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How Does a Nail Gun Work?

You might use a nail gun for many different activities in and around the house or workplace, but have you ever wondered – how does it work?

As you will well know, nail guns are used both industrially and for a whole range of DIY jobs at home. They are used to fire nails into a medium of some sort. This medium is usually wood, although you can work with others as well.

Nail guns are almost always powered pneumatically (by compressed air) or using electromagnetism. This is either by batteries or plugging into the mains sockets of your home or workplace. Sometimes, more intense forces are needed, and so you will find that some nail guns use explosive gases or small electric charges to fire the nail out of the gun.

Since a pneumatic nail gun is used most widely, we have chosen to explain how this type of gun works specifically.

The Setup

Nail gun air compressor

A pneumatic tool of any kind works by utilizing compressed air, and this air must come from somewhere. You’ll usually find huge air compressors in industrial situations and some homes. These compressors suck vast quantities of air into a limited space, thereby “compressing” it. They store the air, so it’s ready to use as soon as you connect your tool to one of the airlines.

In smaller workplaces, workers who move around a lot (such as decorators, builders, and so on) would probably find a portable air compressor best to use instead. This is because they are much lighter and easier to move around, despite not holding in as much air.

Whichever type of air compressor you use, and however it compresses the air, all air compressors will connect to your nail gun in about the same way – through the airline and coupler.

How the Nail Gun Actually Works

Once the compressed air has come down the airline, it is then stored in the air reservoir of the gun itself. When the gun is in this state, it’s ready to be used.

Woodwork Using Nail Gun. Caucasian Construction Worker Creating Wood Elements Using Powerful Nail Gun Tool.

You will find a piston in the nail gun. This is attached to a long blade called a driver. Differing air pressures around the piston head cause it to either be fired downwards or remain where it is – in the “up” or “raised” position. When you pull the trigger, this changes the balance of the pressure around the piston head to cause it to be forced downwards.

Initially, when you pull the trigger, air compressed air is forced into the space above the raised piston through a valve from the air reservoir. Before this, the piston will have been in the raised position. The pressure below will have been greater than the pressure above it.

This increase of pressure above the piston head forces the piston to be driven downwards. The greater the difference between the two pressures around the piston head, and the faster the compressed air can be forced into this space, then the more powerfully the piston will be forced downwards.

As mentioned, the piston is attached to a driver. This is what strikes the nail on the head in the chamber of the gun. This action is what forces the nail out of the gun at great speed.

As the piston travels downwards, the pressure allows for the air in the cylinder underneath the piston head to be squeezed out of tiny drilled holes in the cylinder wall. As the piston travels downwards further, more and more air will be pushed through these holes and into the space surrounding the cylinder. Doing this means that the air pressure in this space is rising proportionally to how far the piston travels.

After this, you release the trigger on the gun. When you do this, the compressed air around the cylinder is allowed back into the bottom half of the cylinder through the tiny drilled holes. This air forces the piston back to its raised position, so it’s at rest. Simultaneously, an exhaust port opens at the top of the cylinder to let the used air above the piston escape.
The whole cycle is then ready to begin again.

If you know anything about 2-stroke combustion engines (usually found on motorcycles, generators, outboard motors, and snowmobiles, to name a few examples), it can be helpful to think of a nail gun (and many other similar pneumatic tools) as working similarly to these.

Is Air Power the Answer?

Man with nai gun

Pneumatic nail guns are great for many reasons. You have a constant supply of power, for example (provided your compressor is always working!), with a limited amount of complicated parts. This means that they are often relatively simple to fix.

However, airpower comes with its disadvantages. You will always need to have a compressor nearby, which can be very inconvenient. These compressors can also be quite expensive and will make more noise than an old washing machine in a jet engine! You may also find the airlines easy to trip over. The compressors can b (very) heavy and, therefore, potentially damaging to your back.

You may like to look at alternative nail guns with different power systems. These all work in near enough the same way. A pressure imbalance (or electromagnetic pole difference in electromagnetic systems) forces the piston and driver to propel the nail out of the chamber and into the material you’re working with.

Fun Facts About Nail Guns

Nailer gun

We thought we’d leave you with some interesting facts about nail guns that you might not know:
• Nail guns were invented in 1954 in New York.
• Pneumatic nail guns can shoot through 3/16″ steel. That’s quite some force.
• You need to use specific types of nails with nail guns. You can’t just use any old nails from the back of your garage. Make sure you get the proper ones for your specific gun.
• According to data from the CDC, about 42,000 adults in the United States need to go to the emergency room each year for nail gun-related injuries. So be careful when you’re using them!

We hope you have found this article interesting.

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