What Is A Pneumatic Nailer?

September 18, 2022

Woodworker use air pneumatic nailer to build table.

All the biggest technological inventions by man usually say a lot about his laziness,” says a famous author, and you might agree with him. Yet, if you are driving dozens of nails every day using your hammer, you might as well embrace pneumatic nailer technology, even if it says something about your laziness. Yes, driving hundreds of nails to accomplish your projects every day is a dull and unexciting job that could enervate you. So, it will be a great relief for you if you have a pneumatic nailer to facilitate the driving of nails. But what is a pneumatic nailer?    

The invention of Pneumatic nail guns spared professionals and DIYers from engaging in a monotonous manual hammering of nails. It uses air pressure produced by an air compressor to drive nails. It is highly efficient and powerful and helps you save time, effort, and money when engaged in installing trim moldings, flooring, roofing, and many other tasks that require the driving of dozens of nails.

Pneumatic nailers or nail guns were introduced in 1950 to facilitate the driving of different gauges of nails. They were the very first nail guns invented. The patent for the first pneumatic nail guns was issued in 1960. This patent got issued to War veterans Reuben Miller, John Ollig, and Marvin Hirsh along with the owner of the lumberyard James Westerholm. However, their company, the Port-A-Matic Tools, was foreclosed, which forced them to auction their patents to another company—Bostitch.

How Does the Pneumatic Nail Gun Work?

The pneumatic nailer gets powered by an air compressor that pumps air onto a cylinder. Once you click on the trigger, the piston inside the cylinder moves down. This downstroke movement results in the force that shoots the nail out. Then, automatically, another nail gets loaded from the magazine of the tool. 

A standard air compressor operates on a similar principle to the water pump. It features one or several piston cylinders that draw air from the atmosphere. Then, it pushes this air out to the gun. This upstroke and downstroke of the pistons generate the needed supply of compressed air for the firing of the nail gun.

You will find the same sort of hammer in the pneumatic nailer as that of the solenoid nailer. Its piston is sliding, driving the long blade. When the pressure above the head becomes higher than below the piston head, the piston moves downward and vice versa. The trigger mechanism lets the channeling of the compressed air flow to offset the balance. In a way, the nailer is like a small gasoline engine, wherein air pressure is crucial to its functioning.  

What Happens When You Pull the Pneumatic Nail Gun’s Trigger?

Around 37,000 people get injured yearly because of nail guns in the United States alone. The reason is that nail guns can be hazardous if you mishandle them. The trigger, of course, is the primary mechanism that enables the firing of nails. Nevertheless, pneumatic nail guns can fire nails in two ways: 

Nail gun contract trip and Sequential Trip

The contact trip is the most common mechanism for firing nail guns. It requires you to depress both the manual trigger and the nose contact element to discharge the nail. On the other hand, the sequential trip requires you to depress the tip first against the material and afterward pull the trigger. When you pull the trigger, the following sequence of events happen:

  1. The trigger valves shut off. This leads to the opening of the passageway to the open air. The compressed air will not flow to the space over the valve plunger in this position. 
  2. This position also leads to more pressure underneath the plunger than above it. So, the plunger moves up, allowing the compressed air to move to the piston head. 
  3. The compressed air then drives the piston with the blade downward. This process shoots the nail out of its chamber. 
  4. Once the piston slides down, it will push air inside the cylinder via a series of holes towards a return air chamber.

Air continues to push into the chamber, enabling the pressure inside to rise. Once you release the trigger, the compressed air moves the plunger back into its original place and blocks the airflow to the head of the piston. In the absence of downward pressure, the compressed air in the chamber pushes back the piston head up. This pushing of the piston head up forces the air above the piston out of the nail gun. 

Because of this mechanism, the pneumatic nailers can efficiently push nails of different sizes and thicknesses. Yet, the air compressor that comes with it is a piece of cumbersome equipment. Dragging it to the site—where you will work—will be time-consuming and effortful. 

Nevertheless, the use of pneumatic nailers comes with many upsides. These nailers offer consistent performance as long as the air compressor works well. Moreover, they are powerful compared to other nailers like battery-powered ones.

Types of Pneumatic Nailers

Pneumatic nailers have diversified into different types depending on the applications and uses. Thus, when searching for a pneumatic nailer, you should first figure out the applications for which you will use it. Below is a rundown of the most common types of pneumatic nailers:

1) Finish Pneumatic Nailers

One type of pneumatic nailer you would surely use in woodworking is the finish pneumatic nailers. These nailers are not heavy. You can use them for furniture making, molding, and cabinetry. Moreover, these nailers can shoot nails at tremendous speed. 

The nails they could shoot are thicker and longer than those of the brad nailers. They also shoot nails with specialized heads. Thus, the nails leave larger holes that you can hide using wood putty.

2) Pneumatic Brad Nailers

Another type of pneumatic nailer you can buy is the brad nailer. These nailers are lightweight and can drive 18-gauge brad nails. These nails are thinner in size, and they get wrought from wires, fashioned out into nails. The brad nailers can drive nails with extreme precision and speed. Nevertheless, the holding power of brad nails is not that strong. But you can complement its holding power with wood glue for added strength to the connection. 

3) Pneumatic Framing nailers

You will also find framing pneumatic nailers. These tools are extraordinarily powerful and can drive large nails for framing. The framing nailer is also called the pick-up truck or the tank. It is pretty heavy, and is the heaviest nailer type out there. 

The nails it drives vary in thickness, length, and materials. Their length ranges from 1″ to 3-1/2.” They can also have semi-circular, pointed, or rounded ends. 

Pneumatic framing nailers are also more popular than electric framing nailers, and they require anywhere between 70 PSI to 150 PSI to work or operate. Thus, when you buy this nailer, you should ensure that you got a suitable air compressor at hand. These nailers are perfect for building frames for garages, docks, and homes. 

4) Pneumatic Roofing Nailers

Roofing pneumatic nailers are powerful nailers that could drive roofing nails. You can use them for nailing roofs and shingles. The difference between the roofing nailer and the other nail gun types lies in detail. The roofing nail guns got designed for driving nails through fiberglass and asphalt shingles, insulation boards, and waterproof tar paper. 

These nailers can drive coil nails or coil roofing nails. They can also operate longer between refills because of the use of coil nails. Besides, these nailers can facilitate the installation of roofs and shingles. 

5) Palm Nailers

Another type of pneumatic nailer is the palm nailer. It has a small design that you can fit into your palm, and for this reason, it gets referred to as a “palm nailer.” These nailers do not come with a strip or coil of nails. Instead, it will only allow you to load a single nail at a time. You only need to attach it to a magnetic guide. 

The palm nailer is mini. It is a tiny handheld tool that you can use to drive nails into plywood, wood, MDF, plastic, and many other materials. It works like an impact hammer that delivers continuous blows onto the head of the nail. 

Using this tool, you can hit the nail head several times each second. It is like an air hammer in your hand. This pneumatic nailer is perfect for use in confined spaces.


Pneumatic nailers remain the most popular option among contractors and professionals because of their efficiency and power. You can use them for various applications, and having them in handy comes with many advantages. They provide a convenient and viable solution to workshop and job site projects. If you use them, you can quickly outpace your hammer-swinging comrades. 

Besides, you will notice that their gun-fired nails are a bit thinner than nails driven by a hammer. Hence, these nails are less likely to damage or split the wood. Plus, the good thing about pneumatic nailers is that their prices are becoming more and more affordable. Yet, there were times when they were pretty costly, and only contractors and professionals could afford them.

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