how do nail guns work?

nail guns

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Nail guns can come off as a confusing tool. But, in reality, they are simple tools that are very useful most times. They are usually used to nail anything on any surface. Their work is not restricted to a specific type, such as construction site work. They can be used at homes too, as they are available in both professional and entry-level models.

Most nail guns are electric guns; they either work by a rechargeable battery or electrical cord or air pressure. Also, there are different types of nailers, four types to be specific. All these types share similar firing mechanisms. However, they have minor differences in their uses and working mechanisms.

They are used as replacements for hammers. They are more efficient, less time consuming, more accurate, and easier to use. Their uses vary from hanging a picture frame on the wall to significant home improvements. They enjoy the capability of eliminating all the hard work of nailing as well as having a multi-functional nature.

Therefore, you need to know how a nail gun works and the working mechanism of the different types of nailers.

The Basic Mechanism of the Nail Guns

Most nail guns have a similar firing mechanism, which starts by pulling their trigger. The result of this firing gives two results. The first result is that it hammers a workpiece by a piston. The second result is that it ejects a nail in the targeted place or hole.

In other words, once the trigger is pulled, there are two mechanisms. The first one is where a piston hammers down on a blade mechanism and pushes the nail. The second mechanism is where the piston compresses the two springs and releases them with an amount of force enough to eject the nail into the target.

All nailers operate using one of these mechanisms. However, the main difference between the different types of nailers is the origin of the force that boosts the piston and pushes its spring. This source of force can be electric, electromagnetic, or combustion power.

All different types of nailers serve two tasks, force hammering, and nail loading. Force hammering has the same mechanism as the firing mechanism. While the nail loading process differs, nailers deal with a barrel of glued nails which are collated together on a plastic strip.

For this mechanism, they have a magazine that pushes the strip into the barrel, and once you press the trigger, the hammer slides down, separating the nails from the collation they had formed on the strip and drive the nail into the wood. The nail gets fused into the wood when the glue around it melts then hardens. After it hardens, the spring pushes the next nail to be re-loaded.

This is the basic operation of how nail guns work. Now it is time to know how different types of nail guns work.

1. Pneumatic Nailers

The pneumatic nailers are the most powerful and popular nail gun. They use an air compressor as the source of their power to drive the nails. Their hammering force is usually driven out from compressed air, which is first generated by another separate gas-powered air compressor.

The air compressor is attached to the base of the tool. It takes external air and compresses it to optimal pressure. Then, this pressure travels to the trigger once it is pulled. The trigger serves as the control of air pressure compression. This is because the tool’s shape is constructed to have a sliding piston that drives the blade to fire the nail.

So, when the pressure is high at the piston, it goes downwards, firing the nail into the wood. But when the trigger is pulled, and the pressure is released, the piston goes back into its place.
The pressure never runs out because the compressor consistently uses its optimal pressure to slide the piston back.

This feature gives an advantage to pneumatic nailers, allowing them to produce powerful results. The pneumatic guns are ideal for big projects.

2. Combustion Nailers

Combustion nailers are similar to pneumatic nail guns. They also have a sliding piston that moves by imbalanced pressure. But the difference lies in the source of pressure. In combustion nailers, the pressure is internal. Through an energy exchange process between the fuel and the battery, internal combustion is created.

The battery or any electric source ignites the gas cartridges. These cartridges ignite the fuel, generating the force needed to push the nail out. Combustion nailers don’t use cords, and they are light to carry around.

3. Spring Loaded Nailers

The spring-loaded nailers are electric nailers that are powered by the motor. Spring-loaded nailers have two working axles, one moves the scooper plate, and the other axle rotates a gear, which then affects the triangular cam direction.

The motor here is the source of power. It moves the nailers’ axles to turn the triangular cam. So, when you pull the trigger, this triangular cam shifts and adds pressure on a lever. Then, the lever pushes against a hammer and compresses the two axles. One of the two axles continues to rotate, allowing the scooter plate to hold the hammer and then release it. This release is pushed back at a high velocity to fire the nails.

4. Electromagnetic Nailers

From their name, we can conclude that the needed source of power is electric current. These nailers depend on the existence of an electric current to generate an electromagnetic field.

Just like pneumatic and combustion nailers, electromagnetic nailers have sliding pistons. But their piston is made of magnetic material, and it is also used as a hammer. So, when an electric current runs through it, the piston goes downwards on the blade, firing the nail into the target. When the nail is fired, the piston hits an electrical switch that reverses the current to stimulate the piston back to its place.


Nail guns are revolutionary tools that make your life easier. They may have different types, alternative powers, and different mechanisms. But they all follow the basic operation mechanism. The working mechanism of nail guns can be summed in three words: power, release, hammer.

First, you apply power to the piston, whether it is pressure or electric current. Then, the piston is released to get rid of the pressure, and finally, it hammers the nails into the target. Even though you might be confused about the techniques of the different types of nailers, it is good to know what kind of power you need for future jobs and maintenance.

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