Cordless or pneumatic nailers: your guide to nail guns
To drive a lot of nails in a short time, nothing beats a nail gun.
Although watching a framer use a hammer to drive nails is a treat. The first blow drives most of the nail into the lumber, the second sets it. But, the consistency and accuracy of a power nailer can’t be beaten even by the most experienced framer. Plus, there’s less wear and tear on the body. Basically, a nail gun directs enough force into a single blow to fire a nail and then loads a new nail so the process can be quickly repeated. Where it gets the power to do that depends on whether it’s air-powered or cordless.
Designed for high-volume nailing, pneumatic (or air-powered) nail guns are powered by an air compressor and a hose. The latest improvements in pneumatic nailers are reduced weight and quieter operation. You want a model that direct exhaust away from you or the work and allows you to easily change the direction of the exhaust.
“For the best in pneumatic nailer performance, the RIDGID 15-gauge 2½-inch Angled Finish Nailer comes standard with all the great Fasten Edge Technology features that have made RIDGID nailers stand out in the past,” says Jay Jydstrup, Marketing Manager, Power Tool Division, TTI Power Equipment. “The nailer will drive 2½-inch finish nails into solid oak and the rear-loading angled magazine makes it easy to get into hard-to-reach areas. The dry-fire lockout feature prevents marring surfaces. Tool-free adjustable exhaust with muffler allows you to direct the exhaust where you want it.”
However, all nail guns don’t work with all air compressors, so be sure you have a compressor that delivers the pressure (psi) and air volume (scfm) needed to keep your nail gun working. A nailer doesn’t draw huge quantities of air like a sander or air wrench, for example, so a smaller compressor may be adequate.
The hose also has to be sized for the nailer – with enough length to keep it from getting twisted or restricted when in use. Swivel hose attachment will help keep the hose out of your way as you work.
The biggest trends among air compressors are reduced weight to make them easier to transport and lower noise levels. At the same time, the new compressors have higher psi and scfm ratings. Manufacturers have also developed new designs for air compressors, such as RIDGID’s vertical pancake, wheelbarrow and tri-stack compressors.
Without doubt, the fastest growing trend in nailers is the move to cordless. That popularity has been met by manufacturers with new cordless models that are more powerful, lighter weight and easier to use. Cordless nail guns are powered by replaceable fuel cells – a flammable gas injected into a combustion chamber ignites when the trigger is pulled, firing the nail – or rechargeable batteries.
Nailers powered by fuel cells have plenty of power to drive up to 3½ inch nails and can match the production of a pneumatic nailer. There are a wide range of models to cover the field of nailing tasks.
The newest cordless nailers are powered by 18- or 20-volt Lithium-ion batteries. Ryobi was early in the game with its Air Strike finish nailers in the extensive One+ tool range, moving quickly into framing nail guns. Ryobi Air Strike has a continuously charging pressure cylinder within the nailer that gives the tool the power of a pneumatic nailer and similar instant response to the trigger.
“The cordless Ryobi AirStrike 18-gauge brad nailer eliminates the need for compressors, hoses and gas cartridges,” says Jay Jydstrup, Marketing Manager, Power Tool Division, TTI Power Equipment. “Designed to be easier to use, the nailer has both contact-actuated mode for production nailing up to 60 nails per minute and single sequential mode for precision placement.”
Heavy-duty nail guns are framing nailers and roofing nailers. However, heavy-duty is not to say heavy weight, as manufacturers continue to take weight out of the tool, while keeping recoil to a minimum. Roofing nailers are designed to secure shingles quickly and precisely.
Framing cordless or pneumatic nailers are designed for heavy-duty production nailing, use large strong nails that they eject rapidly, and efficiently join thick materials.
“DeWalt framing nailers deliver the three things professional framers desire most: lighter weight, smaller size and more power,” says Sharmela Budhu, product manager- cordless marketing for DeWalt. By using materials like magnesium and titanium and designing a powerful new engine and valve system, DeWalt framing nailers are among the lightest in the industry yet pack the most punch, easily burying nails in engineered lumber. And at less than 13 inches in height, DeWalt framing nailers let you work in even the tightest areas.”
Finish nailers are lighter weight and are designed for installing cabinets, baseboards, trim, crown molding, etc. Improvements among finish nailers include non-marring tips and improved sight lines to the nail path. Precision nailers – staplers, tackers, and brad and pin nailers – are very lightweight and have the delicate touch needed for precision work.
Cordless or pneumatic nailers are available with coil-style or collated nail magazines. The coil framing nailer models use nails in long flexible strips that are wound in a coil. This style is popular because it holds so many nails (100 to 350) and is easy to maneuver. The coil tucks in below the gun, taking up little space.
“Our NV45AB2 Roofing Nailer is the most popular roofing nailer in the market,” says Lucio Morales associate product manager, Hitachi Power Tools. “It is the only roofing nailer that you will find at every roofing jobsite.”
Collated nail guns use nails held together by strips of plastic or paper and are lighter in weight than coil models because they carry fewer nails. The collated strips range from 20 to 40 inches in length and typically hang below the nailer. Some collated nails are held together with an adhesive resin. As the nail is fired into the material, the glue heats and softens. Then when the nail is in place, the adhesive quickly hardens to the surrounding wood, further securing the nail.
Most nailer manufacturers market nails to fit their products. However, Grip-Rite coil and collated fasteners are guaranteed to fit most nail gun brands, including DeWalt, Hitachi, Paslode, RIDGID and Ryobi.
For added flexibility, many cordless or pneumatic nailers accommodate a range of nail sizes. Switching between nail sizes should be fast and easy. Also look for models that allow you to make nail depth adjustments simply and reload nails quickly. Some models sense the end of the nail strip to prevent dry fires. Dry firing is hard on the gun and can mar the nailed surface.
And don’t forget – even the best nail guns can jam. Get a nailer with easy access to the nosepiece for removing jams, ideally without tools. Using stainless steel fasteners reduces replacement costs and maintains the appearance and life of the project.
“Our cordless nailing systems deliver a new level of convenience and efficiency on the jobsite while providing unrivaled power and precision for the task at hand,” says Craig Christiansen, Paslode marketing manager. “For example, the CF325Li Li-ion Cordless Framing Nailer is designed to simplify the framing process from start to finish. The versatile system is equipped with a rechargeable 7.4V Li-ion battery, which provides 50 percent longer run time and drives up to 6,000 nails per charge.
“The Cordless 16 Ga angled Li-ion Finish Nailer offers that same flexible freedom and advanced technology in an innovative, lightweight design customized for finish work. Soon the Compact Framing Nailer will join our product line to provide customers with a nailer that is the lightest, most maneuverable framing nailer ever.”
When you pick a nail gun, get the firing mode that works best for your jobs. With a sequential-fire nailer, you pull the trigger to fire a nail. With bump-fire models, you squeeze the trigger and the nail fires when you touch the nose of the nailer to the work surface. Many models use both firing types and allow you to easily switch back and forth between the two, and be sure the trimmer will accommodate your work gloves.
Sizing your nail guns
Because nail guns are designed for different tasks, you may well need several. An ideal combo for a remodeling contractor is a 15-gauge finish nailer and an 18-gauge brad nailer. The 15-gauge fires nails from 1¼ to 2½ inches to secure door jambs and other heavy trim materials. The angled magazine on most 15-gauge nail guns makes it easy to nail into corners and drive toenails.
Use the 18-gauge brad nailer where the thicker 15-gauge fasteners could split the trim. The skinny ⅝ to 1½ inch 18-gauge brads are perfect for miters, nailing the skinny section of door or window casing to the jamb and other jobs where 15-gauge is too much nail.