One of the commonest uses for an air compressor is to power an air nailer. As with many other air tools, there are several advantages to having an air-powered nailer as opposed to an electrical or gas-powered one. Firstly, air nailers are cheaper than their electrical or gas-powered counterparts as they don’t have to house pricey components like motors, so replacement or buying anew is more economical. And this is particularly true if you are planning to buy different nailers for the different types of nails – powering them all off a single compressor motor means dollar savings. Another advantage of air nailers not having to house a heavy motor within themselves is that they tend to be lighter giving them better power-to-weight ratios, and giving the user less-arm fatigue especially if nailing vertically or above shoulder level or with the heavier framing nailers.
There are 4 main categories of nailers:
- Brad Nailers – for lightweight finishing trim (eg. quarter-round moldings, lighter crown moldings)
- Finish Nailers – for heavier finishing trim (eg. window and door casings)
- Framing Nailers – for heavy duty nailing of larger wood pieces
- Roofing Nailers – for attaching roof shingles
What about nails?
Air nailers also use specially-packaged nails that have been collated together into single rows to fit their magazines, and different brand-name air nailers can use different types of collated nails so make sure you get the correct type. In addition, there is no such thing as a nailer that doesn’t get jammed from time to time, but one thing that seems to faciltate more jamming is using cheaper nails or nails that are not the same brand as the nailer itself.
All air nailers operate within the 60-120 psi range (with the higher pressures in the range sometimes needed to drive nails to greater depth or though harder wood), so you need a compressor that can generate these sorts of pressures. However, as any professional nailer knows, you want to use the least air pressure necessary to drive the nails so as to reduce stress on the nailer and the compressor. On the other hand, some compressors cut back in at the lower end of the range and for some applications such as driving through hardwood or shooting long nails, you may get variability in nail-driving depth before the compressor kicks in again.
And the all-important air volume…
As for the airflow requirements of air nailers, they are relatively modest compared to other air tool types, but will also depend on your level of use. Air nailers are considered intermittent in use and, in general, manufacturers rate their airflow requirements assuming that 30 nails per minute (1 nail every two seconds) will be fired usually at 80 or 90 psi. However, not everyone will use an air nailer at this level – some professionals requiring faster nailing while many DIY enthusiasts tend to be slower, so it is important to determine your own particular circumstances so that you can choose the appropriate air compressor to fit your requirements. To make this easier, try using the calculator at the end of this page.
Top-Rated Air Nailers
Nailers Type Weight Airflow Nail width Nail length Capacity Angle Inlet Inlet *** Wen 61720 Brad 60-100 psi n/a 18-gauge 3/4"-2" 100 0o 1/4" NPT Hitachi NT50AE2
Brad 70-120 psi 0.9 cfm 18-gauge 5/8"-2" 100 0o 1/4" NPT PORTER-CABLE BN200C
Brad 70-120 psi 1.0 cfm 18-gauge 5/8"-2" 100 0o 1/4" NPT Hitachi NT65MA4
Finish 70-120 psi 1.4 cfm 15-gauge 1-1/4" - 2-1/2" 100 34o 1/4" NPT BOSTITCH N62FNK-2
Finish 70-120 psi 3.2 cfm 15-gauge 1" - 2-1/2" 130 25o 1/4" NPT Hitachi NR90AEPR
Framing 70-120 psi 2.7 cfm 0.113"-0.148" 2" - 3-1/2" 64 21o 3/8" NPT PORTER-CABLE FR350B
Framing 70-120 psi 3.5 cfm 0.113"–0.148" 2" - 3-1/2" 60 22o (21o) 1/4" NPT Freeman PFR2190
Framing 60-115 psi n/a 0.113"-0.131" 2" - 3-1/2" 55 21o 1/4" NPT
The smallest nailer type is the brad nailer which mostly uses 18-gauge nails. Brad nails are designed to use on lighter trim (left top), crown moldings (right), and baseboards (left bottom) as well as for some hobby projects such as picture framing and light furniture assembly. They are not really designed for heavier trim attachments.
The WEN 61720 is an inexpensive but reliable brad nailer particularly suited to a first-time nailer user. Although quality of the materials it is constructed from is slightly lacking compared to pricier models, it has been well-designed with a comfortable rubber handle and lightweight aluminium exterior. It can be powered on relatively low air pressure (as low as 50 psi) so a lower-specification compressor can be used. The nailer comes in its own bespoke case together with oil and adjustment tools. This tool can use your favorite brand of brad nails as long as they are 18-gauge. The only exception to this are the maximum 2″ nail size in which slight variability between different manufacturers can mean 2″ nails that are slightly too big for the WEN magazine. Bostich and Harbor Freight 2″ brads fit perfectly in the WEN 61720 but others (such as those from Porter-Cable) do not – trial and error is required for other-brand 2″ nails. The nailer also has a responsive depth adjustment, and use of the tool on trim usually leaves no marks on the surface other than where the nail has entered so it is excellent for finish work although care must be taken for very delicate work.
