How to Choose a Nail Gun

This is a question that must be answered with a question…at least one.  What is it you intend to nail? If you are a journeyman roofer acquiring tools for the first time the answer will be different than if asked by a home owner who wants to put up a chair rail on the dining room wall or reupholster a chair.  These are the first of several considerations when picking a power nailer.

Additional considerations:

  • Nail length capacity.
  • The gauge of and type of nails that it uses
  • Capacity (number of nails between reloads)
  • Size and weight of the tool
  • Pneumatic or Electric

PASLODE, BOSTITCH, PORTER CABLE, DEWALT, and BOSCH are some of leading brand names for specialized equipment of this kind.  While many of the units produced by these companies are purpose built, professional quality, and more capable than the average homeowner would need there are also a number of “two in one” or entry level units that may suit most of your needs.  For your convenience and to narrow down the ocean of available information to body that is easier to navigate you will find two categories below that should help you get an idea of what tool it is you need for the job you have in mind.

Using a Nail Gun to put up Baseboards, Crown Molding, and Shoemolding

These tasks are essentially decorative and bear no load aside from their own weight. In order to secure items like these you will not likely need more than a small, basic to mid level “finish nailer” with a capacity of up to a 2.5 inch nail or brad.  A bigger, more powerful gun would be more costly and may have a tendency to over drive the nail…possibly all the way through the trim causing damage and additional work.   If the job in mind is a one time project and not something used in how you make your livelihood you should have no trouble finding a good one these for under $100 at your local big box hardware store.  For other small projects around the house like creating window treatments or changing up the fabric on the dining room chairs you may consider a “brad nailer”.  These are made for shooting small nails that require little holding power.  They are often used to hold a project in place while an adhesive dries.  Unlike framing or finishing nails you may not need to backfill with putty the tiny hole left by a brad nailer.  Most of the units that will be suitable for projects like this will be electric or rechargeable.

Nailgun to use when working on Decking, Gazebos, & Fencing

When you start to talk about a nail gun for an outdoor project you are going to want something a bit more substantial and with capacity for both more and larger nails.  You will likely be working with wood between two and six inches thick and with projects, that when completed, will bear a load.  Better to go big here rather than risk devaluing your home or endangering your loved ones with a shoddy finished product.  For these projects you are shopping for a “framing nailer”  .  Look for a unit capable of driving nails of 3+ inches and one that is reliable enough to work until the job is done.  You might as well go ahead and buy a good one for projects like these as gun that jams frequently or is difficult to use will affect the end result of your project.  You should shop for a unit with an adjustment for depth control as you will be working with wood of varying sizes.  This is not an endorsement but there are a number of sites that recommend the PASLODE framing guns for less experienced users with infrequent, personal use in mind.  They are smaller, lighter and have better ergonomics for a wider range of users than some of the much larger contractor grade units.  Prices can vary widely but a quality Finish Nailer can cost several hundred dollars.  You can narrow down your choices and the range of prices by deciding if you want an electric or a pneumatic unit.  If you do not have the necessary air compressor, companies like DeWalt often offer “combo” packs which can both lower cost and ensure hardware compatibility.  If you do not have the need or the space for an air compressor you may again consider the PASLODE as they offer a medium duty unit powered by rechargeable battery packs.  Brand names aside, a cordless, electric unit is very convenient for all the same reasons that everything else that is cordless and battery powered is convenient.   This type also eliminates tripping hazards and the possibility of your putting a nail through an air hose or power cord.

Use caution with these tools.   While the nail gun’s predecessor, the hammer, blackened many thumbnails and caused many people to swear in front of their kids, careless use of nail gun can easily result in serious injury and possibly death.  Follow all safety instructions typically included with any new hardware.  Go out there and NAIL IT!

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