Recently, I’ve been seeing a lot of new people get into building/remodeling. I don’t know if that’s just one of the results of the pandemic or if woodworking is just finally getting the recognition it deserves, but whatever the reason, I keep seeing a lot of newcomers to the handy scene who aren’t really sure which tools they need to get started. As someone who meticulously picks out the tools in my workshop, I know picking out the best tools for the job you want and the amenities you’d like can be overwhelming, especially if you aren’t sure what you should even be looking at.
So, in line with a couple other of my ‘building your starter tools’ guides , here is my guide to picking out which nail gun to purchase in 2021, a (fairly) definitive guide.
Top Criteria for Choosing a Nail Gun
There are five key factors to look at when deciding which nail gun to buy.
- Pneumatic or Cordless
- Single Shot or Bump Action
- Ease of Use (& Add-ons)
1. Pneumatic or Cordless Nail Guns
When looking at the different nail guns, the first thing you will probably notice are the words pneumatic or cordless. Basically, this is the biggest thing to look at before you check any of the other criteria. So: pneumatic or cordless?
Pneumatic nail guns are lightweight and easy to use. However, they require an air compressor, which is not very lightweight. While I appreciate the versatility and ease of movement that pneumatic guns offer, even with a tool cart to hold the air compressor, it can be fairly difficult to use these nail guns. It can be quite the process to maneuver the heavy air compressor and nail guns to the places you want them.
Cordless nail guns are, well, cordless! Where the pneumatic nail guns have to be attached to those heavy air compressors, cordless nail guns allow you to have much more free of movement. Now, the actual nail guns themselves can be heavier for cordless compared to pneumatic, but overall, I think the weight is definitely in cordless nail guns’ favor. Of course, every situation is different, and you have to make the choice based on what is going to work best for you.
2. Single Shot or Bump Action Nail Guns
The second most important specification to consider is whether to use a single shot or bump action nail gun. No matter which you decide on, both of these types penetrate both hard and soft wood with ease. Single shot nail guns require you to depress the nose guard and pull the trigger, allowing for precise placement of each nail.
Bump action has you pull the trigger first, then “bump” the nail gun to the surface. It shoots a nail each time you depress the nose guard. While some consider it faster, I don’t, as it really only speeds up the process if you don’t make any mistakes. And it’s really hard to be precise with a bump action, so you usually make mistakes.
In addition, bump action tends to be not as safe, so I usually use single shot. If I get distracted and bump it against my leg, I don’t want to be the proud owner of an 18ga nail in a jar, souvenir from my ER visit!
When considering sizing, just make sure that the nail gun you are looking at can fit the specs of nails you need to use. Most nail guns are fairly versatile, but I have seen a few lower quality ones that don’t have quite the same functionality. Checking to see what size nails can be accommodated is just an easy way to make sure you set yourself up for success!
Precision is extremely important to ensure you get your jobs done safely, quickly, and correctly. I hate having to back up and pull out/hammer in nails when I’ve accidentally put them in the wrong spot–mainly from the bump action nail guns. It slows the whole process down and is just plain frustrating!
Depth control is also super important, and I want to make sure the nail guns I’m using have versatile and accurate options when it comes to selecting the depth to drive the nail in. When choosing a depth setting, you need to be sure you’re taking into account all aspects of the project, like the length of nail and hardness of material. You don’t want it too low and have the nail stick out, but you also don’t want it too high on soft material, as it can drive the nail way too deep and earn you an odd-shaped hole in your wood. I like my nail guns to have at least 8 settings, but the more the merrier. The more accurate you can get with the depth setting, the less work there is for you later for filling/hammering/fixing any not-perfect nails.
5. Ease of Use (& Add-ons)
The last thing to look at when buying a nail gun are any extra safety features, ease of use aspects, or just nifty add-ons that come with the nail gun. Personally, I love when there is a lock on them, so I can set down or transport my nail gun without removing the battery while not worrying about it accidentally shooting a nail. I know it’s unlikely, but that extra peace of mind helps.
I also like to make sure there’s easy, tool-free access to the nosepiece to clear jams, as it can be a pain if there are extra steps you have to take if the gun gets backed up.
One of the other things I like in a nail gun is a handy tool hanger. One of my nail guns pictured here, the Cordless DeWalt Nail Gun – 18 Volt Finish Nailer, has a reversible tool belt hanger. Basically, you can hang it on a ladder or your belt, which I LOVE. I’m always moving around, jumping up and down ladders (not literally…usually), so it’s nice to be able to just plop it down wherever I am. It’s such a pain if I have to run down the ladder again because I forgot my nail gun or I didn’t have enough hands to carry things. There always ends up being so much stuff at the top of my ladder that having somewhere extra to store something up there comes in handy. I love being able to put the belt hook on either side of the nail gun.
The Best Nail Gun 2021
So, considering all that you now know about picking the best nail gun for you, it’s time to give you my own personal recommendation. As I’ve said before, you have to decide what is important for your individual work, but generally, I think this nail gun is the best in the business.
The Cordless DeWalt Nail Gun (18 Volt Finish Nailer) is a cordless nail gun that I’ve had for a few weeks and have used almost every day. The straight magazine accepts 18 gauge nails 5/8-inch to 2-inch in length. The nailer weights 7.4-pound and is powered by a rechargeable 18-volt battery. There are quite a few companies that make battery powered nail guns, but based on reviews and price, I selected the Cordless DeWalt nail gun.
This finish nailer performs like a pneumatic nail gun with no lag. I can pull the trigger with an immediate action. The only downside is because it powers itself, it’s understandably larger and heavier than a pneumatic. It also has incredible depth adjustment, with 12 different settings. There are half steps between 1 and 6 so, depending on the length of nail and the hardness of your material, you can set your drive to the perfect depth.
I still have all my previous compressors and nail guns, but I find not having the hose in the way is super convenient, and I find myself choosing my new Cordless DeWalt over them each time. I might invest in a 16ga brad nailer and stapler, too, and get rid of the compressor all together!
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