Time was, you could tell a house was being framed up by the pounding cacophony—hammering nails was the only way to connect large dimensional lumber. These days, that sound has been replaced by the repetitive “pop!” of framing nailers. These powerful tools operate by using combustion, electricity, or compressed air to create enough force to fire nails up to 3.5 inches long into wood.
A huge boon to the construction industry and ambitious DIYers alike, framing nailers speed up what was once only possible through tedious manual labor. But just as the framing nailer is a specific type of nail gun, there are also different categories of framing nailers with varying features and functions geared to specific uses. If you’re in the market for one, this guide will provide information to help you make the right decision by describing why the following are among the best framing nailer options available.
- TOP PICK: Paslode Lithium-Ion Cordless Framing Nailer
- RUNNER UP: Metabo HPT Cordless Framing Nailer Kit
- ALSO CONSIDER: NuMax SFR2190 Pneumatic 21 Degree Framing Nailer
Types of Framing Nailers
Framing nailers are categorized based on how they fire nails into wood. The three types of nailers are pneumatic, fuel, and cordless—each with its own pros and cons.
Pneumatic framing nailers use compressed air, via an air compressor, to create the force that drives the nail out of the gun and into the wood. On the plus side, they provide a consistent source of power; pack more force than their cordless and fuel-powered counterparts; and are lighter in weight than cordless nailers, which have the added weight of a battery. They also allow for rapid firing, which can help facilitate a faster framing process. However, they are less convenient, as they require you to tote an air compressor to the job site.
Although becoming less common with the arrival of cordless models, fuel-powered framing nailers are still fairly popular. They rely on a combination of a fuel cell and a rechargeable battery for power. A fuel-powered nailer is lighter in weight than a cordless nailer, and will also last longer before the battery needs recharging or the fuel cell needs replacing. However, replacement of the fuel cell adds to the expense of a fuel-powered nailer. And, due to the combustion created by the fuel cell, this type of nailer will emit an unpleasant odor during use.
Cordless framing nailers rely solely on their battery for power. This generally makes them heavier, as the battery adds weight to the gun. As with most cordless tools, their greatest asset is convenience. Since they needn’t be plugged into an outlet or an air compressor, they can be used on job sites where electricity isn’t available.
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Framing Nailer
Now that you have a solid idea of the types of framing nailers available, read on to bone up on their uses and the features to look for when shopping.
As the name suggests, framing nailers are designed for the construction task of framing a structure, such as a house. This requires nailers to drive large 10D nails, up to 3.5 inches in length, into 2x4s. This method of framing replaces the old-school manual hammer, saving considerable time as well as arm fatigue.
Power Source and Run Time
Framing nailers use either fuel, a battery, or an electric-powered air compressor for power. Fuel-powered nailers, which also incorporate a rechargeable battery, can typically fire about 1,000 to 1,300 shots before needing a new fuel cell. A battery-powered nailer can typically fire up to 900 shots before the battery needs to be recharged. A pneumatic nailer uses an air compressor, and thus has a constant source of power, making it only limited by the number of nails in its magazine.
Brushed vs. Brushless Motor
A battery-powered nailer, which uses an electric motor to fire nails, will either use a brushed or brushless motor. A brushless motor is more efficient because it creates less friction, and therefore loses less energy. Brushless motors are 85 to 90 percent efficient, while brushed motors are 75 to 80 percent efficient. This means a brushless nailer will have more firing power and last longer before the battery needs a recharge.
The framing angle refers to the position of the nailer’s magazine—the long metal piece attached to the head of the tool that holds the nails. Most framing nailers have a magazine that is angled away from the head of the nailer to allow for easier maneuverability. The most common angles for framing nailers are 15, 21, 28, 30, and 34 degrees. These are fixed angles and are not adjustable, so keep in mind that you must buy nails that match the angle of the nailer. A 28-degree nail will not work in a 21-degree nailer.
The greater the angle, the more maneuverable the nailer is, which will allow you to fit the head into tight corners. The type of angle you should choose comes down to personal preference and the type of project. For framing projects that require you to fit the nailer into tight spaces, such as between studs or in corners, it makes sense to have a 30- or 34-degree nailer, which provides the maximum amount of maneuverability. Different types of angels also shoot different types of nails. Nailers with 15-degree or 21-degree angled magazines use full round heads, which are more secure than clipped nails. A 28-degree framing nailer can use clipped or full round head nails, while 30 and 34-degree nailers can only use clipped nails.
Stick-Style vs. Coil-Style Nail Storage
Framing nailers use two different styles of magazines: stick and coil.
- Stick magazine: A framing nailer that uses nails that come in long strips requires a stick magazine. Stick magazines have a lower capacity than coil magazines, but they create better weight distribution making the tool easier to handle.
- Coil magazine: Framing nailers that use nails connected with long strings that coil around require a coil magazine. They have a larger nail capacity than stick-style magazines, and the shape allows you to fit the framing nailer into tighter spaces than with a stick magazine model.
If your project involves shooting hundreds of nails, a coil nailer is your best bet. If you’re only shooting a few dozen nails, then a stick magazine is suitable for your project.
Framing nailers work with two types of nails: roundhead and clipped. Roundhead nails, true to their name, have round heads, whereas a clipped nail has a head that appears to have a chunk taken out of it. This head shape allows the nails to sit flush against each other in the nailer’s magazine. Carpenters consider roundhead nails to be the more secure option, as a roundhead is less likely to pull through a piece of framing than a clipped nail. In fact, due to their holding power, some building codes require roundhead nails only. But, since the round head prevents the nails from sitting flush next to each other, the tradeoff is your magazine will hold fewer roundhead nails than clipped ones.
