on a wood background.

Most nail guns boast a similar firing mechanism. They are equipped with a piston hammer that propels the nails into the target. The major difference between the different types of nail guns is the origin of the force that propels the piston.

In terms of functionality, nail guns perform two primary tasks; to produce a staggering amount of hammering force with each pull of the trigger while at the same time reloading new nails every time a few are fired.

To execute this function, these tools are therefore designed with both a firing mechanism and nail-loading mechanism.

For firing mechanisms, most types of nail guns employ a similar design.

When you pull the trigger, either the two springs will compress and release enough force to drive the nails into the target material or the piston will hammer down on the blade mechanism to propel the nails into the target as well.

It is also crucial to note that all nail guns use one of these two mechanisms to fire the nails. However, the main difference between the various models of nail guns is the origin of the force that either compresses the spring or propels the piston.

Typically, this source of power can be electric, combustion-powered, or pneumatic.

For the nail refilling mechanism, nailers feature a magazine (container or detachable receptacle that holds a supply of nails to be fed automatically to the breech of the gun) that feeds into the nail gun’s barrel.

The nails are glued together into a long strip, usually known as plastic collated. There is a spring at the base of the magazine that pushes the strip up into the barrel.

So, when you pull the trigger, the hammer will roll down, separating the next nail from the strip and guiding it through the wood.

Pneumatic nail guns are arguably the most common types. These powerful models make use of the air compressor for the firing mechanism. The compressor is attached to the base of the nail gun using either rubber or plastic air hose.

The compressor creates air pressure by absorbing air from the atmosphere before compressing it to pressure, measured in PSI (pounds per square inch). For an adequate supply of pressure, these compressors are equipped with adjustable regulators.

As a result, you can either reduce or increase the amount of pressure within the compression unit.

This compressed air (pressure) is then transferred into a nail gun’s barrel and subsequently released each time the trigger is pulled.

The pressure above the gun’s internal piston propels the blade forward hence firing the nail into the wood at an extremely high-speed velocity. With regular use, the pressure level inside the compressor will eventually drop.

To ensure the operator doesn’t run out of the much-needed pressure, the compressor will kick back the level of pressure drops to a certain preset limit, effectively building the level back to the optimal level.

As you may have guessed, this feature gives pneumatic nail guns the ability to deliver, consistent and powerful results regardless of the application.

There are also combustion nail guns and battery-operated ones. Regarding functionality, combustion nail guns function similarly to their pneumatic nail gun counterparts. The only difference is the fuel source.

Just as the name suggests, they have internal combustion that generates the driving force that fires the nails as needed. On the other hand, battery-operated nail guns are arguably the simplest types and are suited for most DIY home projects.

They are equipped with an electric motor that compresses a powerful string. So when triggered, the spring is suddenly released and creates a force needed to propel the nail into the wood.

One major benefit of battery-powered nail guns is that they guarantee a quick start-up. There is no gas cartridge, compressor, or air horse to deal with. They only depend on a rechargeable battery to provide power to the motor.

However, it is worth noting that they offer much less power compared to either fuel-powered or pneumatic models. This only means that they are only suited for less demanding projects.

What type of nail gun do I need?

What is a Nail Gun? FAQ 4
Building a new above ground deck, carpenter installing a wood floor outdoor terrace in new house a man using pneumatic nailer gun

Today, there are numerous types of nail guns out there that can be used for different applications. This means that you will choose a nail gun based on the task you want to achieve with it.

When choosing the best nail gun for your application, you should look for the gauge size, which determines the size of nails the nail gun can drive, power source, which we have already tackled, and the weight.

To make it relatively easy for you to choose the best nail gun according to your needs, let us discuss in excruciating detail some of the most common types of nail guns.

Framing nail guns 

If you will be tackling large construction projects, framing guns is your ultimate choice. They are ideal for use on wood framing in building and heavy construction projects.

They are also perfect for framing walls, building fences, pallets, and installing sub-flooring and roofing.

These heavy-duty machines are designed with unrivaled adjustment capabilities that allow the user to customize the appropriate driving depth of the nails depending on the intended application.

Here, the nails used are between 2 and 3 inches long. The nails can either have round or clipped heads. So, if you’ll be tackling heavy projects such as major carpentry projects, framing nail guns are the way to go.

Finishing nail guns

These are ideal for fairly lighter projects. They are the smallest nail guns hence house equally the tiniest nails. They are used in making furniture, building cabinets, and interior repair projects.

They usually accommodate between 14 and 16 nail gauges and use nails that are between 1 and 2 inches.

Brad nail guns

These are designed to work with 18-gauge brads that range from 5/8 to 2-inches in length. While this type of nail gun is often confused with their finishing nailer counterparts, there are several differences between the two.

One major difference is that brads are usually shorter than finishing nails and also don’t feature a nail head. Brad nail guns are ideal for small wood projects that need lots of precision.

Bearing in mind that brads don’t have nail heads, they leave a small hole to fill with putty while still guaranteeing incredible holding strength.

As a result, brad nailers are perfect for a broad range of home applications including upholstery projects, basement, shoe, crown, installing quarter-round, adding trim to cabinets and wood furniture products, and building small hobby items such as picture frames.

Roofing nail gun

Just as the name implies, these are used for nailing new roofing installations. They are also heavy-duty, just like their framing nail gun cousins. They are mostly used by professional roofers, although experienced DIYers can also operate them.

Roofing nailers are extremely powerful and deliver nails into the roofing material at lightning-fast speeds.

Siding nailer

These are used to install the siding. They are equally powerful and are used to join or connect pieces of wood or synthetic material to a wooden mount. Siding nail guns use relatively shorter nails, preferably between 1 ¼ and 2 inches with wider heads.

