9 Different Types of Nail Guns And How to Use Them

What is Nail Gun?

A nail gun, or nailer is a power tool used to drive nails into wood or other materials. It is usually driven by compressed air (pneumatic), electromagnetism, highly flammable gases such as butane or propane, or, for powder-actuated tools, a small explosive charge.

The first nail gun used air pressure and was introduced to the market in 1950 to speed up the construction of housing floor sheathing and sub-floors. Nail guns have in many ways replaced hammers as tools of choice among builders.

There are different types of nail guns, including pneumatic nail guns, electric nail guns, and battery-powered nail guns. Nail guns are designed to be used with the muzzle contacting the target, and safety precautions like those for a firearm are usually recommended for their use.

Nail Gun Power Sources

The power source of a nailer determines the tool’s mobility and the type of work it can handle.

A pneumatic nailer drives nails using pressurized 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, 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’s air hose limits your mobility.

A cordless nail gun offers greater mobility than corded or pneumatic models. A battery-powered nail gun has a quick startup time but doesn’t have as much driving power as a pneumatic nail gun.

Cordless, fuel-driven nailers use gas combustion to drive nails. Fuel-injected from a disposable gas cartridge combusts in a chamber to create a driving force. A battery provides the electric charge to ignite the fuel.

No cords or hoses are necessary, giving this type of nailer excellent mobility. A fuel-driven nailer can be powerful enough for heavy-duty jobs, and capable of driving large fasteners into hard materials.

How to Choose the Right Size and Gauge of 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 or 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.

Tip: Use of regular round-head or clipped (sometimes called D-shape) is often governed by local building codes. Some nailers can use either, others not.

Nailer Features

Once you’ve selected the type of nailer that works best for your projects, consider these nailer features and air compressor tools and accessories that can keep you working effectively.

nail guns
  • Nail gun 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, preventing nails from jamming in the mechanism.
  • Depth adjustment allows you to control how far the tool drives a nail into the work surface. This prevents nails from overly protruding and sinking too deep. 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 reduces 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.
  • Onboard work lights improve the visibility of the work surface. You could alternately use an external work light.

Nailer Firing Methods

Understanding the different nail gun firing methods will help you choose a tool for your projects and avoid accidental firing. Manufacturers may have different terminology 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’s a higher risk of unintentional firing than with other methods.
  • Single-sequential firing prevents you from accidentally bump-firing nails. You must operate the safety tip and trigger in sequence to fire the first nail. Then you can keep the safety tip pressed against your work surface and just 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 ensures your safety by requiring sequential activation of the safety tip and triggers to fire each nail. You can’t bump-fire. To fire multiple nails, release the tip and trigger after the first nail and then reactivate them in the correct sequence to continue. This method doesn’t let you work as quickly as contact firing, but it’s a very safe way to operate a nail gun.
  • Smaller, trigger-operated nailers don’t have safety tips. They use a single trigger or dual triggers to fire a nail or a staple. 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 allow you to choose the firing method most appropriate for your project.

Common Safety Tips for Using Nail Guns

All tools require 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 workpieces.
  • 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 near flammable gases or liquids.

Types Of Nail Guns

Different types of nail guns to use for each project:

  • Framing Nailer  
  • Flooring Nailer
  • Palm Nailer
  • Roofing Nailer
  • Siding Nailer
  • Pin Nailer
  • Brad Nailer
  • Finish Nailer

1. Framing Nailer

Framing nailers are the heaviest-duty nailer, and their name is fitting. These nailers are ideal for use on wood framing in heavy construction jobs and buildings.

A framing nailer can work with nails up to 3-1/2,” which are used to join 2×4’s. They’re often used to build:

  • Decks.
  • Rooms.
  • Homes.
  • Wood sheathing.
  • Fences.
  • Wood siding.

Many models have interchangeable sequential and contact trips as well as tool-free depth-drive adjustment.

There are two types of framing nailers: round head and clipped head. Clipped head nailers are ideal for high-volume projects because they can hold more nails.

