Nail Gun Buying Guide

Nail Gun Buying Guide

You’ve heard it at every construction site, the rhythmic pop-pop-popping sound of the best nail guns in action. Let’s face it, hammers are great for removing nails, but nothing beats a nail gun for making quick work of home improvement and woodworking projects. Nail guns can be a sizable investment, so it’s essential to know what you need before buying. Our Nail Gun Buying Guide will help you find the right tool for all your projects, big and small.

What are the five key points I need to look at?

Nail gun size

The size of a nail gun determines the type of nailing you’ll be able to do. Choose brad nailers for hobby work and light paneling, finish nailers for woodworking and moldings, and framing nail guns for general use.


Most nail guns are pneumatic and use compressed air to drive the nail. You’ll need to invest in an air compressor and hoses to use these nail guns. Electric nail guns have less power but don’t require additional equipment to work.

Safety features

Sequential firing mechanisms that require you to depress the nail gun’s trigger each time you want to drive a nail are the safest. Dual-contact firing mechanisms can be effective if you resist the temptation to keep the trigger squeezed and use the nail gun’s nose contact to shoot nails.

Types of Nail Guns

types of nail gunsRoofing guns are lightweight and use long coils of nails to minimize the time spent reloading. Floor nail guns have their feed tubes mounted at a 45-degree angle for driving nails into hardwood flooring and cleats.


Be sure that the nail coils or cartridges your nail gun needs are readily available. Look for a nail depth adjustment that allows you to regulate the nail gun’s power and a feed tube that is easy to clear of inevitable jams.

What are the terms and definitions I need to know about?

Brad Nailer

A small, typically electric nail gun that can fire 18-gauge nails up to two inches in length, depending on the model.

Depth adjustment

A setting on a nail gun that lets you control the firing power, or how deep a nail is driven into a piece of material.

Dual contact

A safety feature on some nail guns that will only fire a nail when a sensor in the nose and the trigger are fully depressed.

Finish Nailer

A medium-size, medium-powered nail gun that can fire 15- and 16-gauge up to 2 ½” long. Finish nails have tiny heads that are meant to be embedded in wood so that they will not show after painting or staining.

Floor Nailer

A nail gun for hardwood flooring and clears with its firing tube mounted at a 45-degree angle.

Framing Nailer

A large, powerful nail gun that can fire several sizes of small-gauge nails. The design of these nail guns determines the size and thickness of the nails they can fire.


The thickness of the wire used in a nail, measured on a scale from 1 to 18, with higher numbers indicating thinner nails.


A tool that uses a compressed-air system to generate power. Pneumatic tools require hoses and a separate air compressor.

Roof Nailer

A low-power nail gun that fires wide-head roofing nails. Most roof nailers used coils of nails to reduce the time spent reloading.


A firing mechanism found on some nail guns that requires the nose sensor be depressed before the trigger can be squeezed.

Nail Gun Size

One size does not fit all when it comes to nail guns. There’s no universal nail gun that works with every kind of nail, so you’ll need to match your nail gun to the kind of work you’re doing.

Brad or pin nailers are the smallest and least powerful nail guns. These nail guns typically run on batteries or electrical current and fire 18-gauge nails up to two inches in length. Brad nailers are great for crafts and hobbies, but they’re not powerful enough for home repair, save for some limited use in putting up thin pieces of paneling.

Finish nail guns will fire 15- and 16-gauge nails up to 2 ½ inches long. If you’re putting up moldings or decorative elements and nailing into blueboard or wood, these nail guns will get the job done. Dense woods, like oak, or hard wall surfaces, like concrete, may be too much for these nail guns to handle.

Framing guns are used for general construction. These are the heaviest and most powerful nail guns, and while they won’t shy away from thicker, denser woods, they won’t work if you’re nailing into concrete or trying to set nails deep into hard sills. Framing nail guns will work with a variety of longer, thicker nails.

In addition to size, consider how a nail gun is loaded. Some use continuous coils of nails, while others have magazines that require specially designed refills. Be sure that the proper nail size is readily available for your nail gun.


Most nail guns use electricity or compressed air to drive nails. A handful of specialized nail guns use gunpowder or compressed gas for driving nails into concrete, but these are for commercial use and may require permits and licenses to operate.

The simplest choice is an electronic nail gun that runs on house current or batteries. Electronic nail guns typically use a spring-driven piston to provide the force needed to drive the nail. Corded nail guns offer more power than battery-operated models, but keep you leashed to a power outlet. A handful of commercial-grade nail guns that use rechargeable batteries are also available, and these are a good choice for roofing and exterior finish work where cords can be a nuisance.

Pneumatic nail guns use compressed air to fire a piston that drives the nail. They’re far more powerful than electronic nail guns and tend to be more durable. But in order to use a pneumatic nail gun, you’ll need an air hose and a source of compressed air. Air compressors run on gas or electricity and cost hundreds of dollars.

If you’re a professional or you’re building things to sell, the reliability and extra power of a pneumatic nail gun is worth the extra investment. Consider the weight of different nail guns and how you’ll use them—a nail gun that’s easy to use with flooring can be hard to handle if you’re putting up siding. Home users should choose electric nail guns and look for models with just enough power to get the job done.

Safety Features

Thousands of people wind up in emergency rooms as a result of nail gun accidents each year. That makes it important to consider the safety features on any nail gun you’re considering and to always wear eye protection when nailing.

Most nail guns use a dual-contact mechanism to prevent accidental firing. This system has a retractable tip in the nail gun’s nose. Pulling the trigger won’t fire a nail unless the tip of the nail gun is pressed against a solid surface. The main drawback to this system is that it’s possible to keep the trigger squeezed and use the tip for firing.

A sequential firing mechanism is a safer choice. This system disables the nail gun’s trigger after each nail is fired. To fire a nail, the nail gun’s trigger must be released before the sensor in the tip will work. Although it takes a little longer to master a nail gun with sequential firing, this system prevents the injuries that can arise from walking around with the trigger squeezed.

Excess power is the other source of nail gun injuries. A nail gun that is too powerful for the job can fire a nail straight through soft pieces of wood or paneling or through wall boards. It’s best to choose a nail gun that provides just enough power for the job, and always be certain there is something solid behind interior and exterior walls before firing.
Specialized nail guns

If you’re installing hardwood flooring, choose a flooring nail gun. These are designed with the tip mounted at a 45-degree angle to ensure proper side nailing of floorboards and cleats. These nail guns are only available in pneumatic models because of the extra force needed to drive nails into hardwoods, but most of them will work with floor staples as well as nails.

Roof nailers are low-powered nail guns designed to work exclusively with wide-head roof nails. Available only in pneumatic models, these nail guns use long coils of roofing nails, which minimizes the time spent reloading.

Other Features

All nail guns will jam eventually, so choose a model that offers easy access to the feed tube so you can remove lodged nails. If you’re buying a pneumatic nail gun, look for a hose connection that swivels to prevent the hose from twisting while you work.

Nail guns should offer a nail depth adjustment. This allows you to increase or decrease the nail gun’s power as the job requires. For nail guns that work with multiple sizes, be sure that the feed will adjust to each size of nail that can be used.

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