Cool Tools: Electric Nail Gun

Why they are awesome

Basically, a nail gun will make nailing faster and better looking.

  • Saves a lot of time: is quicker and more precise than a hammer.
  • Won't leave ugly marks like a hammer can.
  • Will automatically sink your nail making it fast and easy to hide.
When purchasing a nail gun for DIY projects and hobbies, you have a lot to choose from: electric, cordless, and pneumatic.

I’ll look at pneumatic nail guns another time… this post will be about the electric nail gun.

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Why electric?

Because they are the simplest, working with your household electricity, and I just got one for my birthday  :)  

Electric nail guns aren’t as powerful as pneumatic, but they are very convenient and affordable.  They are also quieter and don’t require oiling, two additional pros in my opinion.

Finally, cordless battery-operated nail guns are really expensive but I have heard that they are more powerful than the corded variety (which is a surprise).   
Do you use a cordless nail gun?  Does it work for you?

I’m going to focus on the electric nail guns that use brad and finish nails.  These usually only work with nails up to 1-1/4 inch long.  These electric nail guns are for light DIY.

In addition to driving thin nails deep where they can be easily hidden, these kind of nail guns have a padded contact foot that leaves no marks behind on the surface being nailed.

They are also usually smaller than other kinds of nail guns allowing them to be easily used in tight spots.

An electric nail gun is useful for
  • installing trim and molding
  • furniture building, cabinetry and making bookshelves.

 

Current Matters

Electrical power (current) is the key to the electric nail gun, and reviews often (really often) complain about underpowered guns, nails not going in all the way, and the gun quitting on them.  

Sometimes this is because the electric nail gun really isn’t as strong as you need (for example, MDF is very dense and you may not be able to nail through two sheets of MDF with an electric nail gun).  The higher amperage rating of the gun, the stronger it is.

Other times, it is because the user is not providing enough power to the tool…

AmperageAvoid using an extension cord, or use a heavy-duty (12 gauge) cord.  
Super simplified, amperage is the quantity of electricity an appliance uses.  It is important to provide the nail gun with the amperes it needs.  Household current will be strong enough to power your nail gun, but not if you use an extension cord that isn’t rated for the tool you are using.  The length of the cord matters too, since the current weakens over distance.  You must read this if you use power tools and extension cords (and who doesn’t?), it will change your life.

There is one more important factor…

Force.  The weight and strength you put behind the nail gun.
I laid my bookcases on the floor and placed my body weight directly over the gun to drive the nails entirely into the bookcase.  The more force (weight and strength) you can put behind the gun will  affect how deeply you can drive the nail.

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Purchasing ($30-$120)

When buying any kind of nail gun, there are many important features to consider.

Power: Check the amperage requirement of the gun before you buy.  This is the best indicator of how strong the gun is, how deep it will be able to drive nails, and the hardness of the materials it will be able to handle.  My Arrow ET200 is 14 amps and handles soft and hardwoods very well, and even manages MDF well (provided I’m putting serious weight behind the gun).

Power Cord Length:  Because the electric nail gun won’t work as well attached to an extension cord, the length of the power cord is important.  Mine is 6 feet long, and I think it is too short.  10 feet would be much better.

Comfort: Get the lightest gun that still has the power you need.  Hold it in your hand.  If you’re like me and have small hands, this will be even more important.  Many nail guns are designed for men’s larger hands.

Nail Sizes:  You’ll get more use out of a gun that works with many different nail sizes.

Loading: Nail guns will use either strips of nails or a continuous coil of nails.  Strips are sometimes higher capacity, while coils will be able to handle nails with large heads.

Safety:  Most nail guns now come with sophisticated safety features.  Even so, they are one of the most dangerous power tools (tied with table saws).
  • dual-contact mechanism to prevent accidental firing
  • sequential firing mechanism is even safer, requiring the trigger be released before the gun is enabled to fire again
Extra features to look for are:
  • ability to adjust the depth that the nail is placed
  • ease of taking apart gun to remove a jammed nail

Safety Tips

  • always wear safety glasses and ear protection
  • unplug the gun before loading nails or removing nail jams
  • be certain that the nail you fire will not go all the way through the wood or wall and hurt you or someone standing on the other side
  • be careful that the gun (if it’s a very powerful one) won’t kickback and smack you in the face
  • hold the gun firmly and steadily, a slip could result in injury
  • use the proper nail for your gun and do not use rusty nails
  • don’t nail into the wall where there is electrical wiring
  • Keep out of reach of Children

Tips and Tricks and other Resources

Some nails are coated (labeled CC) with an adhesive that melts from the force of the nailer, making it easier to drive into the wood and then making the joint that much stronger.

The general rule – the nail should be 3x the thickness of the material you are nailing.  Choose the right brad nails for your projectThe differences between brad and finish nails.

Angling nails:  line up the gun with the angle you want the nail to take (point slightly toward the side that won’t be seen, so if the nail does pop through it won’t be seen).

Nail that has popped through:  Cut the protruding nail off with wire snips and use a nail set to hide the rest.

Avoid splitting:  with finish nails (15 or 16 gauge), keep nails 2 inches away from edges.  With brad nails (18 gauge), you can put nails as close as 1/2” from the end and 1/8” from the edge or just
use brad nails (the thinner nails) to finish near corners, because they are much less likely to split the wood than a finish nail.

Nails that stick out: even with the best nail guns, some nails won’t be driven all the way in.  If it stick out more than 1/4” cut it off with side-cutting pliers.  Otherwise use a hammer and nailset to hammer it the rest of the way in.

I know many of you love your nail guns… which nail gun do you have?


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