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Types of Nail Guns & What They’re Used For

Nail guns are some of the more versatile and time-saving power tools available for fastening different materials together. They come in a wide range of sizes and are designed to work with a wide range of different materials. You also have a fairly wide choice of power sources since battery-powered and pneumatic nail guns are both getting more common.

That variety of options is great for craftspeople, construction workers, and even home improvement DIYers. But, the variety of different nail guns does come with a couple of problems. For one thing, your projects will all probably need a fairly specific kind of nail gun to get the best results. That’s because of a wide range of different compatibility and designs. No two nail guns are entirely alike, and choosing the right one for your project is incredibly important. 

For another thing, it can be harder than ever to tell different kinds of nail guns apart. If you aren’t already familiar with the options, it can be hard to choose the right nail gun for your project. Not only do you need to think about what kind of nails your nail gun is compatible with, but you also need to think about what materials your nail gun is designed to power through.

Don’t worry too much. It doesn’t take too much experience to tell which nail guns are going to be the best option, and this article will cover the basics of what you need to know. 

We’ll talk about the different kinds of nail guns, which ones are good for which kinds of projects, and which types are more versatile. 

Let’s dive in.

Framing Nailers

Framing nailers are usually a little larger and work with longer 3 ½ inch nails. Some framing nailers are compatible with both round head and clipped head nails, while other models will only work with one type of nail or the other. 

If you’re working with heavy-duty hardware, the framing nailer is going to be your best friend. This beast of a nail gun is designed to join 2 x 4s to create a stable structure. The longer and often thicker nails used with this nail gun are also sturdier and work better as weight-bearing connectors. 

What Is A Framing Nailer Used For?

As its name implies, a framing nailer puts frames for buildings together. They’re commonly used in both home and roof construction, and can also be used in remodeling, and even in commercial buildings up to a reasonable size. 

Framing nailers offer the power you need to create sturdy connections in lumber and work with longer nails that create reasonably solid connections. Framing nailers are also a good option for larger home improvement projects like deck building. Basically, framing nailers can handle most lumber-based construction projects. 

One big advantage of this tool is that framing nailers are powerful, but also very user-friendly and beginner-friendly. You don’t need to have a ton of experience to use a framing nailer well. 

Framing nailers can also sometimes be useful for furniture construction, remodeling interiors, and building counters and cabinets, and other interior improvements. Basically, any time you need a weight-bearing large nail for construction, framing nailers are a great choice. 

These versatile tools are also a little more powerful than most nail guns. Roofers will sometimes use framing nailers because of their higher firing power. However, framing nailers still aren’t usually strong enough to go through sheet metal, some kinds of hardened rubber or plastic material, and they aren’t suitable for tile or natural stone. Framing nailers are all about lumber but have limited compatibility with other materials. 

Now that you know a little more about what a framing nailer is used for, let’s go over some tips for how you can use them. 

Clipped Nails or Round Nails?

Clipped nail framing nailers are some of the more popular options because the clipped nail head means that you can load more nails in the magazine. That makes clipped head framing nailers a good option for projects where you’re driving a lot of nails quickly. 

However, the clipped head does slightly reduce the grip of each individual nail. Clipped nail heads can also look odd if they’re used in visible areas. It’s not that the nails look bad so much as they don’t look like what you’d expect thanks to the clipped side. 

Roundhead nailers still have a reasonably high capacity in their magazine and are generally better for projects that need a lot of grip, or where the nails will be highly visible after you’re finished. They fire just as quickly, and can often fire a little more smoothly than clipped head nails. 

Both nail types offer similar performance in terms of material compatibility and stability. Both will fire at the same rate, and come in the same types of materials and coatings. 

Brad Nailer

Brad nailers are a smaller kind of nail gun that’s designed for more detailed work and work that doesn’t need the added strength of a larger nail. They offer a lot of consistency and power but aren’t as versatile as larger kinds of nail guns. 

Brad nailers are another name for 18-gauge nail guns. 18-gauge nails are some of the smallest nails for nail guns, and they don’t have as much strength as larger options or staples. That means that they are a good choice for finishing work that doesn’t need a lot of strength to last. 

In case you don’t already know, an 18-gauge nail is a small very thin kind of nail. They’re 18 gauge because roughly 18 nails placed right next to one another will take up about an inch of space. 

