9 Main Types of Nail Guns Explained – What They’re Good For and When to Use Them.

Types of Nail Guns

In this article, I’m going to look at your options when it comes to nail guns. Outlining all the different types of nail guns, what you can use them for, and what to look for when you buy one. Understanding the differences gives you a clear idea of which one will suit your purposes.

Finding yourself faced with a bag full of nails at the beginning of a home improvement project can be very daunting. The old-fashioned way of using a hammer and knocking them in by hand is easier now than you could have thought possible. A nail gun is also going to save your fingers, but how can you tell which nail gun is best for you? 

There are so many varieties to choose from. Battery, gas, framing, pneumatic, finish, and so the list goes on.

What Are The Advantages of Using a Nail Gun?

  • Precision: Nails are driven in with one press of the trigger.
  • Convenience: When you use a nail gun and nail strip or coil, you don’t have to worry about carrying a box of nails around. 
  • Practical: Using a nail gun is faster and easier than using a hand-held hammer. 
  • Safe: Even the best carpenter among you will hammer your fingers or thumb occasionally. A nail gun is much safer, and you can keep your fingers in one piece. 

How Does a Nail Gun Work?

A nail gun contains a piston, powered by either a battery (cordless nailers), gas, or compressed air (pneumatic nailers). The piston drives nails that are in a strip or coil into the material. You control the piston by using a trigger.

Take a look at this video if you want to see one in action.

Now you’ve seen what one of these tools can do, let’s look a little closer at the different types of nail guns available on the market today. There are several to choose from, and each has its own unique use. 

Types of Nail Gun

There are many different types of nail gun to choose from. Basically, they all work the same, but changes in design allow for different functionality. 

Watch this video to find out what a nail gun looks like inside.

Framing Nail Gun

A man using a framing nailer to drive nails into a timber frame

If you regularly find yourself tackling heavy construction jobs and buildings, a framing nailer is one of the heaviest duty nailers you’ll find. This type of nailer is commonly used on wood framing because of its ability to drive long nails deep into lumber for maximum holding power. 

Why did they decide to call them framing nailers? Because their original use was to make the job of building housing frames easier and quicker. You can also use a framing nailer to construct an addition to your house or a deck, build wooden fencing or wooden siding. 

There are two types of framing nailers: round head framing and clipped head nailers. The names match the kind of nail you can fire with them. 

Is one type better than the other? The only real advantage, albeit a tiny one, is that a clipped head nail cartridge holds more nails. If you’ve got a large project underway, the extra nails make it the better option because you don’t have to reload so often. 

Both clipped head and round head nailers hold nails with a diameter of 2.8mm and length of up to 3.5”. You can use them to join thick pieces of 2×4 lumber. Framing nailers are first fix nail guns instead of second fix nail guns, which you would use for more delicate finishing work.

Brad Nail Gun

A man using a brad nail gun to attach some trim to a wall.

You’re more likely to use brad nailers for finishing work. However, you can use them for just about any application that calls for the use of brads. Brad nails are 18-gauge, which equates to 0.0475” in diameter. You can also use brad nails up to 23-gauge.

If you want to put up something such as lightweight trim and need to do it accurately, a brad nailer will do the job. Any holes it creates are so small you won’t notice them.

Jobs might include crown molding, baseboards, and trim work, such as window and door casings. You might also use them for constructing cabinets and light furniture or carpets. 

Because brad nails are so thin and prevent splitting, you can also use brad nailers for any small woodworking projects you might have. Examples include a birdcage, a jewelry box, or something else that requires a lot of holding strength.

Finishing Nail Gun

A man using a finishing nail gun to attach some trim to a cupboard.

A finishing nailer is a versatile power tool to have in your workshop. You can use it for a variety of tasks because it is smaller than most other nail guns and uses smaller nails than a framing nailer. Typically, you’d use 15- and 16-gauge nails. 

Much the same as a brad nailer, a finish nailer has significant holding power, and there’s no risk of leaving a big hole. You can use it for many small jobs such as building furniture, putting together large cabinets, or fastening molding.

There are basically two types of finish nailer: straight finish and angled. The names refer to the structure of the nailer and its use. An angled finish nailer is more flexible as you can use it in tight or difficult to reach spaces.

Flooring Nail Gun

A man using a flooring nail gun to install tongue and groove solid wood flooring.

As you might expect, a flooring nailer is designed for you to use when laying flooring, such as tongue-and-groove. It looks a little different than your typical nail gun, as it has a plunger you have to hit with a nylon mallet or pull a trigger. 

Place the flooring nailer at the edge of the flooring board, and the way you hit the plunger ensures the cleats (nails) are driven precisely at the optimum angle and depth every time. You would generally use this type of nailer with thin 18-gauge cleats. The cleats you use come in various shapes, such as T- or L-shaped. Which one you use depends on the nailer model you have.

If you know you’ll be laying flooring, this power tool is perfect for the job. However, it’s not the most versatile of tools to have as you can only use it for laying floorboards.

