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    Pneumatic Nailers 101





    by Roland Johnson

    Compared to the hammer and nail, pneumatic nail guns allow you to work faster, suffer less fatigue, and align parts more accurately, and they won’t mar your piece from the errant hammer blow.

    There are four main types of nail guns – finish nailers, brad nailers, pin nailers, and staple guns (see photos above).

    Finish nailers
    A finish nailer is the largest gun a woodworker would need. Most weigh around 5 lbs. and can shoot nails up to in. long. Many finish nailers on the market have an angled nail carriage, which makes it easier to install molding in tight quarters and to do overhead work, such as installing crown molding.

    Brad nailer
    A brad nailer is smaller and lighter than a finish nailer and shoots 18-gauge brads from in. to 2 in. long. A brad nailer is ideal for small moldings, installing cabinet backs or other applications where a small-diameter, small-headed nail is needed.

    Pin nailer
    A pin nailer is roughly the same size as a brad nailer, but it drives headless 23-gauge pins, ranging in length from in. to 1 in. Use a pin nailer for delicate molding applications, such as stop molding for glass, or in situations where filling the nail holes would be a chore or the moldings would be split by countersinking a brad head. A pin nailer is also useful for holding trim in place while glue dries where clamping would be awkward.

    Staple gun
    A staple gun is my choice for attaching cabinet backs made of plywood, where a brad might blow right through. Staples also help keep splitting to a minimum when fastening near the end of a board. The average woodworker can get by with a gun that handles 1/4-in. crown staples, from 7/8 in. to 1/2 in. long. There are staple guns that can handle -in. crown staples, but these guns are more suitable for upholstery work.

    Air supply
    You won’t need a big air compressor to run these guns, either.  Pneumatic nailers are not big consumers of compressed air. A small air compressor will supply all the air needs of any finish, brad or pin nailer or of any staple gun. An inexpensive method of getting into pneumatic nailing is to get a portable air tank, which can be filled at a local service station.

    Gun safety
    Make sure your hands are out of the path of a driven nail. Always make sure you are aware of the length of nail loaded in the gun. If the nose of the gun has to be held at an oblique angle to nail some molding, the path of a nail may follow the grain and go off its intended course. Pulling the nails through usually causes further damage. It's best to cut the nail with nippers, recess the nail with a nail set and fill the hole.

    Treat a nail gun as you would any gun. Ear protection and eye protection are important. Nail-guns emit a loud exhaust report each time the gun is fired, especially the large finish guns. Be aware of where the exhaust port is on the gun, because the exhaust can blow sawdust or other debris with considerable force.

    A nail can glance off the workpiece if the nail gun is held at too severe an angle or can ricochet off a hidden piece of metal such as a screw head. Always be aware of anyone around you when firing the gun, and make sure they are not in the path of the nail if it were to go slightly astray. Never disable the safety.

    Excerpt from Nail Guns for Cabinetry by Roland Johnson in Fine Woodworking magazine (FWW #147).


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