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Choosing a Nailer or Stapler

In this guide, discover how to choose the nailer or stapler that can make assembly and construction work fast and effortless.

Nailers and Staplers Mechanisms

Nail and staple guns are powered by compressed air, gas, electromagnetism or a spring to drive staples or nails.

The nails and staplers are loaded in strips or coils, for solid, high-speed fastening of materials.

These tools have one of two types of trigger mechanisms:

  • Contact trip (or continuous firing) allows the user to “bump fire” the nails or staples by holding down the nose of the tool against the surface while pressing down on the trigger. This is an excellent feature for production-type work (such as shingling a roof). This "bump nailing" mechanism takes a bit of getting used to: the tool can easily drive two fasteners if the user is not quick enough to lift it. In addition, accidental contact can result in inadvertent nail discharge or ricochaet.
  • Sequential trip (or intermittent) firing requires the user to first press the nose of the gun against the nailing surface and then pull the trigger. To drive a second nail, the user lifts the tool, releases the trigger, and then repeats the above sequence. This is the safer of the two mechanisms.

More and more nailers now come with both triggers, so the user can use the one most appropriate for the task at hand. Staple guns and nailers operate on the same principles of propulsion.

  • However, some specialized tools, like an upholstery stapler, function just like a standard hand stapler: squeezing the trigger fires the staple.

A flooring stapler requires a mallet or hammer to strike the firing pad and drive the staple in.

Parts and Features of a Nailer

1. Air exhaust deflector
The exhaust system releases compressed air. The outlet port can be adjusted on certain models to blow debris and sawdust away from the user’s face.

2. Air supply fitting
The standardized fitting connects the air hose with a quick-connect coupling.

3. Trigger
The trigger releases the piston, which drives the nail. In some models, it can be used on its own. In others, the nose of the gun must be pressed against the surface before the trigger is squeezed.

4. Magazine release latch
The magazine release latch opens the gun’s magazine so nails or staples can be loaded.

5. Magazine
The magazine must be loaded with the types of nails or staples specific to the gun.

6. Depth adjustment
The control knob for the depth adjustment sets the depth of the nails and consequently the force with which the nails or staples are fired. If the gun has no depth adjustment setting, the depth can be set by modifying the pressure on the compressor.

7. Nail exit
The nails or staplers exit behind the nose.

8. Nose
The nose and trigger are used together to drive a nail. The nose must first be pressed against the surface, then the trigger is squeezed to fire the fastener.

9. Release lever
The quick-release lever opens the barrel easily (no key required) to remove any jammed nails. 

Types of Refills

Nail and staple refills come in two types; strips or coils.

Strip Refills

  • Loading a nail strip is fast and easy. Simply slide the strip into the nail or staple gun’s magazine.
  • A strip can vary in quantity depending on the type of nail, e.g. 20 to 40 for framing nails and up to 120 for pin nails.
  • The tool's housing is slimmer than a coil nail gun. A strip nailer works better in tight areas.
  • Some models take only one strip at a time; others can be loaded with two strips.
  • The cost per nail is higher than for coil nails.

Coil Refills

  • The coil has to be threaded, which involves a bit more time and handling for refills.
  • The coil canister can hold from 120 to 300 fasteners. Coil nailers need to be reloaded less often than strip nailers.
  • More nails make the tool heavier, and by extension, somewhat more unwieldy.
  • The cost per nail is lower than for strip nails.

The nails are generally covered with a dual-function coating, to lubricate and strengthen.

  • When the nail is hammered into the surface, the intense friction heats the coating to melting point and lubricates the nail as it slides through.
  • When the coating cools, it bonds the nail to the nailing surface, increasing the holding strength.
  • Roofing nails do not have this coating.
Nail types
Angle
Features
Models
Glue-collated
90°
Headless/finish nails (or staples) glued together to form a strip.
  • Staplers
  • Stapler/nailers
  • Straight finish nailers
Plastic-collated
20° - 21°
  • Round-head nails held together by plastic.
  • This type of strip holds fewer nails because they are widely spaced.
Framing nailers
Paper-collated
28° - 34°
  • Clipped-head nails (provides more nails per strip) held together by paper tape.
  • The most economical alternative with the least space between nails.

Framing nailers

Note: paper-collated framing nailers are the most popular

Wire-collated
28°
Clipped-head nails held together by wire strips.
Framing nailers
Coils
15° - 16°
Full round-head nails held together by wire strips and rolled on itself.
  • Roofing nailers
  • Framing nailers
  • Siding nailers
Nail types
Angle
Features
Models
Glue-collated
90°
Headless/finish nails (or staples) glued together to form a strip.
  • Staplers
  • Stapler/nailers
  • Straight finish nailers
Plastic-collated
20° - 21°
  • Round-head nails held together by plastic.
  • This type of strip holds fewer nails because they are widely spaced.
Framing nailers
Paper-collated
28° - 34°
  • Clipped-head nails (provides more nails per strip) held together by paper tape.
  • The most economical alternative with the least space between nails.