The diameter of a single nail is about 0.0475 inches. That’s pretty thin for a nail. It also means that brad nails shear relatively quickly if you put pressure on them, which means that they aren’t as useful for structural integrity.

What Are Brad Nailers Used For?

They’re used more than you might think. For example, whenever you need pinpoint accuracy in driving your nails, a brad nailer has you covered. A good example of when a brad nailer is used is putting up trim around your home. Brad nailers are a great option for decorative elements and working with delicate materials. 

You don’t want to drive large nails for decorative trims and other more delicate materials. One, a larger nail would likely cause your trim to split. And two, you don’t want a large nailhead ruining the appearance of your trim. Brad nailers are a great solution for both problems since they are small enough to blend in with the décor and delicate enough to provide attachments without damaging your materials. 

Brad nails hide nicely in wood and can get at angles that larger nails otherwise could not. Perhaps most importantly, using a brad nailer ensures the safety of your lumber, as it won’t split or damage it. 

If you’re a hobbyist, a brad nailer makes a wonderful companion. Although they don’t provide as much holding strength as larger nails, brads are ideal for arts and crafts, such as building a birdhouse or other reasonably delicate projects.

Brad nailers are also incredibly effective for precision nailing, and they can be useful as a first attachment to add stability while you use another more powerful nailer or another kind of attachment. 

This kind of nailer is also commonly used with veneers, crown molding, and other more detailed materials. Brad nailers are not suitable for thick materials, or high-density materials. The nail just isn’t likely to drive deep enough into those kinds of materials. 

Palm Nailer

If you’ve never seen a palm nailer, they resemble an electric handheld sander. As their name suggests, palm nailers fit in the palm of your hand, giving you a lot of versatility and portability. What’s more, you can easily drive nails into angles and areas that would be impossible for other types of nail guns or even a hammer.

That’s because palm nailers are designed to operate in smaller spaces than regular nail guns, and don’t need the space required to swing a hammer. 

For this reason, palm nailers are an essential tool for many carpenters. They’re a great choice if you know you’re going to be working in tight corners or if you want to add a couple of additional fasteners to the interior of a structure. 

The best palm nailers are capable of delivering the power needed to drive a wide variety of nail types. In fact, some can successfully drive barn pole spikes! That’s one of the biggest advantages of this style of nailer. Not only can palm nailers get into spaces that other nailers often can’t reach, but they also have a much wider range of versatility. 

That’s partially because palm nailers use percussive force instead of firing the nail through a firing tip. The percussion works with a wider range of nail sizes and designs since you don’t need the finely tuned accuracy of a firing tip. 

However, that also means that palm nailers are usually a little less precise, and it’s much easier to bend or misplace a nail using them. 

The best palm nailers are the pneumatic variety, although there are electric models, too. On average, air-powered palm nailers are capable of providing you with anywhere between 50 and 125 PSI, which means you’ll have plenty of pressure to drive nails into a wide variety of materials. 

It is worth noting that while palm nailers can usually work with a wide variety of nails, they are most commonly used with 2-5 inch nails and relatively narrow gauges. 

What Are Palm Nailers Used For?

Palm nailers are generalists more than specialists. They can be used in a wide range of applications, though the exact uses of every palm nailer depend on its design and the amount of pressure it can provide. That said, there’s a palm nailer for almost every job, so it’s less about what your palm nailer is for and more about what your palm nailer can handle. 

Palm nailers have a lot of advantages worth considering. They are highly portable since most palm nailers are no bigger than a baseball or tennis ball. They’re also generally very lightweight and most are designed to fit comfortably in your hand while you use them.

Versatility is another important pro with palm nailers since you can nail areas that are otherwise be impossible to access. A single palm nailer can also usually handle more situations and types of nails than most nail guns. 

On average, palm nailers weigh just a couple of pounds, with a few weighing as little as 1 pound. That means that nearly anyone can use these handy nailers without fear of cramped hands or tired arms. However, palm nailers do produce a fair amount of vibration, which can lead to hand fatigue and soreness if you’re using them for very long.

Palm nailers are also limited to only holding one nail at a time, you’ll need to reload between each nail. They can also bend nails much more easily than most nail guns, and precision takes a little more skill from the user. 

Flooring Nailer

Flooring nailers are designed specifically to install tongue-and-groove flooring. One of the big differences between flooring nailers and other designs is that flooring nailers feature a special plunger that you have to strike with a mallet to drive each cleat nail into the flooring. 

