How to Use a Nail Gun for Concrete

  • 01 of 04

    Learn the Easy and Safe Way to Use a Nail Gun for Concrete

    If you have only one or two nails that you need to drive into concrete and cost is a concern, you may choose to drive nails by hand. Pilot holes are required, which means that you need a masonry bit and a hammer drill.

    But if you have more than a couple of concrete nails to drive, you should buy or borrow a nail gun designed for concrete. This tool may not get used around your house frequently. But when you do use it, you will be happy that you have it, as it makes the work of driving concrete nails exponentially easier.

    Nail Gun for Concrete Basics

    Officially known as a powder actuated nailer, this tool goes under different names such as a gun nailer, twenty-two (.22) nailer, power nailer, or by the trademarked brand name Ramset.

    A concrete nail gun is a dead-simple tool consisting of a barrel and firing pin. Actual gunpowder from a modified .22 shell propels the nail into the masonry. Either with a hammer blow or a trigger pull, a firing pin strikes the back of the shell. A controlled explosion is safely contained within the tool. Gas from the explosion escapes through the barrel, where the nail has been placed.  

    Which Type to Buy

    For the homeowner, the two brands that are most widely available and inexpensive are Ramset and DeWalt. Ramset is available at Home Depot and Amazon; DeWalt nail guns for concrete are found at Lowe's and Amazon.

    As a do-it-yourselfer, the popular Ramset Hammer Shot (Single-Shot) Nailer should be sufficient for your needs. Likely you will have no need for a trigger-activated nailer and certainly no need for a self-feeding, multi-charge tool. Note that a powder-actuated nail gun for concrete is vastly different from compressed air or electric nail guns that are meant for use only with wood, not concrete.

    Buy on Amazon - Ramset Single Actuated Nailer

    What You Will Use It For

    As a do-it-yourself homeowner, you may want this tool for:

    • Basement finishing, when you want to attach studs to the concrete floor to create walls.
    • Attaching metal electrical boxes to a concrete wall.
    • Securing metal studs to concrete.
    • Attaching materials to the grout between brick in order to hold shelves.

    Concrete Nail Gun Safety

    While you are more likely to get hurt on a ladder or by electric shock, any tool that uses gunpowder warrants attention.  

    • Always load the nail first. If you have the charge loaded before the nail, there is a chance that the charge may detonate accidentally and fire the nail into you.
    • Keep the barrel away from your body. Treat the nail gun like any gun and keep the barrel pointed away from you, other people, animals, or any objects that might become damaged if the gun fired accidentally.
    • When using the hammer blow type of concrete nailers, note that significant force by a hammer is required to drive the firing pin. If you cannot provide that force in one decisive blow, this nailer may not be for you.
    • Professional tools like the Ramset XT540 use a 10-shot strip of powder loads that automatically advances after each shot. As a do-it-yourselfer working on a limited scale, you can load each shot individually.
    • Keep the nail gun perpendicular to the work material and never at even the slightest angle.
    • The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reports that most powder-actuated nailer injuries happen when a body part is placed in front of the barrel. The second most prevalent type of injury comes from blowback or projectile debris. Be sure to always use safety glasses. 
    • You will need hearing protection since the nail gun produces a very loud bang that can harm your ears.

    Calculating the Nail's Correct Distance

    Unlike manually driving nails into concrete, you do not need to make a pilot hole with concrete nail guns. This is where you begin to see the real value in these nailers. You can nail straight through wood and concrete without first creating a pilot hole. In fact, it is unsafe to fire into a pilot hole.

    However, this does bring up the issue of how deep to drive the nail into concrete. You have two methods:

    1. You are dealing with three factors: powder load; nail length; and work material. Ramset has a simple-to-follow, color-coded set of guidelines that tells you which charge to use in conjunction with nail length and work material. The Home Depot Ramset display will tell you exactly how to pair up these elements or you can consult Ramset's Powder Fastener and Load Selection Chart on its website.
    2. Called a Center Punch Test, hit the fastener with a hammer on the intended receiving surface (for example, just the concrete, not the wood and concrete combination). If the point flattens, the material is too hard. If it penetrates easily, the material is too soft.  

    Concrete Nail Gun Licensing

    As a homeowner user, you do not need to be licensed to use a nail gun for concrete. OSHA requirements for powder-actuated tool instruction and licensing apply only to employees, not to personal users. However, it is highly recommended that you take the test anyway, as it helps not just with safety but with effective operations. At the conclusion of the test, you are issued an operator's license and license number.

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  • 02 of 04

    Insert the Nail Into the Concrete Nail Gun

    Insert Nail In Powder Actuated Nailer
    Insert Nail In Powder Actuated Nailer. © Lee Wallender

    Wear safety goggles and hearing protection. With the powder-actuated nailer pointed downward and away from you, ensure that there is no power load (charge) in the chamber.

    Slide the nail into the barrel of the nailer at the barrel end, not through the chamber (as you do with conventional firearms). The nail will enter the barrel head-first. Push the nail until the pointed end of the nail has cleared the barrel end. Do not push it any deeper than this.

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  • 03 of 04

    Insert the Powder Load Into the Concrete Nailer

    Insert Charge In the Nailer
    Insert Charge In the Nailer. © Lee Wallender

    With the chamber open, place the powder load (or shell) into the chamber. The narrow end of the load will be towards the barrel end of the tool. Slowly and carefully slide the chamber shut until it is in what Ramset calls "semi-closed position." This means that the two grooves on the barrel are near but do not meet.

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  • 04 of 04

    Strike the Rear With the Hammer

    Hit Back of Nailer With Hammer
    Hit Back of Nailer With Hammer. © Lee Wallender

    Place the concrete nailer perpendicular (90 degrees) to your work material. Press down on the nailer until the two grooves on the barrel meet. With a one-pound hammer, deliver one sharp blow to the metal peg on ​the back of the tool. The tool will fire, discharging the nail into the material. If the nailer does not fire, try striking it again. If the nailer only partially fires, eliminate the charge and nail from the nailer. Dispose of the charge, and try again with a new charge.