Lowe's Home Improvement

Nailer / Nail Gun Buying Guide

When you need to drive a lot of nails efficiently, a nail gun is a good solution. A nail gun can sink thousands of nails a day consistently and accurately.

Pneumatic finish nailer.

Nailer Types

Coil nail gun.

Nailers (or nail guns, the names are interchangeable) are available in coil and strip configurations.

Coil-style nailers use long, flexible strings of nails joined with wires. A round magazine on the tool stores the nails in a coil. These nailers can fit into spaces that will not accommodate many strip-style models. Coil-style nailers hold more nails than a strip-style model, which means you won't need to reload as often.

Strip-style nailers use nails arranged on a long, slender strip or stick that slides into an oblong magazine on the tool. Strips of paper, plastic or wire hold the nails together. This configuration distributes the weight of the nails rather than concentrating it in a roll, giving the tool better balance than a coil-style nailer.

Where and When to Use a Nailer

Brad nailer.

Nailers are effective in many types of construction. Some models are useful in heavy-duty, high-volume applications, while others work well for small jobs:

  • Framing nailers handle large projects such as building decks, constructing room additions or framing houses.
  • Finishing nailers are lighter than framing nailers and work well for assembling furniture and installing cabinets, trim and molding.
  • Staplers, tackers and brad nailers are also lightweight and are suited for precision work.
  • Roofing nailers are specifically designed for applying roof shingles.
  • Flooring nailers speed up installation of hardwood flooring.
  • Palm nailers are small, pneumatic tools that can drive individual nails in tight spaces. They don't have onboard storage, so you have to reload them after each use.

Nailer Power Sources

The power source of a nailer is a factor in the mobility of the tool and the type of work it can handle.

A pneumatic nailer drives nails using air from a compressor. The compressor's ratings for pressure (measured in pounds per square inch, or psi) and volume, (measured in cubic feet per minute, or cfm) should be equal to or greater than the requirements of the nailer. If you plan to run other air tools in addition to a nailer, you need to make sure the compressor can handle the combined load. While a pneumatic nailer can be powerful and capable of handling heavy-duty tasks, the compressor and air hose limit mobility.

A cordless, battery-powered nailer offers greater mobility than a pneumatic model since it doesn't require an air compressor or a hose. This model also has a quick start-up time, but doesn't have the power of a pneumatic nailer.

A cordless, fuel-driven nailer uses combustion to drive nails. Fuel drains from a disposable gas cartridge into a combustion chamber. A battery provides an electric charge to ignite the fuel. The resulting explosive force drives a nail. No cords or hoses are necessary, giving this type of nailer good mobility. A fuel-driven nailer can be powerful enough for heavy-duty jobs, capable of driving large fasteners into hard materials.

Nailer Firing Methods

Stick nailer.

Understanding the different nailer firing methods will help you choose a tool for your projects and help you avoid accidental firing. Note that manufacturers may have different names for firing methods. On most nailers, the firing method depends on the operation of two controls: a trigger and a safety tip that you depress against the work surface.

Contact or "bump" firing lets you rapidly drive nails in succession. As long as you're holding down the trigger, each bump of the safety tip against the work surface fires a nail. This type of firing speeds up production work, but can be difficult to control. There is a higher risk of unintentional firing than with other methods.

Single-sequential firing prevents you from bump-firing nails. You must operate the safety tip and trigger in sequence to fire the first nail. However, you can keep the safety tip pressed against the work surface and simply release and reactivate the trigger for each additional nail.

Single-actuation firing functions like single-sequential firing, but to fire the first nail, you can operate the safety tip and trigger in any order. This means that you can bump-fire the first nail.

Full-sequential firing makes safe operation easier by requiring sequential activation of the safety tip and trigger to fire each nail. You cannot bump-fire. You must first activate the safety tip and then the trigger to fire a nail. To fire the next nail, you release the tip and the trigger and then reactivate them in the correct sequence. This method does not let you work as quickly as contact firing, but it's less likely to fire a nail unintentionally.

Smaller, trigger-operated nailers don’t have safety tips. They use a single trigger or dual triggers to fire a nail. With single-trigger tools, pulling the trigger drives a nail. Dual-trigger tools require you to pull the triggers in the proper sequence.

Some nailers offer multiple settings or optional accessories that allow you to choose the firing method most appropriate for the task.

Choosing Nails for Your Nailer

Coil nails.

Nails used in power nailers are joined together with paper, plastic or wire. Many have clipped heads that allow the nails to sit closely together in a solid line. Others are secured together in long strands with flexible wire. Most have a layer of lubricant / adhesive. As the nail contacts the nailing surface, the compound heats and lubricates the nail. When the compound cools, it bonds the nail to the nailing surface, increasing the holding strength.

You'll find regular round-head or "clipped" (sometimes called D-shape) nails. Use of these nails is often governed by local building codes. Some nailers can use either, others not.

Nailer Features

Framing nailer.

Once you have selected the type of nailer that works best for your projects, look for features that will make the work easier and more efficient.

  • Directional exhaust systems allow you to channel the tool's exhaust. This feature is valuable when working in a dusty area. Some exhaust systems require special tools for adjustment, while others are tool-free.
  • Jam-clearing systems simplify maintenance, since nails occasionally jam in the mechanism.
  • Depth adjustment allows you to control how far the tool drives a nail into the work surface. Nailers can leave nails protruding, sink them flush or even countersink them depending on the depth setting. Some nailers require tools for depth adjustment, while you can adjust others by hand.
  • Large triggers make it easier to operate the tool with gloved fingers.
  • Carrying cases protect the nailer from damage during transport.
  • Swiveling air connectors on pneumatic nailers reduce air hose tangles. They also allow you to easily move the air hose out of the way when you reload.
  • Protective guards prevent damage to the tool and protect you from flying debris. Guards can wear out with use, so look for ones that you can easily replace.
  • Nail size adjustment allows you to change nail sizes as you switch tasks.
  • Work lights improve visibility of the work surface.

Nailer Safety

All tools demand attention to safety, and nailers are no exception. Some basic safety information is below, but follow the nailer manufacturer's instructions for use, maintenance and safety.

  • Inspect the nailer and repair or replace damaged parts before use.
  • Never alter a nailer.
  • Wear safety glasses and other safety equipment as specified in the nailer manual.
  • Keep your hands, feet and other body parts clear of the firing area. Use clamps when you need to secure work pieces.
  • Disconnect the tool from the air compressor or power supply before performing maintenance, making adjustments or attempting to clear a jam.
  • Never point the tool at a person or an animal.
  • Keep others away when operating a nailer.
  • Don't use a nailer where a spark from the tool could ignite dust, gas or vapor.

Each nailer has specific requirements for the fasteners it can use. Use only fasteners that the nailer manufacturer specifies and make sure they comply with all regulations and building codes for the work you are doing.