Palm Nailer

A palm nailer is essentially a mini-nail gun that fits into the palm of your hand. It works much the same as its bigger brothers, just on a smaller scale.

The main differences being that they don’t hold multiple nails in a magazine and they drive nails using vibrations rather than a single high impact. To keep the nailer comfortably and securely in place with these vibrations going on, you use a strap that wraps around your hand. 

A palm nailer will be a useful addition to your toolbox if you often find yourself working in tight spaces and on smaller projects. You can also use it for joist hangers, framing, fencing, crafting, and remodeling. 

A significant benefit of using a palm nailer is that it reduces fatigue. A palm nailer is light, small, and more comfortable to work with for long periods. It’s small size also makes it extremely accurate to use.

Unlike other types of nail guns, a palm nailer uses regular nails rather than coils or strips. The downside of this is that they can only drive one nail at a time. This type of nailer’s primary use is to drive single nails into spaces that another nail gun would struggle with.

The nails you use range from 1.5” to 3” long. However, some heavy-duty models use nails between 2” and 6” long.

Roofing Nail Gun

A person using a roofing nail gun to install roof shingles

A roofing nailer is another type of nail gun with a particular purpose. You would use it for nailing asphalt shingles and other roofing materials onto wood. It is typically a professional tool, although you might use one at home if you’ve got some roofing work to do.

Roofing nailers usually use round head nails, and because you don’t have to worry about space when you’re working on a roof, you can use either an angled or straight roofing nail gun.

Roofing nailers are lightweight and very easy to handle, which is useful when you predominantly use them at a height up on a roof. You also use coil magazines, which means the tool can hold more nails. 

A configurable system makes this tool stand out from many others. It allows you to decide the depth of the shoot of the nail. Adjustment is critical because you don’t want to damage the very soft shingle. This tool’s flat large head is another feature that reduces the chance of damage. 

Roofing nailers are mainly used for roofing, roofing shingles, installing underlayment, and siding.

Siding Nail Gun

A man using a siding nail gun to install wooden siding to a house.

Siding nailers are very similar to a framing nailers but better suited if your projects require the joining of larger pieces of wood. It is usual for a siding nailer to use short nails, between 1-1/4” to 2-1/2” and broad heads. As well as wooden siding, you can also use some models for aluminum siding. 

You would use a siding nailer to install siding, but you can also use one to join synthetic materials to a wooden mount or thinner pieces of wood.

Pin Nail Gun

A person using a pin nail gun to fix the corners of a small wooden box

If you’re a craft maker rather than a home DIYer, you might consider adding one of these to your toolbox. This type of nailer is very small and powerful. The nailer has a head but uses 22-23 gauge headless nails, which are for delicate trimming, molding work, and for making small pet houses, panels, or crates. 

You might find a pin nailer very useful if you want to temporarily hold a trim that will be glued. They are not the best tool to use if your work requires high holding power. 

You can use a pin nailer for the following:

  • Cabinetry
  • Thin veneers
  • Delicate trim pieces
  • Crown molding
  • Small furniture trim
  • Finishing work in carpentry

Staple Gun

A man using a staple gun to fasten a wooden mitered corner.

A staple gun is a very versatile tool to have because you can use it for a wide selection of applications, such as:

  • Carpeting
  • Upholstery
  • Simple household projects such as dog or birdhouses
  • Home repair
  • Carpentry
  • Picture framing

A staple gun, however, is not the same as a nail gun. It uses staples rather than nails, and you cannot use one to replace any of the nail guns on my list.

Types of Nail Gun Power Source

There are four ways a nail gun can be powered: 

  • Pneumatic
  • Combustion
  • Electric
  • Solenoid-powered

It takes a few swings with a hand-held hammer to drive nails in, but the burst of power on a piston drives a nail in with one press of the trigger. 


Pneumatic powered nail guns were among the first to be built, and they are still commonplace today. Compressed air powers this tool by way of an engine that uses a piston and cylinder compressing air and sending along an air hose to your nail gun.

A pneumatic tool has a trigger that you use to release a burst of pressurized air. Once it’s released, the air is directed into a cylinder. The air is under high pressure, which delivers a strong punch to the piston. This punch of pressure drives the nail into the material. 

The same compressed air then pushes the piston back into the cylinder, in time for the nest shot. The pneumatic mechanism is very powerful, which means you can use it for heavy-duty work. 

Pneumatic nail guns are lighter than many other types of nail guns and can shoot nails at a very quick rate. However, the downside is that you need an external air compressor, which can be a bulky and cumbersome thing to carry around.


Combustion or gas-operated nail guns work in a similar way to pneumatic types. The mechanism is a piston and cylinder engine. The difference is that it is an internal combustion system, rather than compressed air, that pushed the piston. 

The system is fueled by gas from a cartridge, which it supplies to the cylinder. A small battery is what provides power to a spark plug. The spark plug ignites the gas in the cylinder and then shoots the piston forward. The piston fires the nail into the wood at great force. 

Combustion nail guns are better suited for heavy-duty projects, but you have to replace the fuel cartridges once used up, which can be expensive.


