How to Use a Framing Nailer

Framing nailer being used
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Before the framing nailer or nail gun came onto the scene, construction speed and efficiency was limited to how much strain a carpenter's hands, forearms, and biceps could take in a given workday. While a skilled carpenter can get a lot done with a hammer and nail, there's no denying the impact that a framing nailer has on the speed of modern construction.

What Is a Framing Nailer?

Commonly called a nail gun, a framing nailer is a handheld tool that uses compressed air or electricity to shoot large framing nails at a high rate of speed to quickly fasten materials to one another.

When placed in the hands of an experienced framer, a framing nailer can turn a week-long job into a day-long one. Furthermore, a framing nailer is an even handier tool for inexperienced builders and DIY enthusiasts, as learning to efficiently use a hammer and nail can take years of practice on the job (and several mashed fingers along the way).

Pneumatic Framing Nailer vs. Electric Framing Nailer

Pneumatic Framing Nailer
  • Runs on compressed air

  • Requires an air hose

  • Lighter

  • Louder operation, with additional noise from compressor

  • Lengthy setup time

  • Better suited for large framing applications

  • Air hose hinders flexibility

  • Runs as long as compressor provides air

Electric Framing Nailer
  • Runs on a lithium battery

  • Cordless

  • Heavier

  • Quiet operation

  • Quick setup time

  • Ideal for punch lists and small jobs

  • Cordless aspect offers more flexible operation

  • Limited to battery charge

Parts of a Framing Nailer

Listed below are the main exterior components of a framing nailer (note that some components will vary between manufacturers and models):

  • Handle: Allows the user to firmly grip the nailer and effortlessly manipulate its position in a variety of applications.
  • Trigger: Engages the nailing action of the gun when the safety is firmly pressed against a surface.
  • Safety: Controls whether the trigger is able to fire.
  • Trigger selector switch: Switches the tool between different trigger functions.
  • Spring-loaded magazine: The location in which the nails are loaded into the gun.
  • Depth adjuster: Allows the depth at which the gun drives the nails to be adjusted.
  • Driver: The metal striker that physically drives the nail when the nailer is fired.
  • Rafter hook: Allows the user to hang the nailer from many surfaces when not in use.

Which Nailer to Use

When shopping for a nailer, it's important to know what you're looking for. Framing nailers are great for tasks like framing, fastening sheathing, building decks and fences, attaching subfloor, and many other uses that call for large nails. However, there are many other types of nailers available that are suited for many other applications.

These alternative nailer options include pin nailers, pneumatic staplers, brad nailers, and trim nailers. Each of these nailers is great for a variety of applications including installing trim, building furniture, assembling picture frames, and even heavier-duty applications such as installing wood paneling on ceilings. However, none of these nailers can match the power of a framing nailer and should not serve as a substitute.

Which Nails to Use

As you might expect, you can't just load any nails into any given framing nailer. First off, framing nailers are only designed for large nails, within a limited range of sizes and types, that are intended for, you guessed it, framing. This means anything smaller such as finish nails, brads, and pin nails won't work.

Secondly, each framing nailer is different and the magazines vary in the degree to which they are mounted to the nailer. This means the angle of the row of nails you're loading into the magazine has to match the angle of the magazine. Common magazine angles are 21-degree, 28-degree, 30-degree, and 34-degree.

Additionally, once you've found the range of nails your framing nailer will accommodate, you must figure out what is necessary for your job. While something like building a fence won't call for specific nails, something like framing a house will. If you choose a smaller nail, your specific building code will likely require you to use more nails per joint to account for the smaller size.

Safety Considerations

The name nail gun may cause concern about the safety of using these tools, but in reality, any unsafe aspects of using a nail gun are almost solely linked to unsafe operation by the user.

Failing to keep your free hand away from the surface you're nailing will eventually lead to a deflected nail going through your hand. For this reason, your free hand should always be far from the surface you're nailing, even when you're supporting the material. Nails can easily deflect if they hit a nail or other foreign object in the material, and eye protection should always be worn when operating a nailer.

Beyond the risk of injury due to nail deflection, any other safety considerations associated with the use of framing nailers come down to using common sense. Never service the nailer while it's connected to its power source, never depress the safety tip against anything other than the material you're intending to nail, and never point the nailer at yourself or others while it's connected to power.

How to Use a Framing Nailer

The use and setup process will vary slightly between nail guns and differ depending on whether or not the nailer is pneumatic or electric.

  1. Visually Inspect and Set up Nailer

    Look over the nailer to ensure no components are broken, loose, or missing, addressing any issues you find. Once you've determined the tool is in working condition, follow these steps to set up the tool before connecting its power source.

    • Set the depth adjuster somewhere in the middle of its overall range (you can adjust further if this proves too strong or too weak).
    • Select the trigger mode you'd like for the job. Most nailers will have two options: sequential and bump/contact fire.
    • If using an oiled pneumatic nailer, place a couple of drops of tool oil in the air inlet.
    • Load the nailer with your desired type of nail, ensuring that the nail is compatible with the nailer. To load, slide the row of nails into the magazine and release the spring-loaded tensioner.
    • On pneumatic models, adjust the air exhaust to blow the air away from you as you work.
  2. Connect Nailer to Power Source

    For pneumatic nailers, connect the tool to an air compressor via an air hose. If using an electric nailer, simply slide a fully charged battery into the tool.


    For best results, adjust the compressor's PSI output limiter to match the range specified by your nailer's manufacturer. This number is typically etched somewhere on the tool itself.

  3. Operate Nailer

    Operating procedures will vary slightly depending on whether you choose a sequential trigger function or bump fire. These operations are as follows:

    • Sequential: Place the safety tip firmly against the material you wish to fasten and pull the trigger to fire. Repeat the full process to fire additional nails.
    • Bump fire: If the trigger is pulled, each bump of the safety tip will fire an individual nail.

    Following the designated procedure for your desired trigger setting, proceed to drive the nail into the material. Staggering nails as you go is the best practice, as driving nails in a line will often cause the board to split.


    Using the bump fire trigger setting poses significant more risk to the user than a sequential trigger and additional caution should be exercised when using this function.

Buying vs. Renting

Framing nailers are available for rent, but the rates don't justify this decision for most users. Because of this tool's use, it's unlikely that most individuals would need one for less than a day and it would likely make more sense to purchase it instead. Additionally, pneumatic nailers also require a compressor and air hose, which would have to be rented as well if not already owned. For professionals, it's a definite good buy. For DIY enthusiasts, the best option may be to buy, use as needed, and resell once no longer needed.

Keeping a Framing Nailer in Good Condition

A framing nailer will last for years if taken care of. Basic maintenance like keeping the tool clean, oiling it before every use (if using an oiled unit), and using it properly will ensure it operates as it should. One of the biggest mistakes people make when using framing nailers is treating the safety tip as a hammer and banging material into place before nailing. If you notice you have this tendency, break the habit before you break your nailer. It's better to keep a hammer in your tool belt for instances where you need to move material.

When to Replace a Framing Nailer

If a framing nailer component breaks or a piece such as a trigger gets lost, it can likely be purchased directly from the manufacturer or repaired at a tool repair shop. If parts aren't available and their absence compromises the function or safety of the tool, the nailer should no longer be used. If the tool begins to have issues like consistent jamming or nail deflection, it may be due to damaged components on the interior or exterior.