Differences Between Gas-Powered Nailers and Air or Pneumatic Nail Guns

Updated on August 15, 2018

A nail gun, or nailer, is a power tool used in place of a hammer to drive nails into various types of materials at very high speeds. You can use them for home or industrial projects. They contain compartments that house large quantities of nails. When the tool is used, nails are automatically ejected and reloaded by the tool’s operating system. This makes the job more expedient, efficient, and easier. Nailers take nails of varying thickness (gauge), length, and head styles, all of which are based on the job they are being used for: roofing/shingles, framing, trimming, molding, woodworking, crafts, and so on.

Research nail guns or nailers on the Internet and you will find that they are divided into several different categories: air nail guns, pneumatic-powered nailers, gas-powered nail guns, cordless nail guns, stick nailers, coil nail guns, combustion nail guns, spring-loaded nailers, solenoid nail guns, framing guns, gas finish guns, Brad Nailers, etc. As you can see, they are named for their overall design, power source, nail-holding compartment (magazine), and function. In this article, I will categorize the power tools under the headings: air or pneumatic nail guns and gas nail guns.

Bostitch 16-gauge straight finish air nailer kit.
Bostitch 16-gauge straight finish air nailer kit. | Source

Air or Pneumatic Nail Guns

Air or pneumatic nail guns use air pressure to create the intense force that drives the nails into the material (wood, metal, concrete, etc.). An external air compressor pumps air into the power tool’s chamber via a hose. When the gun is triggered, a piston creates an explosion of compressed air, which causes the fastener to forcefully shoot nails into the object you are nailing. Another nail is then automatically loaded from the gun’s magazine.

These were the first nail guns or nailers invented. The patent was issued in 1960 to World War II vets John Ollig, Reuben Miller, and Marvin Hirsch, along with lumberyard owner James Westerholm. The actual designers were Ollig, Miller, and Hirsch. The four patent-holders formed a company called Port-A-Matic Tools. However, eventual foreclosure caused them to auction their patent to the Bostitch Company.

Paslode cr175 c cordless roofing nailer (coil magazine).
Paslode cr175 c cordless roofing nailer (coil magazine). | Source

Gas Nail Guns

Gas nailers use flammable fuel such as liquid petroleum or butane stored in a disposable internal cell and a battery. When the nail gun is triggered, fuel is released. The battery then creates a spark, which ignites the fuel. The resulting explosive energy shoots the nail into the material you are nailing, and another nail is automatically loaded. Gas nail guns are usually cordless and are often referred to by that name.

The Paslode Company, a division of Illinois Tool Works, introduced the first gas-powered nail gun to the world in 1986. The framing nailer was called Impulse. Besides expediency, efficiency, and ease, this high-powered combustion tool provided more versatility and maneuverability than the air nail guns. There were no clumsy external hoses or cords attached.

Nail Magazine Configuration for Air and Gas Nail Guns

Both pneumatic or air nailers and gas nailers are equipped with magazines designed as a stick cartridge or a coil cartridge. A stick magazine holds long strips of 20 to 100 nails that resemble a stick of staples. The nails may be held by an adhesive such as glue. A coil magazine holds rolls of up to 350 nails held by wire, paper, or plastic.

Examples of Specialty Air or Pneumatic Nailers and Gas Nailers Based on Function

  • Pin Nail Guns: Use small, headless 21- to 23-gauge nails that can be up to 2 inches in length. They are generally used for jobs such as nailing furniture, molding, casing, or baseboards. They help hold the materials in place until the glue dries.
  • Brad Nailers: Use 18-gauge finishing nails of up to 2 inches long. They are suitable for small woodwork or carpentry—trim, moldings, baseboards, and crafts.
  • Finishing Nail Guns: Use 15- to 16-gauge finishing nails of up to 2 1/2 inches in length. They are devised for carpentry, paneling, molding, and trim work.
  • Framing Nail Guns: Use 8-gauge nails of up to 3 1/2 to 4 inches long. They are suitable for fastening fences, sheathing, wood siding, and construction projects.
  • Siding Nailers: Use 12-gauge nails of up to 2 1/2 inches in length. These power tools are best for fencing, hardboard, subfloors, and roof decking.
  • Roofing Nail Guns: These are some of the heaviest and most powerful nail guns, using 11-gauge nails up to 2 1/2 inches in length. They are suitable for shingle and other roofing work.

There are also nail guns within the specialties listed for nails of various gauges and lengths as well as materials, plus cordless nail guns, angled nailers, flooring nailers, palm nailers, narrow crown staplers, etc.

Negatives of Both Air or Pneumatic Nail Guns and Gas Nail Guns

Nails can jam in the magazines of both air and gas nail guns, and both firing pistons can also malfunction.

Air or Pneumatic Nailers

These power nailing tools are bulky and unmanageable because of their external attachments. They lack maneuverability, flexibility, and mobility. Water can also build up in the air compressor and flow into the tool. Oiling is needed to retard this issue.

Gas Nailers

These nailing tools must be cleaned regularly to work well. Also, fuel cartridges or cells are not one-size-fits-all and should be fresh. It is recommended that you check them even if the gas nail gun is newly purchased. Additionally, battery contacts can become dusty or bent. Replacing fuel cells and batteries can be expensive.

Safety of Air or Pneumatic and Gas Nail Guns

In 2001, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a number of safety measures for using the pneumatic nail guns, but they can and should be applied to both power tools regardless of power source. Some tips to remember:

  • Always read the accompanying manual thoroughly before using your nailer.
  • Always wear safety glasses to protect your eyes, and maybe earplugs for hearing protection.
  • When using nail guns, it is recommended that the mouth of the gun or muzzle touch the nailing surface either before or while pulling the trigger.
  • Disconnect the nail gun before clearing a jammed nail.

What type of nail gun would you recommend?

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This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

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