If you want a nail gun powered by electric, you have to choose between cordless and corded. 

A corded nailer has access to an unlimited power supply, but you have to use it near a wall outlet, which means it’s not as portable as a cordless model. However, the downside of a cordless model is that it’s not as powerful because of the limitation of being battery powered. Cordless models can also be heavier as there is a battery attached.

An electric nail gun works by way of an electric motor that contains a high-tension spring. The electric motor compresses the spring, thereby storing energy. When you press the trigger, the energy is released, which pushes the nail into the wood. 

This compression system is not as powerful as a pneumatic system and is better suited for light woodwork. Because compression takes longer, it also means your nailing will be slower, especially if you want to hammer multiple nails. You have to wait for the spring to set in between each shot. 


A solenoid is a straightforward kind of electromagnet that has a sliding piston inside. The piston is made from magnetic material, and when you apply current one way, the electromagnetic field repels the piston, thereby pushing it out. Reverse the current, and the piston is drawn back in again.

The downside of using solenoids to power a nail gun is that their power output is limited. Such low power means it’s not going to be very effective at driving nails through tough materials.

Types of Nail Gun Structure

Nail guns don’t all look the same. You can divide them into four categories, each with its own unique set of features. 

Coil Nail Gun

The nails you use in a coil nail gun are joined together using wires. These wires are coiled together and held in a drum magazine. On average, there are around 300-350 nails in a drum magazine. 

The biggest advantage of this type of nail gun is that you don’t have to reload so many times. Maneuverability is another advantage. The drum doesn’t stick out like a strip magazine, making it easier to use, especially if space is tight.

Srip-Style Nailer

With this type of nail gun, the nails are stored on a long magazine that sticks out of the base of the gun. Nails in the strip are held together with plastic, paper, or wire. The capacity is much lower than a coil gun. At most, it’ll handle 40 nails. 

The strip-style magazine makes it difficult to use when space is tight and also makes the gun awkward to use. However, they are popular because they tend to cost less and the weight is evenly distributed, making it easier to use and more accurate. 

Straight Nail Gun

If your work tends to revolve around straightforward construction, a straight nailer performs more than adequately. An added bonus is that they are available at almost every hardware store and more affordable. 

The negatives, however, are that you cannot use them in tight spaces. The size of the magazine and the fact that it’s set at a 90-degree angle makes it very unwieldy to use.

Angled Nailer

Angled nailers are popular with cabinet makers and people who generally work around doors or corners. Their design makes them very convenient when you work in tight spaces. You’ll find angled nailers come with a variety of angles, ranging from 21-34 degrees.

One the downside, you may find it difficult to find the nails, and when you do, they’ll be expensive. 

What You Should Look for When Buying a Nail Gun

When you’re on the lookout for a nail gun, there are some key features to be aware of. For professionals and home DIYers like myself, they are must haves. 

  • Easy depth adjustment: If you ever need to adjust how deep the gun drives a nail into a surface, you’ll find easy adjustment saves time and won’t disrupt your flow.
  • Tool-less jam clearing: It’s possible for a nail gun to jam, however carefully you use one. You’ll find it a lot easier if there is an easy way for you to clear the jam, without needing a specialty tool.
  • Maneuverable air connectors: If you opt for pneumatic nailers this is a worthwhile feature to look out for. You’ll find it very useful if you can move the connectors easily, without tools.
  • Light attachments: This is one of those features that’s handy to have because you never know when your workpiece will need some extra illumination. 

Frequently Asked Questions

If you’re still undecided, let’s see if I can answer some of your questions.

What’s the Difference Between 1st and 2nd Fix Nail Guns?

First fix nail guns use larger nails for heavy duty applications and are therefore more powerful. Second fix nail guns tend to be used for delicate work such as skirting, door frames, and furniture.

Do All Nail Guns Require an Air Compressor?

No, only pneumatic guns require a compressor. 

What’s the Difference Between a Brad and a Finish Nailer?

A brad nailer uses nails that are much thinner and shorter and you should use one for small, more fragile workpieces. On the other hand, a finish nailer is appropriate for almost any job. 

Can You Use a Brad Nailer for Framing?

You can use a brad nailer for framing, but the nails you use tend not to be strong enough to hold heavy tasks such as framing. A framing nailer would produce better results. 

Can An 18-Gauge Nailer Use 16-Gauge Nails?

No. Nail guns will only shoot their designated nail size.

Are Nail Guns Dangerous?

Nail guns fire very sharp projectiles at close proximity and have the potential to cause puncture wounds in your hands and fingers. You can reduce the risk of injury by following nail gun safety protocols

Summing Up

With a better understanding of the types of nail guns available, it’ll make it less challenging for you to find the right one for the job. If, however, you’re looking for an all-purpose nail gun, I’d recommend you look at buying a finish nailer.

If you have something to add that would benefit other readers, please take a moment to add it in the comment section below.

I'm a mechanical engineer by trade but my passions are woodworking, tools and DIY.

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