Roundhead framing nailers are not restricted by certain building codes but hold fewer nails.

2. Flooring Nailer

Flooring nailers look very different than the typical nail guns most people are used to seeing. These nailers are uniquely designed to make quick work of laying tongue-and-groove floorboards.

The nailer is held at the edge of the board, and a nylon mallet is used to hit the plunger. This method ensures that nails (or cleats) are driven at the right angle and depth every single time.

There are two types of flooring nailers: pneumatic and manual. Both are used in similar ways, but pneumatic nailers use air pressure to help drive the nail into the floorboard. Pneumatic flooring nailers require less human exertion.

Flooring nailers aren’t as versatile as other nailers, in that they don’t have any other use aside from laying floorboards.

3. Palm Nailer

Palm nailers are just like mini nail guns. These palm-sized nail guns work in the same way as their full-size counterparts but on a much smaller scale.

As its name suggests, these nailers rest in the palm of the hand. There’s also a strap that wraps around the hand, so it stays comfortably in place during use.

These nail guns come in pneumatic, electric, and cordless variations. Cordless variations, which run on a battery, provide more freedom and portability.

Palm nailers are ideal for:

  • Tight spots.
  • Joist hangers.
  • Smaller projects.

There are several advantages to using palm nailers, but one of the main advantages is reduced fatigue. Because these nailers are light and small, they are much easier to work with for longer periods of time.

Unlike other nail guns, which use coils or strips, these guns use regular nails, like what is used with a hammer.

Most palm nailers are capable of driving nails between 1.5″ and 3.5″ long, but there are also heavy-duty models that can drive nails between 2″ and 6″ in length. Because of their small size, palm nailers are extremely accurate. These nailers are usually inexpensive and often come for free with larger nail guns.

4. Roofing Nailer

Roofing nailers are also heavy-duty, much like framing nailers. They are typically only used by professional contractors, although serious DIYers may also have one.

A roofing nailer drives nails into wood or other roofing materials at lightning-fast speeds.

There are a few different types of roofing nailers:

  • Spring loaded: The simplest roofing nailer, which uses springs to fire nails out of the chamber.
  • Pneumatic: Powered by an air compressor, pneumatic roofing nailers are the most popular type of nailer in this category.
  • Solenoid: These nailers are powered by electromagnetic polarization.

Like the flooring nailer, the roofing nailer is only used for roofing jobs, and typically only by professional roofers and contractors.

5. Siding Nailer

A siding nailer is used to install the siding. These powerful nailers join thinner pieces of wood or synthetic material to a wooden mount.

Similar to the framing nailer, the siding nailer is better suited for projects that require larger pieces of wood to be joined.

Siding nailers use shorter nails between 1-1/4″ – 2-1/2″ with wider heads. Some models are compatible with aluminum nails, which makes them a great fit for aluminum siding.

6. Pin Nailer

Pin nailers are generally used for finishing in carpentry projects, and they are the smallest, most delicate finish nailers you can buy. These tools are compatible with 23-gauge headless nails that look like pins.

Pin nails have almost no holding power and are usually used in conjunction with glue or some other type of adhesive. Sometimes, pin nails are used only to hold materials in place until the glue dries.

A pin nailer is generally used for:

  • Finishing work in carpentry.
  • Crown molding.
  • Cabinetry (sometimes).
  • Delicate trim pieces.
  • Thin veneers.
  • Small furniture trim.

Essentially, this nailer would be used in delicate pieces where larger gauge nails might split the wood.

7. Brad Nailer

Brad nailers are the smallest type of nail gun, often used for specialized jobs like cabinets, carpet, and light furniture. It is the go-to nail gun for most constructors when they are finishing up work, while still being compatible with larger 18-gauge nails.

This is why it is the perfect choice for jobs such as trim work on doors and window casings, as well as baseboards and crown molding. A brad nailer can be used in just about any application that requires a 15- or 16-gauge nail, such as:

  • Baseboards.
  • Crown molding.
  • Trim work, including door and window casings.

Brad nailers are often the go-to choice for contractors looking to finish a job.

