How to Choose a Good Caulk Gun

Caulking gun
Macida / Getty Images
  • 01 of 05

    Ratchet-Style vs. Dripless

    caulk guns
    Home-Cost.com

    At one time, caulk guns were cheaply made and hard to use. These "ratchet-rod" caulk guns were the guns of choice for the weekend warrior because it was really the only choice available in hardware stores. These older style ratchet-rod caulk guns have a serrated push rod that ratchets its way down the caulk tube as the handle is squeezed. To stop the flow of caulk, you must turn the push rod upside down using the lever, which disengages the ratchet teeth and then pull the rod back in order to relieve the pressure. Failure to do this will cause caulk to continue oozing out of the tube, making a mess of everything. 

    Although these ratchet-rod caulk guns are still widely available, they are becoming less popular all the time. They require a lot of hand pressure to produce a thrust ratio of about 5:1 or less. Even if you are quick to disengage the ratchet rod, caulk always seems to continue to flow uncontrollably for a few seconds. Cutting open the caulk tube spout requires a knife or razor blade, and reaching down into the tube spout to punch open the caulk tube seal is difficult unless you have a coat hanger or long nail handy.

    Dripless Caulk Guns

    Today, though, the ratchet-rod caulk gun is no longer the only game in town. Now there are smooth-rod dripless caulk guns readily available in most home improvement centers. This new type works great on silicone caulk, acrylic, or vinyl latex caulk—virtually any type of caulk.

    The smooth-rod dripless caulk gun requires about half the effort to squeeze. Besides having a 10:1 thrust ratio that makes caulk dispensing from the tube very easy, dripless caulk guns have many superior features, as described below.

    Continue to 2 of 5 below.
  • 02 of 05

    Smooth Pressure Rod Advance

    caulk gun locking mechanism
    Home-Cost.com

    The smooth-rod dripless caulk gun works with a simple mechanism. A spring-loaded metal plate locks the pressure rod wherever you stop it. Unlike ratchet drives that force the pressure bar to move in set small increments, the smooth-rod design of the dripless caulk gun provides you with an infinite range—a short handle squeeze for a small amount of caulk, a large squeeze to dispense more caulk. 

    As you squeeze the trigger, the pressure-bar lock plate is released slightly which allows the pressure bar to move and discharge the caulk. Once you release the trigger, the bar is locked in place by the spring-loaded pressure bar.

    This design creates twice the pressure on the caulk tube as you get with the same amount of hand pressure on a ratchet-rod caulk gun. This means less work for you and less hand fatigue.

    Continue to 3 of 5 below.
  • 03 of 05

    Easy Release of the Pressure Rod

    caulk gun release button
    Home-Cost.com

    Releasing the pressure on the plunger rod is much easier with dripless caulk guns. A simple push of the locking plate lever releases the pressure on the plunger and instantly stops the flow of caulk. To remove the caulk tube, press the lever and pull back on the rod to expose the entire tube and slip it out of the gun.

    Continue to 4 of 5 below.
  • 04 of 05

    Cutting the Tube Tip

    caulk gun spout cutter
    Home-Cost.com

    These newer caulk guns have a built-in cutter to sever the tip on caulk tubes. Just insert the tip of the caulk tube through the opening on the handle and squeeze the handle lever. As you squeeze the handle, a razor knife edge cleanly cuts the plastic caulk tube at precisely the right distance from the tip. 

    Continue to 5 of 5 below.
  • 05 of 05

    Piercing the Caulk Tube Seal

    caulk gun tube opening rod
    Home-Cost.com 2007

    One of the most convenient features of these caulk guns is the built-in wire rod for breaking the foil seal at the bottom of the caulk tube spout. 

    Mounted to the metal housing on the caulk gun, you'll find a length of stiff metal wire. Use the wire as a probe to reach into the plastic tip on the caulk tube and punch through the seal inside. Wipe the wire clean after puncturing the seal and fold it away against the body of the caulk gun before mounting the tube in the gun.