How To Use a Powder Actuated Nailer To Drive Nails In Concrete

  • 01 of 04

    Nail Into Concrete With a Powder Actuated Nailer

    Ramset Powder Actuated Nailer
    Ramset Powder Actuated Nailer. © Ramset / ITW

    If you have only one or two nails that you need to drive into concrete--and cost is a concern--you can always drive nails by hand.  Pilot holes are required, meaning you need a masonry bit for your drill.  And it can be difficult to gauge depth.  Is there an easier way?


    Yes.  If you have more than a couple of nails to drive, you should buy or borrow a powder actuated nailer.  These little beauties will not get taken out of your toolbox very often.  But when they do come out, they pay for...MORE themselves many times over.


    What Is a Powder Actuated Nailer?


    It goes under different names.  Gun nailer.  Twenty-two (.22) nailer.  Power nailer.  Ramset.


    A dead-simple tool consisting of a barrel and firing pin, its true name is powder actuated nailer--powder with a "D."  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 One Should I Buy?


    For the homeowner, there are basically only two brands:  Ramset and DeWalt.  Ramset is available at Home Depot and Amazon; DeWalt at Lowe's.  


    As a do-it-yourselfer, the Ramset Hammer Shot (Single-Shot) Nailer will 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.


    What You Will Use It For


    As a DIY 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.

    Is It Safe?


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


    • Load 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.
    • Barrel Away From Body:  This is a gun.  Like any gun, always keep the barrel pointed away from you.
    • Use "Hammer Blow" Nailers:  Significant force by a hammer is required to drive the firing pin.
    • Use Single Shot Nailers:  Professional tools like the Ramset XT540 use a 10-shot strip of powder loads that automatically advances after each shot.  As a DIYer working on a limited scale, you can load each shot individually.
    • Perpendicular Only:  Fire only at a right angle to your work material.

    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.  


    How Do You Know the Nail Will Go the Correct Distance?


    1. Manufacturer Guidelines:  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. Test-Tapping:  Called a Center Punch Test, hit the fastener with a hammer on the intended receiving surface (i.e., just the concrete, not the wood + concrete combination).  If the point flattens, the material is too hard.  If it penetrates easily, material is too soft.  

    Do You Need to Drill a Pilot Hole In the Concrete or the Wood?


    No.  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.


    Do I Need To Be Licensed To Use One?


    Not as a homeowner user.  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.


    In the end, you are issued an operator's license and license number.


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  • 02 of 04

    Insert Nail Into Powder Actuated Nailer

    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 until the pointed end of the nail has cleared the barrel end.  Do not push it any deeper than this.


    Continue to 3 of 4 below.
  • 03 of 04

    Insert Powder Load Into 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.


    Continue to 4 of 4 below.
  • 04 of 04

    Place Tool and Strike Rear With Hammer

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

    Place the tool perpendicular (90 degrees) to your work material.


    Press down on the tool until the two grooves on the barrel meet.


    With a one-pound hammer, deliver one sharp blow to the metal peg on back of the tool.  The tool will fire, discharging the nail into the material.