How to Choose and Use a Caulk Gun

Caulking gun
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  • 01 of 05

    Old vs. New

    caulk guns
    Ratchet and Smooth Rod Type Caulk Guns.

    Old Caulk Guns

    Caulk guns used to be cheaply made and hard to use. The "ratchet-rod" caulk gun was the gun 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 have to 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. 

    Ratchet-rod caulk guns are still available, though are becoming less popular all the time. They require a lot of hand pressure with thrust ratio of only 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 when you want to stop. Cutting open the caulk tube spout requires a knife or razor blade, and reaching down into the tube spout and punching open the caulk tube seal is difficult unless you had a coat hanger 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, which work great on silicone caulk, acrylic, or vinyl latex caulk—virtually any type of caulk works well with this caulk gun.

    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 convenience features, described below.

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  • 02 of 05

    Smooth Pressure Rod Advance

    caulk gun locking mechanism
    Caulk Gun Rod Locking Mechanism.

    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 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 is possible with the same amount of hand pressure when using a ratchet-rod caulk gun. This means less work for you and less hand fatigue.

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  • 03 of 05

    Easy Release of the Pressure Rod

    caulk gun release button
    Caulk Gun Pressure Rod Release Button. © 2007

    Releasing the pressure on the plunger rod is much easier with this style. 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.

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  • 04 of 05

    Cutting the Tube Tip

    caulk gun spout cutter
    Caulk Tube Spout Tip Cutter. © 2007

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

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  • 05 of 05

    Piercing the Caulk Tube Seal

    caulk gun tube opening rod
    Built-In Tube Seal Opening Rod. © 2007 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.