Some brands are compatible with aluminum nails, a phenomenon that makes them ideal for aluminum siding. Similar to their framing nailer counterparts, they are great for projects that involve the joining of larger pieces of wood.

Pin nail guns

These are usually used in carpentry for finishing purposes. It is also worth noting that they are arguably the smallest and most delicate finish nail guns you’ll find out there on the market. They are compatible with 23-gauge headless pin-looking nails.

Pin nails have very little holding power and this is why they are usually used together with an adhesive for added support, such as glue. Pin nailers are generally used for finishing carpentry work, crown molding, cabinetry, small furniture trim, thin veneers, and delicate trim pieces.

Flooring nail guns

These look extremely different from what most people are used to seeing. They are expertly, uniquely designed to make it relatively easy for contractors to lay tongue-and-groove floorboards.

These types of nail guns aren’t as versatile as other nailers and are only used for laying floorboards. There are two main types of flooring nail guns; pneumatic and manual.

Though both are used nearly the same way, pneumatic nail guns use compressed air that drives the nails into your floorboard. Simply put, pneumatic flooring nail guns need less human exertion.

Palm nailers

These are palm-sized guns that typically function much like their large-size counterparts. Just as the name suggests, they rest in your palm during operation. Hey also feature a strap that you’ll wrap around your hand for a comfortable grip.

They are available in cordless, electric and pneumatic versions. Of course, cordless variations, that are battery-powered, offer more freedom and portability. They are ideal for smaller projects, tight spots, and joist hangers.

Because these nail guns are small and lightweight, they are fairly easier to work with for longer periods. Most palm nailers can drive nails between 1 and 3 inches long. Some heavy-duty models can handle nails between 2 and 6-inch in length.

Thanks to their size, palm nailers are incredibly accurate.

Staple gun

IThese are more or less like the above nail guns, but are capable of driving staples, which are a type of fasteners into a range of materials.

They are versatile machines that can be used for a broad range of applications, including construction, carpentry, upholstery, and home repair projects.

the powering options will also determine the type of nailer you’ll finally buy

Battery-powered/cordless nail guns

These run on rechargeable batteries. Though they are very convenient and easy to operate, they are relatively weak and only suited for lighter projects.

Pneumatic nail guns

We have previously explained how these types of nailers function. Though they are extremely efficient and fairly cheaper as well, they need a separate air compressor to provide the pressure used for powering the nailer.

Electric nail-guns

These function pretty much like pneumatic nailers but are relatively lightweight. They are best for residential applications. They do not only produce less noise but are also fairly more affordable.

Gas-powered nail guns

These are arguably the most powerful and are often used by professionals only. They are not only very expensive but come with a fair share of safety concerns as well.

Do all nail guns require a compressor?

As we have just mentioned, one of the most important factors to consider when buying a nailer is the power source. All nail guns need some form of power to operate and drive nails.

The source of the power of your nail gun is a crucial factor because it will affect your nailer’s mobility as well as the type of application it will handle.

Currently, there are four different methods through which nail guns acquire the force used to drive nails including pneumatic, electric-powered, fuel-powered, and battery-powered.

In this regard, it is only pneumatic nail guns that need the assistance of an air compressor to function. The air compressor provides the air pressure, which is measured in pounds per square inch, or PSI.

The resulting compressed air is what provides the energy that fires the nails into the wood.

Though they are incredibly powerful and can effortlessly handle heavy-duty projects, pneumatic nailers can limit your mobility simply because they are attached to a compressor via a hose pipe.

What size compressor do I need for a nail gun?

Generally, pneumatic nail guns don’t require a consistent flow of air supply. They are intermittent power tools that only require a short bust of air to force nails inside the wood.

So this implies that you only need to equip yourself with a portable air compressor that features at least 2 CFM rating and a tank capacity of between two and six gallons.

What should you consider when buying an air compressor for your nail gun?

Three important factors should guide you toward finding a suitable compressor that suits your needs as well as those of your nail gun.

Tank capacity

If you want your nail gun to serve you for an extended period, it is apparent that you’ll require an air compressor having a large tank. Many of the air compressors designed to power pneumatic tools feature tank capacities that range between 1 and 8 gallons.

Of course, there are many air compressors on the market that have larger tank capacities. However, if you are looking for ease of use and portability, go for an air compressor with a 1-6-gallon rated capacity.


This stands for cubic feet per minute. So, if your air compressor is rated 2 CFM, it simply means that it would blow a certain volume of air at 2 cubic feet of area per minute. To put it simply, CFM is a measure of the rate of flow of air at a given time.

As a rule of thumb, you should choose an air compressor that has a CFM that is slightly higher than that of your tool (nail gun).

Because nail guns require short bursts of air but not continuous bursts of air, an air compressor with between 2-4 cfm would do just fine.

Pressure (PSI)

PSI stands for pounds per square inch. Most air compressors from reputable brands offer appropriate PSI to operate pneumatic nail guns. Being air tools, nail guns will function well with an air compressor that has a PSI of between 70 and 90.

Can a nail gun kill you?

Despite their potential benefits, nail guns can present some safety concerns. According to the US Centers for Disease Control, CDC, nearly 42,000 people go to the emergency rooms as a result of injuries caused by nail guns.

Injuries to the hands, fingers, and feet are among the most common, though other injuries involve other parts of the body such as legs, arms, and internal organs. Some of these injuries can be fatal and some have resulted in death!

All types of nail guns can be dangerous, and this means that safety precautions should be taken for their use. As always, you should read and understand all the safety measures and requirements that come with the regular use of nail guns.

These safety measures are usually available from your manufacturer’s user manual.

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