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Which nail gun is best?

While a hammer and nails works great for small projects, when it comes to large jobs, nothing beats a nail gun for precision and speed. Nail guns neatly fire up to 10 nails per second – that’s faster than your hand could grasp a nail to position it.

Specific nail guns are designed for a variety of jobs, but if you’re looking for one versatile tool that can handle both finish work and larger fastening, the Dewalt 20V Max Cordless Brad Nailer is a good choice.

What to know before you buy a nail gun

Nail gun power source

Nail guns use one of three potential sources of power:

  • Pneumatic: Pneumatic nail guns use compressed air to drive nails. This is the most common power source, but it is not without its challenges. The length of the air compressor hose and the power cord to the air compressor itself limits the distance you can work, as does the pressure created by the air compressor.
  • Battery-powered: Battery-powered nail guns may use a compressor built into the gun, but they also may use a spring system with a motor. Although you have more flexibility in where you can work, you are limited by the life of the battery.
  • Electric: Electric nail guns have the same options for driving nails as both pneumatic and battery-powered, but you are tethered to an outlet.

Even with its limitations, the most powerful and consistent choice is a pneumatic nail gun.

Nail loading

Nails advance automatically in the firing position in one of two ways:

  • Coil: A coil of nails loads into a circular nail gun. These can hold larger nails than a strip style nail loader.
  • Strip: Strip nails can be either angled or straight. They are usually linked by wax that is driven into the wood as they fire. These smaller nails are more likely to be used in battery-powered nail guns, but some heavy-duty framing nailers can use strips.

Types of nail guns

Depending on the job, there are different types of nail guns to choose from:

  • Finish: For trim work and adding baseboards and molding, a finish nailer is the best choice. They cannot be used for framing but can work for small assemblies. Most finish nail guns cannot handle nails longer than 2.5 inches.
  • Framing: Framing nailers are heavy and heavy-duty. They are used for building walls and framing decks.
  • Roofing: Roofing nailers are perfect for attaching shingles and underlayment to a roof. This type of nailer accepts nails with larger heads but no longer than 1.75 inches.
  • Brad: For other finish work and trim, a brad nailer is a good choice. They are often battery-powered and can even be used to attach some types of siding to a house.
  • Specialty: Specialty nailers for upholstery and flooring are less common and generally used by professionals who specialize in the trade for which they are designed.

What to look for in a quality nail gun

Comfortable to use

Comfort is especially important for heavier nail guns. Framing nailers can weigh almost 15 pounds, so you’ll want one that has a comfortable grip and feels balanced.

Firing safety

This important safety feature means that the nail gun will not fire unless the head is depressed and the trigger is pulled. This protects against accidental firing and injury.

Case included

Brad and finish nailers are more compact. These can be stored safely in a  carrying case that often has room for nails, too.

How much you can expect to spend on a nail gun

The price of nail guns varies depending on the type of nailer and the power source. Expect to spend $170 to $400, with more value when you bundle multiple nailers or buy battery-powered nailers without the battery.

Nail gun FAQ

How do you safely operate a nail gun?

A. Even with safety features, nail guns are power tools that require careful use.

  • Wear eye protection no matter the size of the job or how long you’ll be using the nail gun.
  • Keep hands and feet clear of the work area.
  • Unplug the nailer when clearing a jam or adding nails.
  • Consult your manufacturer’s directions for maintenance to keep your nail gun in safe working order.

Can you use any type of nail in a nail gun?

A. No. Each type of nail gun is designed to accept specific nails. If nails are too large, they will jam. Nails that are too small won’t drive in properly. You’re looking for the Goldilocks “just right” size. To find that, consult your owner’s manual.

What’s the best nail gun to buy?

Top nail gun

best Dewalt 20V Max Cordless Brad Nailer

Dewalt 20V Max Cordless Brad Nailer

What you need to know: This is a good all-around nail gun for projects both large and small.

What you’ll love: The rechargeable battery has a long run time that drives 18 gauge nails. Adjust the depth and accuracy without tools. LED lights illuminate where nails are being driven.

What you should consider: This nail gun is fairly heavy and challenging to operate overhead.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Top nail gun for the money

best Freeman Pneumatic Framing And Finishing Combo Kit

Freeman Pneumatic Framing and Finishing Combo Kit

What you need to know: This is an affordable starter kit that comes with four nail guns.

What you’ll love: This kit includes a framing nailer, a finish nailer, a straight brad nailer and a narrow crown stapler. All nailers are stored conveniently in a canvas carrying bag and also come with wrenches and oil. The quick jam release clears any stuck nails quickly.

What you should consider: While most users found this kit to work well, some noted that the framing nailer did not have enough power to drive nails into heavier wood.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Worth checking out

best Ryobi Airstrike 18 Volt One+ Lithium Ion Cordless Brad Nailer

Ryobi Airstrike 18 Volt One+ Lithium Ion Cordless Brad Nailer

What you need to know: This nailer consistently drives nails to a set depth to reduce your workload.

What you’ll love: This drives 60 nails per minute and has a low nail indicator. It comes with a belt clip and nails to get you started. Adjust the air pressure and depth of drive without any additional tools, and it can drive up to 1700 nails per charge.

What you should consider: This is the tool only. You’ll need to buy the battery separately.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

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Suzannah Kolbeck writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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