Finding the Best Nail Gun

Whether you’ve got a major construction job planned or simply need to attend to occasional repair jobs around the house, a nail gun is an indispensable tool that can improve your accuracy and shave significant time off your tasks. A quality nail gun drives nails smoothly and consistently and reduces the risk of hand fatigue or injury from a poorly aimed hammer.

What Type of Nail Gun Do I Need?

Nail guns—alternatively referred to as nailers—come in a wide variety of models suited to specific tasks:

  • Framing nailers are ideal for large projects like constructing decks, building room additions or framing houses.
  • Finishing nailers are best for furniture assembly and installation of cabinets, baseboards and crown molding.
  • Brad nailers are lighter than finish nailers and work well for installing lightweight trim and other precision tasks.
  • Roofing nailers are designed for installing roof shingles.
  • Flooring nailers are used to secure hardwood flooring.
  • Palm nailers are compact pneumatic units that fit well in tight spaces but only allow the user to load one nail at a time.

How do Nail Guns Work?

A nail gun’s power source largely determines the type of job for which the tool is best suited.

Pneumatic nail guns use an external air compressor to drive nails into a surface. Be sure the compressor creates sufficient pounds per square inch (PSI) and cubic feet per minute (CFM) to power your nail gun, and if you plan to use the compressor to run several tools simultaneously, check the unit’s total capability to confirm that it can support the combined load.

Battery-driven cordless nail guns are more versatile than pneumatic units because they lack the limitations of the air compressor and associated hoses, but they also generate less power than pneumatic models.

Cordless, fuel-powered nail guns get their power from disposable gas cartridges ignited by the electric charge contained in the onboard battery, producing an explosive force to drive the nail into place. This model combines the convenience of battery-driven nail guns with the power of pneumatic nailers, making them ideal for heavy-duty tasks, even in tight spaces.

What Should I Look for in the Best Nail Gun?

These are the key factors to consider when deciding which model to purchase:

  • Project or task suitability: What kind of tasks do you expect to need your nail gun to complete? Are you planning to replace your roof soon, or do you just want a good all-purpose tool to have on hand as the need arises?
  • Nail compatibility: Buying a new nail gun every time a project calls for a different nail size is cost-prohibitive (and a little ridiculous), so finding a model that will accept multiple nail sizes will save you time and money in the long run.
  • Weight: If you anticipate time-consuming tasks, look for a lightweight nail gun to reduce hand and arm fatigue.
  • Quick jam clearance: No matter how expensive or technologically advanced your nail gun is, at some point it’s going to jam. When that happens, you’ll be glad you chose a model that clears jams quickly and efficiently to get you back to the task at hand.
  • Adjustable depth: A depth adjustment feature puts you in control of how far the gun drives the nail into your work surface. Depending on what your task calls for, you can leave nails protruding, make them flush with the work surface or sink them below it. Some nail guns can be hand-adjusted for depth while others require a special tool.
  • Trigger type: Nail guns may use one of several different trigger types to initiate the nail drive.

Deeper Dive into Trigger Types

    • A contact trigger releases a nail when both the trigger and contact safety tip are activated, requiring the user to pull the trigger and place the tip against a surface for the nail to shoot. As long as you keep the trigger depressed, all you’ll have to do to fire the next nail is place the contact tip against the material you’re nailing.
    • A single actuation trigger requires the user to depress the trigger and activate the contact tip every time a nail is fired.
    • A full sequential trigger only works if a specific order is followed. The tip must make contact with the surface first and then the trigger squeezed to drive the nail. This order must be repeated for each nail. This type of trigger is generally considered the safest due to the deliberate process that must occur each time a nail is fired.
    • A bounce or bump trigger allows for maximum speed, as the trigger remain depressed and the nose “bounces” along the surface to drive a nail each time it lands. However, the risk for unintentional firing is also higher with this method.

Choosing the Best Nail Gun: Our Top Five Picks

We tested a wide range of nail gun models to help you narrow your choices, and the following tools came out on top.

NuMax SFR2190 21 Degree Framing Nailer, $82

This versatile framing nailer uses pneumatic power to drive 21-degree nails into a wide range of work surfaces, including wood fencing, roof decking, sub-floors, sheathing and more. Made from durable magnesium, the NuMax SFR2190 features interchangeable triggers for quick-fire and single-shot options. A no-mar tip protects the integrity of the work surface.

Specifications and Features:

  • Weight: 8.6 pounds
  • Power source: External air compressor
  • Capacity: 55 nails
  • Body type: Magnesium
  • Battery: None
  • Nail size: 2 inches to 3.5 inches
  • Warranty: 1 year
  • Includes air tool oil and hex wrenches
  • 360-degree adjustable air exhaust

Pros:

  • Affordable price
  • Interchangeable trigger options
  • No-mar tip

Cons:

  • Heavy
  • Short warranty

Bostitch N66C-1 Coil Siding Nailer, $237

This powerful pneumatic nail gun is compatible with any air compressor and includes an adjustable exhaust system that lets you redirect spent air while working. The Bostitch N66C-1 accepts both wire-weld and plastic-inserted coil nails and accommodates a 350-nail magazine to save precious reloading time. A soft rubber foot provides a light footprint for working with delicate surfaces, while its impressive driving power is potent enough to drive nails into cement, clapboard, fencing and even light-gauge steel.

