What Kind of Nail Gun Do You Use to Work on 2X4 Boards?

A nail gun is an automated tool that uses plug-in electricity, a battery, or pressurized air to drive nails into wood. Nail guns come in a variety of sizes depending on the fasteners they drive—from large-gauge framing nails for major construction work to small brads used for craft work like picture frames. Not only is a nailing gun much faster than driving nails by hand, but it is much easier on hands and wrists if you have a big job. Professional carpenters found their careers greatly extended once nail guns came into use since the tools eliminated much of the repetitive stress to arms and shoulders suffered by carpenters.

A Bostich framing nailer.
credit: Bostich
A pneumatic framing nailer can make quick work of joining 2 x framing lumber.
Coil-type framing nailer.
credit: Bostich
A coil-type framing nailer has a different magazine shape.

Larger nail guns are normally pneumatic tools—powered by pressurized air from a compressor connected to the tools by air hoses. Smaller nail guns are also available in pneumatic styles, although here, cordless battery-powered tools are more common. Smaller nail guns are a very affordable and common tool for ordinary homeowners.

Here is an overview of some of the common types of nail guns available.

Framing Nailers for 2 x Construction Lumber

The large nail guns used by professional building carpenters are known as framing nailers. They come in two styles: strap-type nailers that have a long, straight magazines that are loaded with a straight string of connected round-headed nails (called common nails of framing nails); or coil-type nailers that have round magazines that are loaded with a coil of nails. The strap-type guns may have a magazine that extends straight from the head of the gun, or it may be angled.

Both strap- and coil-types come in both air-powered pneumatic versions, as well as cordless battery-operated styles. Pneumatic framing nailers are more common and are more highly regarded since they provide more power for driving nails. But cordless nailers are becoming more popular as battery technology improves. Some framing nailers accept only a single nail size, but most will accept a variety of nail sizes, from about 1-1/4 inches to 3-1/2 inches, making them useful for a variety of framing purposes.

Many framing nailers cost several hundred dollars, plus the cost of air compressor equipment, so for occasional use, most people rent them from home improvement centers or tool rental stores.

Roofing Nailers

Roofing nailers are a specialty type of framing nailer designed to handle the short, large-headed nails used to attach roof sheathing, roofing paper, and shingles. They are also often used to install sheet materials like floor underlayment, and cement backer boards. Like framing nailers, they are available in both pneumatic and cordless styles and accept various nail lengths—in this case from about 3/4 inch to 1-3/4 inches in length. Coil-style nailers are more common in this category, although some strap-type tools are also sold.

These tools, too, are generally owned only by professionals; DIYers and homeowners usually rent the tools for occasional use. These are not framing nailers, and should not be used to join 2 x framing lumber, but only to install sheet goods or roofing papers.

Finish Nailers and Brad Nailers

Cordless brad nailer.
credit: Ryobi Tools
Cordless batttery-operated models are now available for most types of power nail guns.

These smaller style nail guns shoot finish nails or brads—small wire nails with very small heads designed to be slightly embedded in the wood. They are most often used for installing wood trim, where the nail heads will visible. These are versatile tools for a homeowner to own, quite affordable in cost and useful for a variety of purposes—they will work for light framing work, too. A completely serviceable finish nailer can be purchased for under $100, making it a good tool to have around the house.

These guns usually accept a range of nail sizes, from about 1 inch to as much as 1-1/2 inches, but they do not fire round-headed nails—only finish nails or brads. Cordless battery technology is quickly making itself known in this category, with several very good guns available.

Staple Guns

At the lightweight end of the power fastener spectrum are power staplers that fire U-shaped wire staples. They are most commonly used by people who do frequent upholstery work, although they also make a good all-purpose household tool. Like most of the other power nailers, most staplers can accept a variety of staple lengths.