8. Finish Nailer

A finish nailer can also be used to finish carpentry work, and they are designed to be used with specifically sized nails.

Finish nailers are often used for:

  • Crown molding.
  • Baseboards.

A finish nailer differs from a brad or pin nailer in that it can handle larger and bulkier pieces of wood. These nailers are compatible with 15- to 16-gauge finish nails, which are a little bit bigger than a brad nail. Because finish nails are a little bit bigger, they have more holding power than the brad nail.

9. Staple Gun

Staple guns are nothing like any of the other nailers listed above, but can still drive staples (a type of fastener) into a wide range of materials.

Staple guns are highly versatile tools, and they can be used for a wide range of applications, including:

  • Upholstery: Staple guns are often used to attach a piece of fabric to the frame of a sofa or chair.
  • Carpeting: Staples can be used to fix carpeting to floors and even walls for soundproofing.
  • Carpentry and Home Repair: Wood and fabric repairs can often be handled by a staple gun, such as fastening boards and panels.
  • Construction: Staple guns have also been used for simple household projects, from birdhouses to dog houses.

While a staple gun cannot replace a power nailer in most projects, it does have its place and is a helpful tool to have in the home.

Nail gun Motor Types/Power Sources

As you start to shop for a nail gun for your home, you’ll find that there are two main motor types to choose between.

  • Pneumatic: Pneumatic nailers use an air compressor to fire nails into the work surface. They are used most commonly in heavy construction and remodeling. The most popular of all nail guns, pneumatic nail guns are a reliable choice for professionals because they offer incredible power and come in a variety of makes and models.
  • Electric: Electric nail guns can be powered by an electrical cord or a battery pack, depending upon the tool you select. Cordless electric nail guns are easy to move around the job site without worrying about a cord or air hose. The benefit is that they are often more portable than a pneumatic nail gun. The drawback is that they aren’t as powerful.
  • Brushed or brushless: Motors can also be either brushed or brushless. Brushless motors are more powerful and durable than brushed motors, but they are often more expensive. An air gun with brushless motor will likely be the most powerful type of nail gun you can buy.

Nail Gauge Options

Once you’ve discovered the nail gun you’ll add to your collection, you need to check the nail gun for what nail gauges it accommodates. Nail gauge sizes refer to the thickness of the nail. A higher gauge number means a thinner nail, while a lower gauge number means a thicker nail.

The most common nail gauge options for nail guns are:

  • 15-Gauge
  • 16-Gauge
  • 18-Gauge
  • 23-Gauge

16-gauge nails are the most versatile size, so a 16-gauge nail gun is a great option if you need it for many different projects. 15-gauge nails are most often used for installing thick trim. 18-gauge and higher-gauge nail guns are best used for fine detail work, furniture repair and thin trim work. 

Nail Gun Angles

The nail gun angle refers to the nail collation angle, meaning the angle that the nails are collected and stored in the nail gun’s magazine. The nail gun angle is not the slant by which the nail gun drives the nail. Nails are always driven straight into a surface.

Nail guns can offer anywhere from a 15-degree to a 34-degree angle. The angle will determine what type of nail heads and how many nails the nail gun can accommodate.

  • 15-degree nail guns can hold a large number of full-round-head nails, which are ideal for floor joists, wall studs and other framing jobs. Full-round-head nails are often required for framing by building codes. 15-degree nail guns can be heavy, making overhead work difficult.
  • 21-degree nail guns also accommodate full-round-head nails, but hold fewer than 15-degree nail guns. The greater angle makes tight corners easier to access. Because they hold fewer nails, 21-degree nail guns are typically lighter than 15-degree nail guns.
  • 28-degree nail guns hold offset-head or clipped-head nails to save space in the magazine. They are a more compact tool than the previous angled nail guns, but not all building codes allow the use of offset-head or clipped-head nails in framing jobs.
  • 30-degree nail guns provide the best access to tight corners. They also use offset-head or clipped-head nails. Their magazines often hold two strips of nails for less frequent reloading.