How Does a Pneumatic Nail Gun Work? Complete Guide

Many woodworkers are always fascinated at the way pneumatic guns work. Whether you use a pneumatic nail gun, an electric nail gun or a combustion-powered nail gun, they all work similarly. The functionality of a pneumatic nail gun is usually down to their firing mechanism. It is important to fully understand how it works so you can operate it safely and efficiently. In this article, we are going to dissect the workings of a pneumatic gun.

How Does a Pneumatic Nail Gun Work?

Nail-loading and Firing Mechanism

The firing mechanism of most nail guns is almost similar. There is a piston that hammers down the blade mechanism which then forces the nail into its right target. For the different types of nail guns, the difference is just the source of the force that propels the piston. Two major tasks nail guns perform are to produce a good amount hammering force each time you pull the trigger and the reloading of the nail gun with nails after firing the nails. You can do this two tasks effectively, the nailers are designed with a nail-loading mechanism and firing mechanism.

When it comes to the firing mechanism, the design for most of the nail guns is almost the same. When you pull the trigger, it is either a piston hammers down on a blade mechanism which propels the nails or there are two springs which are compressed and release enough force to drive in the nail to the target where it is intended. Nail guns operate using one of these two features. The only difference is the source of the force that drives the piston. The source of power could either be electric, combustion-powered or pneumatic.

General Mechanism

When it comes to the nail-loading mechanism, nail guns come with a magazine which feeds the barrel of the nail gun. Nails are lined up in a long strip format usually called the plastic-collated. There is a spring at the bottom of the magazine. The spring helps to push the strip up into the nail gun barrel. The hammer comes down the moment you press the trigger ensuring the next nail is separated from the strip and drives in the nail into the wood. Immediately the hammer is cocked, the spring will push out the next nail into its firing location.

One great advantage of these glued nails is that the moment the nail enters into its target; there is a friction that melts the glue immediately. Once the glue becomes hard, it blends the nail into the wood thereby reducing the risk of the nail pulling out after some time. There are different nail gun models such as combustion nail guns, pneumatic nail guns and battery-operated nail guns. We are going to discuss how each of them works.


Pneumatic Nail Guns

These are the commonly used nail guns. They make use of an air compressor to propel the firing mechanism. At the base of the tool is the air compressor with a rubber air hose or a plastic. Air pressure is built from the compressor. The compressor takes air from the surroundings. This air is then compressed into the most favourable pressure which is usually measured in pounds per square inch (PSI). To apply the right amount of pressure, these compressors come with built-in regulators that can be adjusted to lower or higher pressure around the compressor itself.

The pressure is then sent to the barrel of the nail gun. This pressure is immediately released when the trigger is pulled. From the pressure that is above the nail gun, the internal piston, then, drives the blade forward thereby firing the nail into the timber at a very high speed. The pressure drops gradually as you continue to use the nail gun. To make sure the nail gun doesn’t go out of operating pressure, the unit will kick back to its optimal level again at a certain point. With this feature, the nail gun can deliver consistent results no matter the project being handled.

The problem with pneumatic guns is the limitation of mobility since you will have to move the air compressor and hose frequently but they are great for heavy-duty projects because they have consistent firing power that cannot be compared with the other two nail gun models.


Combustion Nail Guns

This type of nail gun works in a similar way like the pneumatic nail guns. They have a long blade which is attached to a sliding piston. The notable difference between these models is where the pressure comes from.

As the name implies, the combustion nail guns make use of internal nail guns just like the cars to generate force that fires the nails into the wood. These models are fitted with a combustion chamber that is situated on top of the sliding above the piston.

The gas cartridges are responsible for the provision of fuel into the chamber. A small battery or spark plug ignites the flammable gas triggering little explosions. This generates the force that is required to drive the nail. The combustion nail guns can handle heavy-duty projects creditably with impressive performance. The only issue is that you may have to replace the gas cartridges frequently anytime a large scale project is being handled. One clear benefit of these models is that you don’t have to struggle with the hose or air compressor.


Battery-operated Nail Guns

The battery-powered nail gun is the simplest of the models. It is the ideal nail gun for DIYers and hobbyists. This model does not use combustion or compressor to generate its driving force. It makes use of a rotating electric motor that helps to produce a powerful string. The spring releases immediately the trigger is pulled which in turn creates the needed force that drives the nail into the wood.

One clear advantage of battery-operated nail guns is that they are cordless and provide quick start-up. You don’t have to bother about hose, compressor or gas cartridge. You just have to rely on a rechargeable battery that powers the motor.

The disadvantage of this model is that it doesn’t offer the same excellent driving force that other models such as the combustion or pneumatic nail guns offer. They are only ideal for light and medium-sized tasks.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What can I do if I have lost my operator manual?

Answer: Check online for a PDF version from the manufacturer’s website.

Q: What type of oil should be used to lubricate the pneumatic gun?

Answer: Make use of SAE #10 oil. Apply two drops every 5 minutes.

Q: Which grease can I use?

Answer: Consult the operator’s manual for the recommended grease by the manufacturer.


Are you still confused about how a pneumatic gun works? It is pretty simple and straightforward. Try to understand the firing mechanism behind the nail gun. To have a better understanding of how a pneumatic gun works, you can classify the nail guns according to the work each of them does. This will help you to handle your nail gun more efficiently for better results.

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