The NT50AE2 is another lightweight 18-gauge brad nailer from a renowned power tool manufacturer. As with other nailers, it features a depth-adjustment dial to control depth of nail placement without needing to adjust compressor pressure. However the dial is more difficult to access than other air nailers making it vunerable to getting stuck at its extreme settings – care must be taken not to push the dial too far. Unlike some other brad nailers, the NT50AE2 has a selector switch which allows for either single nail firing with each trigger press or a professional rapid fire position that permits rapid nail placement simply by depressing the nose clip against the work piece. It comes with a no-mark tip to prevent unwanted surface marking for delicate trim work, a pair of safety glasses as well as adjustment tools, all contained within its own tool case. Hitachi have not designed the magazine to accommodate all brands of 18-gauge nails leading to more frequent jamming, but this can be resolved by slightly bending down the ends of the nail pusher so that it has no chance of riding up over the nails. There is nothing like a video to get a feel of how it works!
This 18-gauge brad nailer is a very reliable tool that has a magnesium shell making it lightweight and, unusually, does not require oiling. It comes with its own protective case and it possess a no-mark nose for delicate trim work. As with other nailers, it also has a thumb-screw depth adjustment near the trigger. However, it should be noted that, as is, it does not have a bump feature so you cannot set it to fire nails rapidly by depressing the nose clip.
Finish nail guns most often use heavier 15- or 16-gauge nails. They are designed to use on heavier trim attachments, such as heavier crown and base moldings, window and door casings, cabinets, exterior trim and staircases.
One of the popular features on the Hitachi NT65MA4 is its powerful air duster which makes quick work of blowing off debris from work surfaces in preparation for nailing. The air nailer also features a depth adjustment dial and single / rapid-fire selector switch to change between firing modes. As with other Hitachi air tools, the body is made of lightweight aluminum and comes with safety glasses and a no-marking tip, all contained within its own carry case. As for nails, any generic brand (of the correct size) will do as long as they are designed for a 34o-angled nailer (which means it can NOT use Bostitch nails). The nails should be D-shaped heads (DA type) which have the advantage of being much easier to remove if you accidently mis-position a nail. As with most other nailers, it does require oil. One thing that is missing from its design is a belt hook which would make using it up a ladder much more user-friendly.
The N62FNK-2 is housed in a lightweight magnesium body and is oil-free which is always an advantage when working with finishing trim in order to leave no mess behind. Unlike other finishing nailers, it uses nails that have been collated at a 25o angle which reduces its versatility as a nailer since you are limited to the Bostitch brand. As with other air nailers, it has a depth adjustment knob and comes with two no-mark and four angled tips as well as a carry case. It also comes with a bunch of 2″ nails so that you can get going right away and a steel belt hook which is a nice touch when working up a ladder. It also has an LED light incorporated which can be useful for working in more shaded areas such as inside cabinets. It uses FN type nails which are “T” head nails.
Framing nail guns are used to attach larger pieces of wood together, for example when building a structural frame! They are also useful for fencing, roof and wall sheathing, and even hobby projects that require thicker wood assembly. They generally shoot full-headed nails but can shoot clipped-head nails if necessary, although nail-type use in construction should be checked to meet building code regulations. Although framing nailers can shoot a range of nail thicknesses, the most commonly used one is the 0.131″ thickness nail.
The NR90AEPR is one of Hitachi’s contributions in the framing nailer category. It is probably one of the most robust framing nailers out there, able to withstand extensive maltreatment. it is relatively lightweight with an aluminum body and an aluminum magazine. It has both single-fire and rapid-fire (bump) settings and a depth adjustment dial. This nailer shoots nails collated at 21 degrees. The nailer has very little recoil and is relatively quiet. However, unlike many other nailers, this one does not come with a case, with Hitatchi prefering to spend on nailer quality rather than on accessories. As a result, this is one of the best framing nailers you can get.
Porter-Cable is another leader in air tools. The FR350B is the same weight as the Hitachi framing nailer described above – i.e it is relatively light. It also has a depth adjustment, can be set for single or rapid fire, and has the added bonus of a reversible rafter hook. A nice feature that is not found on all nailers is a low-nail lock out which prevents the nailer from firing when you run out of nails. It also has a trigger lock as an added safety feature, although this is probably most useful for non-professionals. It uses 22o-angled nails but can be used with 21-degree nails in a pinch. Unlike its competitor Hitachi framing nailer above, this does come with its own case, which is always a real plus.
The Freeman PFR2190 has a magnesium body with an aluminum magazine. It comes with adjustment tools and its own carry case, and as with other professional nail guns, can be used in single or rapid-fire mode, however unlike other nailers, you have to physically change the trigger to achieve this, which is rather inconvenient. It uses the ubiquitous full head 21o-angled nails, but these have to be plastic-collated nails, not wire-collated, to prevent jamming. In addition, the nailer jams more frequently when the magazine is down to its last few nails due to their loss of alignment, so you will have to keep an eye on the number remaining at all times.