Specifications and Features:

  • Weight: 4.9 pounds
  • Power source: External air compressor
  • Capacity: 350 nails
  • Body type: Aluminum
  • Battery: None
  • Nail size: 1.25 inches to 2.5 inches
  • Warranty: 7 years
  • 360-degree adjustable air exhaust

Pros:

  • Lightweight
  • Large capacity

Cons:

  • Moderately high price

Hitachi NT50AE2 18-Gauge Brad Nailer, $99

The lightweight Hitachi NT50AE218-Gauge Brad Nailer is designed to tackle a long list of household repairs and modest carpentry tasks. An intuitive, tool-free selection control feature makes it easy to switch between intermittent firing for jobs that require precision and continuous firing for repetitive tasks. Elastomer grip on the handle allows for greater control and enhanced comfort for all-day jobs, and the kit includes safety glasses, mounted nose cap and protective case.

Specifications and Features:

  • Weight: 2.2 pounds
  • Power source: External air compressor
  • Capacity: 100 nails
  • Body type: Aluminum
  • Battery: None
  • Nail size: 5/8 inches to 2 inches
  • Warranty: 5 years
  • 360-degree adjustable air exhaust

Pros:

  • Lightweight
  • Affordable price
  • Visual nail indicator helps you plan for reloading
  • Convenient depth-of-drive adjustment knob allows for no-tool depth modifications
  • Easy-to-adjust controls switch between intermittent and continuous firing

Cons:

  • Modest magazine capacity

Porter Cable PCC790LA Cordless Brad Nailer Kit, $182

The Porter Cable PCC790LA Cordless Brad Nailer derives its power from a long-lasting lithium battery, which drives up to 1,300 nails on a single charge. The unit delivers consistent firing power when working with a variety of materials and environments, while tool-free settings allow you to work more safely and productively. Onboard LED lights illuminate your workspace and indicate errors.

Specifications and Features:

  • Weight: 5.9 pounds
  • Power source: Lithium battery
  • Capacity: 100 nails
  • Battery: Lithium-ion
  • Nail size: 5/8 inches to 2 inches
  • Warranty: 3 years

Pros:

  • Includes tool-free release lever, jam release and depth adjustment wheel
  • No compressor, hose or gas required to operate
  • Includes one battery and charger

Cons:

  • Modest magazine capacity
  • Somewhat heavy

WEN 61720 18-Gauge Brad Nailer, $31

The WEN 61720 18-Gauge Brad Nailer combines a lightweight body and ergonomic rubber handle for an effortlessly comfortable user experience. This pneumatic nail gun works with virtually any air compressor and includes oil, adjustment wrenches and a custom carrying case for convenient storage between jobs. A side window on the unit lets you know exactly how many more nails you can drive before it’s time to reload.

Specifications and Features:

  • Weight: 3 pounds
  • Power Source: External air compressor
  • Capacity: 100 nails
  • Body type: Aluminum
  • Battery: None
  • Nail size: .75 inches to 2 inches
  • Warranty: 1 year
  • 360-degree adjustable air exhaust

Pros:

  • Lightweight
  • Very affordable price
  • Quick-release mechanism clears jams fast
  • Includes no-tool depth adjustment wheel

Cons:

  • Short warranty

Using Your Nail Gun Safely

Whichever model you ultimately choose, you’ll need to follow these basic guidelines to ensure the safe operation of your new tool.

  • Read the instruction manual provided by the manufacturer to familiarize yourself with the intended operation of the equipment.
  • If you purchase a pneumatic nail gun, be sure your air compressor generates enough power to meet its requirements (along with any other tools you may have connected to it).
  • Test the nail gun on a piece of scrap wood or other material before using it on your final work surface.
  • Perform regular maintenance on your nail gun, including cleaning off any dust and debris and lubricating it prior to use.
  • Wear gloves, safety glasses and other personal protective equipment every time you operate it.
  • Keep your work area clear of people and objects.
  • Never point a nail gun at a person or animal.
  • Disconnect the nailer from the air compressor or battery prior to making adjustments to settings, clearing a jam or performing maintenance.
  • Never use a nail gun near flammable materials, as sparks generated by the tool could ignite combustible gas, vapor or dust particles.

For additional information related to nail gun safety, visit the Center for Construction Research and Training’s online resource hub.

Final Thoughts

Whether you’re replacing your roof, assembling furniture or installing new baseboards or wood flooring, a nail gun can save you huge amounts of time and effort. The most important consideration when choosing a nail gun is making sure the model is appropriate for the tasks for which you’ll be using it. A pneumatic nail gun provides serious firepower, but you may balk at the relative inconvenience of the required air compressor and associated hoses. Alternatively, a battery-operated brad nailer can travel almost anywhere but may not be up to some heavy-duty tasks. Take a look at the models profiled in this piece and you’re sure to find a quality tool that lightens your load when it comes to household repair and carpentry work.

Leave a Comment