Flooring nailers also have a noticeably different design because they don’t use the same kind of firing mechanisms to drive the nails. This design gives you a lot more precision and control over the depth of fire when you’re working with flooring, but they aren’t designed for other contexts. 

What Are Flooring Nails Used For?

The cleat nails that are used in flooring nailers are designed so that they don’t hit the concrete below the tongue-and-groove flooring. That adjustment means flooring nailers are also a good choice for installing plywood. There are various sizes of cleat nails used in flooring nailers. Which size you use depends on the thickness of the flooring you are installing, but there is usually a relatively limited range.

Flooring nailers have the major advantage of helping make floor installations a lot faster. That helps protect users from knee, shoulder, and back damage from all that crouching and kneeling. 

Flooring nailers are also significantly faster than trying to manually drive the nails, and generally, they are more precise and give your floor a more even and walkable finish.  

However, flooring nailers aren’t quite as fast as other nailers, and they’re significantly more limited than most nailers. That said, flooring nailers are really the only kind of nailer designed for what they do, so you can’t use another type of nailer for flooring anymore than you can use a flooring nailer for other projects. 

Roofing Nailer

Roofing nailers have one specific job, and that’s to fasten shingles to roofs. These nailers work quickly, driving one nail after the other in quick succession. There are several types of roofing nails used, including zinc-coated, aluminum, galvanized, or steel.

One of the main differences between roofing nailers and other kinds of nailers is the type of materials they are designed to go through; roofing nailers can handle the layers of asphalt and other materials used to make roofs waterproof and durable. 

Roofing nails are also typically a little less secure than other designs to help make it easier to strip the roof when it’s time to re-shingle or replace the roofing. 

What Are Roofing Nailers Used For?

Roofing nailers are specialists the same way flooring nailers are, though they can be a tiny bit more versatile. The design of a roofing nailer isn’t necessarily as specific or different than other nailers, but the shorter and looser design of roofing nails limits the other functions. For the most part, roofing nailers are used to attach roofing materials like shingles and shakes to a roof. They aren’t used for construction under the roofing materials, and they shouldn’t be used for structural or weight-bearing attachments. 

Roofing nailers get the job done in record time, saving installers a lot of time and energy. They also create a secure attachment that’s easy to remove when the time comes. Roofing nailers can typically work with a wide range of different roofing nails, but not longer standard nails. 

The main con is that roofing nailers only work with roofs, and only for part of the roof installation. It’s also really important to note that while siding nailers and roof nailers seem similar at first glance, the two are not interchangeable. 

Siding Nailer

Siding nailers are another specialist nail gun, but they’re a little less specific than flooring or roofing nailers. These nail guns are designed for the length of nail needed by most siding, which tops out at about 2 ½ inches, which shorter than many framing or brad nails. That said, siding nailers tend to offer a relatively secure attachment and can be a powerful tool since a good nailer is designed to work with a wide range of siding materials. The best can handle wood siding, steel siding, and everything in between. 

Siding nailers also tend to have very good no-mar tips and are designed for faster nail penetration to help avoid splitting and other damage to the siding. Avoiding damage is critical because the seal on siding is important for its longevity and preventing rot and mold from getting into the home. 

Siding nailers are typically powerful, fast, and highly accurate. These nailers also offer a lot of tip protection since it’s more important to avoid damaging siding than most other projects. 

Siding nailers also usually have a large magazine capacity and choice of contact or sequential firing to make nailing much faster. 

However, siding nailers still don’t offer the strength or secure connection of a framing nailer and aren’t delicate enough to work as a brad or finishing nailer, making them a little more limited in application. Siding nailers also tend to be a little more expensive than most other alternatives because they have to be able to handle a wide range of materials well. 

The Takeaway

Hopefully, after reading this article it’s a lot easier to see why there are so many different types and models of nail guns. Each of these models is specialized for a different kind of project and works best with different types of nails.

Choosing the right type of nail gun for your project is critical to your success. Use the wrong nail gun or the wrong nails, and you’ll likely need to start over, repair your existing project, or have angry clients calling about a failed job. 

That means that most professionals will need several different kinds of nail guns, and possibly even several different models of each type. However, if you choose the right options for you, these nailers can be surprisingly versatile and will help you finish projects significantly faster.