Size and Weight
Size and weight are important factors when considering a framing nailer. When framing, you may be crouching, standing on a ladder, or reaching over your head—all of which become more challenging with a heavy or cumbersome tool. Because of their ability to drive 3.5-inch nails into wood, framing nailers are considered one of the more dangerous power tools. A misfire can cause serious injury, sending a nail through a foot, a hand, or worse. In order to prevent accidents, it’s crucial that you be able to comfortably handle the nail gun.
A framing nailer should be light enough for you to comfortably and safely manage. Fuel-powered framing nailers are the lightest option, weighing between 8 and 9 pounds. Pneumatic nailers weigh around 7 or 8 pounds. And battery-powered nailers weigh between 10 and 11 pounds.
Framing nailers include various features for safety and material type. All framing nailers include a depth adjustment knob, which allows you to control how deep the nail penetrates the wood. Woods of different hardness and thickness will require different nail depth settings. The best framing nailer will have depth adjustment that is easy to use, requiring only the simple turn of a knob.
Some framing nailers include protective guards, which shield the user from debris or nails that may deflect off material and kickback. Another possible feature is integrated LED lights that indicate when nails or batteries are running low and provide lighting for the work area. Some pneumatic nailers allow you to adjust the direction of the exhaust to keep air from blowing in your face.
Our Top Picks
This list includes some of the top battery, fuel, and pneumatic framing nailers on the market, from some of the most highly-regarded tool manufacturers in the business.
This framing nailer from Paslode uses a rechargeable 7.4-volt lithium-ion battery and a fuel cell to fire up to 9,000 nails per charge. It’s powerful enough to fire nails flush into framing lumber and hardwoods. There’s also a “quick charge” option that allows you to charge the battery for two minutes to get in an additional 200 shots.
This nailer uses 2-inch to 3.5-inch framing nails; features a compact design that lets you fit it between 16-inch studs; and, at just 7.2 pounds, is one of the lighter framing nailers available. The Paslode even includes a convenient carrying case for the gun, nails, and extra fuel cells.
Framing nailers need ample power to do their job, and some battery models can fall short in that area. That’s not the case with this robust model, which is, thanks its brushless motor and 3Ah battery, powerful enough to drive 2-inch to 3.5-inch nails flush into framing at a rate of two nails per second. With the ability to drive 400 nails per charge, this is one powerful framing nailer.
This tool also boasts a switch that transitions between sequential and bump mode, as well as a nail-depth adjuster. Only note that this cordless nailer is on the heavy side at more than 10 pounds.
This pneumatic framing nailer performs as well as some of the higher-priced competition. With its 21-degree angle magazine, this nailer can handle full roundhead nails and still fit into smaller spaces than a 15-degree nailer. A die-cast magnesium body affords durability while keeping things light at 8.5 pounds. A dual-mode trigger allows for single select or sequential firing, helping to speed up big framing jobs that require a lot of nails. This nailer, which can handle nails up to 3.5 inches long, also includes a depth adjuster to fine-tune for different sizes of dimensional lumber and hardwoods.
An adjustable exhaust, which redirects air away from your face, can also be used to blow debris away from your work space. And an anti-dry fire mechanism prevents you from firing when the magazine is empty, which could damage the tool. Its 55-nail capacity makes this a good option for small to medium-sized jobs.
Safety Tips for Using a Framing Nailer
An accident with or misuse of a framing nailer could cause major, or even fatal, injury. The following safety practices are crucial to avoid harming yourself and others:
- Treat this framing nailer as you would a firearm and never point it at anyone, even when it’s disconnected from its power source.
- When clearing a jammed nail, always disconnect the power source from the framing nailer first.
- Framing nailers produce a lot of power, which can cause both debris and the nail itself to unpredictably fly out in all directions. Protect yourself with a face mask and safety goggles. To prevent potential hearing loss, it’s also a good idea to wear ear protection during prolonged use.
- Be aware of others around you and avoid using the nailer if someone is in close proximity, as there’s always the potential for a nailer to misfire or fire through the material you’re nailing.
- When carrying the nail gun, keep the head facing away from your body and make certain your fingers are not placed over the trigger to avoid accidental firing.
FAQs About Your New Framing Nailer
If you still have questions about what framing nailer is right for you, read on to learn more about size, angle types, and other concerns.
Q. What size framing nailer do I need?
Size isn’t an issue when it comes to framing nailers. All framing nailers will fire the 3.5-inch 10D nails required for framing. Instead, consider angle, weight, and type, all of which are discussed in detail above.
Q. Can I use 21-degree nails in a 30-degree nailer?
You cannot use 21-degree nails in a 30-degree nailer. The clips of nails for a 30-degree nailer versus a 21-degree nailer are very different, so they cannot work interchangeably between the two types of framing nailers.
Q. Can I use screws instead of nails for framing?
Nails are typically used for framing as they have more tensile strength than screws. Whereas nails will bend under pressure, screws are more brittle and therefore more likely to snap. That said, there are newer high-tensile screws on the market designed specifically for framing. You cannot use screws in a framing nailer. If you plan on framing with screws, you’ll need to use an impact driver or cordless drill.
Q. Can I use a siding nailer for framing?
While you can use a framing nailer for siding (by fitting it with short 2-inch nails), you cannot use a siding nailer for framing. Framing nailers require 3.5-inch nails that can penetrate deep enough to create a secure connection between 2×4 boards. Siding nailers can only handle nails up to 2.5 inches, so they won’t work for framing.