We have come a long way since the days when man toiled long and hard under the beating sun with only simple hand tools such as a hammer and chisel as his companion. Carpentry and woodworking used to require considerably more skill in days gone by, before the invention of modern electronic tools. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still no walk in the park, but in comparison, we can do a lot more with less knowledge and in significantly less time.
One of the biggest leaps we have made in terms of speed is the invention and production of pneumatic, or air tools. Nowadays, with the help of a good air compressor and a few choice air tools, house building and even furniture making has become significantly less time-consuming. Prices are also affordable to where DIYers and hobbyists often have their own collection.
However, as the name may or should suggest (nail gun), there are certain safety rules and tips people should know before attempting to use these awesome tools. Even with all the safety features built into these tools, pneumatic nailers remain the number one cause of power tool related injuries where patients get sent to the ER. In fact, about 37,000 people are admitted to the ER per year in the US alone! Scary stuff huh?
Although there are many kinds of air tools, we’ll be sticking to air nailers in this article due to it being not only the most commonly used, but also the tool that is responsible for the more serious injuries. There are many different kinds of air nailers as well as staplers and tackers, but the one thing they have in common is that they all fire some sort of projectile, making it extremely dangerous if not used safely.
Air nailers have the ability to fire nails quickly and repeatedly, enabling carpenters and house-builders to fire thousands of nails in a day. Imagine trying to do all that with a hammer! Everything from stud framing to roofing to exterior plywood sheathing can be fastened using air nailers, making it possible to put houses up very quickly.
Most professional house-builders use guns that fire between 50 and 75 millimeter nails. However, most high-end nail guns will only be made to fire one or maybe two sizes. The more “universal” a nail gun is – as in, made to accommodate several sizes – the shorter its lifespan will inevitably be. This is why nail guns that can fire a whole slew of sizes are often found in the workshop of a DIYer, but often absent from that of a professional’s.
Professionals often use a single length for whole days, and need their tools to be reliable and durable. On the other hand, DIYers may or may not use it once a week, and probably won’t want to put out 500 to 1000 dollars for a nail gun for every size they may use. That’s right, these things are by no means cheap! Not only are the nail guns themselves quite expensive, but you must also have a compressor and air hose in order to use it.
A good air compressor will also cost you a right arm, ranging from a hundred to several thousand dollars. I cover air compressor tips and how to select the right one for your needs in Air Compressor Help at Your Service for those who are interested. Another thing to keep in mind is that there are two air pressures used for air tools, normal and high.
The two can be told apart by the jack size, with normal having a bigger opening. You should make sure you have the right compressor for your tool/s. Of course, the better compressors will have both air pressures, but cheaper ones will usually only have normal air pressure. Normal air pressure will normally be between 0.7 and 1 megapascal, while high would be in the 2.5 to 4 megapascal range.
Nail guns are most commonly used by house-builders to put together wooden framing and the plywood sheathing which makes up the floor, wall, and roof base. Nail guns can be used to fire nails either straight into the work piece or diagonally (toenailing).
Types of Nail Guns
I will list the main types of nail guns, staplers and their uses for your reference:
Standard Nail Gun – this is the kind that fires your normal nails that you would otherwise nail in by hand, with most ranging in lengths between 50 and 75 millimeters. Bear in mind that there are not only varying lengths, but varying shank diameters and head sizes. Be aware of what you’ll be using the tool for and what specific nails you’ll be needing for the job. Most countries have building codes that mandate specific nail types with specific nail pitch for various components of the building.
Finishing Nailer, or Brad Nailer – this one is used for intricate work as well as fastening stock and other materials that don’t require strong attachment. Those who are familiar with nail guns know that there is substantial kick-back when firing larger nails, making precision attachment of “floating” or otherwise unstable boards rather difficult due to the sudden jolt.
For example, you can use a finishing nailer to attach two boards together in a temporary fashion, eliminating the possibility of unwanted movement during attachment with larger fasteners. Splitting is another potential problem that can be avoided by using a finishing nailer. This versatile tool can be used for almost anything that is delicate and/or requires precision.
Pin Nailer – these are used when you can’t afford to have visible nail heads, as even finishing nails can be seen. Of course, the smaller the nail head gets, the less hold it will have to do its job. This is why pin and finishing nailers are often used in conjunction with a bond of some kind. Pin nails can of course still be seen by someone who knows what to look for, but it’s hardly noticeable. A common use of this tool is for finishing work such as trimming and moulding.
Stapler, or Tacker – I’m sure we’re all familiar with hand staplers right? Well, these are simply the heavy-duty version powered by an air compressor. Tackers can fire staples generally ranging from as short as 19 millimeters to as long as 57 millimeters. Tackers are primarily used for tongue and groove boards, although they can essentially be used for anything.
Being that staples hold better than nails of the same length and girth, they are used for boards that are delicate but also require a strong hold. However, because they have relatively thin girths, they are also often used in conjunction with an appropriate bond. This tool, like the finishing nailer, is quite versatile, but leaves a more visible staple head. On the plus side, it holds better.
Nail Gun Safety
Some of these pointers may seem obvious, but I’ll be covering the major safety pointers for those who may not know or who need a recap – lest you find yourself on that list of casualties sent to the ER!
– Only place your finger on the trigger when you’re ready to fire. This is the primary cause of accidental firing! This rule applies to all tools or weapons that fire on the pulling of the trigger. Never keep your finger on the trigger when walking around or climbing a ladder etc, as an unexpected fall can cause you to accidentally pull it in surprise.
Most nail guns come with a safety feature where the nailer head, or muzzle, must be depressed before it can fire (dual-action contact-trip trigger). But don’t let your guard down! It has been the unfortunate experience of many a veteran carpenter for the trigger to be in a pulled state for quick firing, and the muzzle accidentally becoming depressed on a nearby thigh or knee! BAM! Serious pain and injury will inevitably follow…
– Make sure there is no one on the other side of the workpiece being nailed. Thin plywood for example, can be easily pierced and exited if there is no additional stock on the other side. Nailing plywood from the outside of a building based purely on chalk lines or factory-stamped guidelines can be misleading, causing you to fire a nail where there may not be any framing.
– Wear eye protection. Nails typically come in rolls attached together by metal wiring. A hammer will “knock” the nails free from this attachment when the trigger is pulled. However, the small segments of metal wiring can fly out in unexpected directions if there is no guard. Many people remove this guard due to it masking the exact position of the muzzle.
If you don’t have or don’t want to wear eye protection, the latter being my stance, make it a habit of looking away when firing. Having said that, it’s unlikely you or anyone will faithfully look away every time a nail is fired, especially when you’re firing consecutively for long periods of time. So if you don’t want to wear eye protection, be prepared to incur the pain and damage caused by a piece of steel wire to the eyeball at some point.
– Beware of nails popping out in unexpected directions due to wood grain and/or the existence of other nails and fasteners. It is not uncommon for nails, especially thinner ones like finishing nails, to take on an unpredictable path and pop out even 90 degrees or more from where it was intended. Do not assume the nail will follow a given trajectory, as unforeseen obstacles can cause it to deflect.