Framing nailers

Note: paper-collated framing nailers are the most popular

Wire-collated
28°
Clipped-head nails held together by wire strips.
Framing nailers
Coils
15° - 16°
Full round-head nails held together by wire strips and rolled on itself.
  • Roofing nailers
  • Framing nailers
  • Siding nailers

Propulsion Types

Various types of propulsion for nails or staples are seen on nail guns or staple guns. The table below allows you to understand the different firing systems.

Power source
Portability
How it Works
Features
Compressed air (pneumatic)
Poor, because it must be connected to an air compressor, which requires an electrical supply.
The compressed air drives the piston down to propel the nail out of the chamber.
  • High noise level
  • The compressor can be used with various tools
  • Inexpensive to operate
  • For all types of nailers and staplers
  • Must be oiled prior to every use
Flammable gas
Excellent, because it is easy to carry gas cartridges or fuel cells.
The gun's battery sends a charge to a spark plug. This ignites the gas, causing a small explosion. The resulting pressure propels the piston downward, so that the nail is shot from the gun.
  • Shoots 1,000 nails or more per cartridge and 4,000 nails per battery charge
  • The costliest to operate
  • Gas cartridges cannot be refilled
  • For finish and framing nailers
Battery (electromagnetic)
High, because no power cord necessary, but requires an electrical outlet nearby to recharge the battery.
The compressed air drives the piston down to propel the nail out of the chamber.
  • High noise level
  • The compressor can be used with various tools
  • Inexpensive to operate
  • For all types of nailers and staplers
  • Must be oiled prior to every use
Electric (spring-loaded)
Poor, because it must be connected to a constant power supply.
An electric motor compresses the springs, which drive the nail.
  • Fairly quiet
  • For small finishing, assembly and household tasks; uses up to 1 ¼" finish nails
  • Slower than all other types
  • Rarely jams or breaks
Power source
Portability
How it Works
Features
Compressed air (pneumatic)
Poor, because it must be connected to an air compressor, which requires an electrical supply.
The compressed air drives the piston down to propel the nail out of the chamber.
  • High noise level
  • The compressor can be used with various tools
  • Inexpensive to operate
  • For all types of nailers and staplers
  • Must be oiled prior to every use
Flammable gas
Excellent, because it is easy to carry gas cartridges or fuel cells.
The gun's battery sends a charge to a spark plug. This ignites the gas, causing a small explosion. The resulting pressure propels the piston downward, so that the nail is shot from the gun.
  • Shoots 1,000 nails or more per cartridge and 4,000 nails per battery charge
  • The costliest to operate
  • Gas cartridges cannot be refilled
  • For finish and framing nailers
Battery (electromagnetic)
High, because no power cord necessary, but requires an electrical outlet nearby to recharge the battery.
The compressed air drives the piston down to propel the nail out of the chamber.
  • High noise level
  • The compressor can be used with various tools
  • Inexpensive to operate
  • For all types of nailers and staplers
  • Must be oiled prior to every use
Electric (spring-loaded)
Poor, because it must be connected to a constant power supply.
An electric motor compresses the springs, which drive the nail.
  • Fairly quiet
  • For small finishing, assembly and household tasks; uses up to 1 ¼" finish nails
  • Slower than all other types
  • Rarely jams or breaks

The right tool for the job

Consult the table to determine the best tool to use for the task at hand.
Uses
Stapler
Stapler/Nailer
Finish Nailer
Strip Framing Nailer
Coil Framing Nailer
Roofing Nailer
Siding Nailer
Craft work and small projects
Very good
Best
Good
-
-
-
-
Attaching baseboards, mouldings, picture rails
-
Best
Very good
-
-
-
-
Building furniture
Very good (for hidden areas)
Very good
Best
-
-
-
-
Building house frames, decks, etc.
-
-
-
Best
Very good
-
-
Building pallets, fences and other sturdy installations
-
-
-
Very good
Best
-
-
Installing siding
-
Best (for finishing)
-
-
-
-
Best (for installation)
Laying asphalt shingles
-
-
-
-
-
Best
-
Uses
Stapler
Stapler/Nailer
Finish Nailer
Strip Framing Nailer
Coil Framing Nailer
Roofing Nailer
Siding Nailer
Craft work and small projects
Very good
Best
Good
-
-
-
-
Attaching baseboards, mouldings, picture rails
-
Best
Very good
-
-
-
-
Building furniture
Very good (for hidden areas)
Very good
Best
-
-
-
-
Building house frames, decks, etc.
-
-
-
Best
Very good
-
-
Building pallets, fences and other sturdy installations
-
-
-
Very good
Best
-
-
Installing siding
-
Best (for finishing)
-
-
-
-
Best (for installation)
Laying asphalt shingles
-
-
-
-
-
Best
-

Accessories

A practical list of must-have and practical accessories for your nailers and staplers.

Must Haves

  • Air compressor (or other power sources: gas tanks or electricity)
  • Special lubricating oil (for compressed air models)
  • Nails or fasteners specially designed for nail or staple guns

Nice to Have

Suggested products

See all Nailers