Completing a successful roofing job means following a trusted recipe—here, a few key ingredients must come together to create the best possible result. You’ll need knowledge, diligence to meet deadlines, and high-quality tools and materials. Just as you wouldn’t skimp on quality supplies, neither should you on your equipment.
You have likely heard a mentor utter the phrase “never buy cheap tools” early in your career. Other important tools aside, the nail gun is perhaps the most-used tool for most installations. If you’re in the market for new equipment, consider all the variables before making a purchase—honor your teachers and don’t settle for less than the best!
If you try to use something other than a nail gun to drive nails during a roof install, a few things could happen: the nails won’t hold, you’ll damage the material, and people might laugh. Hurt feelings aside, a poor install has far-reaching consequences—improper fastening and nail depth will cause any material to fail much faster, resulting in damages to your reputation and finances.
Framing, flooring, trim, or other nail guns just won’t do. Each kind of gun is calibrated to fire a specific form-factor and mass of nail at just the right velocity to secure the materials without causing damage. Think of trying to drive a deck screw through a 2-by-6 board with a hammer—it “works” but you’re going to split the wood.
Nail guns fire nails designed to secure the customer’s requested material (asphalt shingles, metal, etc.), allowing the shank to penetrate the purlin or girt below without the head damaging the material. A framing nailer shoots with too much force, and a finishing gun might ricochet and cause you to lose an eye—even with OSHA-approved safety wear, you don’t want to set yourself up for failure.
You probably have your favorite brand for your other tools, but for a nail gun you may need to consider deviating from the norm. Features matter more than a label or keeping your color scheme. These brands have a great reputation in the roofing world.
One of the best aspects of most Bostitch tools is that they’re easy to use. Whether it’s for a veteran or a trainee, their roofing nailers are among the most intuitive. The single-action, side-loading canister is among the easiest of any brand to refill, which keeps jobs moving along smoothly. Most Bostitch nailers (of any flavor) even come with a 7-year limited warranty.
Even though Hitachi roofing nailers are less affordable than their other power tools, they’re worth the price. These nailers are durable, and the firing mechanism is designed to prevent double-firing. Depending on the model, new purchases usually come with a 5-year limited warranty.
Dewalt is one of the most popular manufacturers of power tools, and their roofing nailers are among the best. They offer several power source options, including pneumatic nailers as well as some that use their revered 20V MAX battery supply. Dewalt roofing nailers are best for experienced users, allowing seasoned pros to work as quickly as they’re comfortable. Depending on where the tool is purchased, you can opt for a 3-year, 7-year, or full lifetime warranty directly through Dewalt.
Senco makes a couple of different pneumatic roofing nailers that are well-liked by their many owners. Though they’re heavier than most other brands and models, the weight is distributed to reward experienced roofers. Most of their pneumatic tools come with up to a 5-year warranty, but it will depend on where it’s purchased.
The best roofing nailer for your needs ultimately boils down to features and your own preferences. Getting a tool that accommodates the way you or an employee work will result in a better experience. The following are some of the most important aspects to consider— and of course, there’s always the old-fashioned method!
Heavier nailers aren’t necessarily more cumbersome, but they might not be suitable for all users. If you’re unfamiliar with the tool, try to test it out before you commit in case you find the weight to be unmanageable. A heavy or awkward nailing gun will only cause fatigue, slowing down the work.
Don’t let a higher weight completely deter you if the other features match your needs. Body movement profoundly affects how the tool is handled, so heavy rather than light weight may be preferable for some contractors as long as they are well-balanced.
Nail guns will have varied knobs, buttons and features for loading the nails, adjusting the psi, maneuvering shingle guides, and other functions. These aspects of the tool play a significant role in comfort. These features are also important to avoid blow throughs, and to provide a seamless installation in any weather! This is where “try before you buy” helps—a smooth and intuitive workflow is essential for a roofer who’s firing hundreds or thousands of nails every day.
Unless you meticulously count every nail, you’ll probably fire a few blanks without a lockout feature. Not only does this save you from backpedaling, but it also reduces wear on the tool.
There are several firing methods between different brands and types of nail guns. Sequential-trip or full sequential triggers are considered the safest, which are ideal for less-experienced roofers. They require an individual trigger pull for each nail, in conjunction with depression of the contact safety tip at the end of the gun. A contact trip or contact trigger allows for speed but is considered less safe than sequential-trip triggers. They allow a nail to be fired when the trigger and the contact tip are activated in any order. The user can hold the trigger down and fire the gun (“bump” it) many times in a row just by depressing the contact tip.
Always make sure to take safety as well as speed into account when selecting your nail gun—OSHA has more information about nail gun safety.
Pneumatic nail guns tend to be more consistent, and aren’t prone to electrical failure, but this usually means dragging around an air compressor. If you go with a battery-powered nail gun, you’ll be free from a cord, but you’ll need to worry about battery life. To save time, make sure to get extra batteries and chargers if opting for a battery-powered nailer.
Bigger magazines mean less time spent reloading, smaller ones are easier to reload and lighter—it’s a balance, and one each roofer must figure out for themselves. Adjustable magazines allow for greater flexibility with different types of nails used on various roofing materials as well as to accommodate assorted sizes of nail packs.
Safety first. Avoid designs that will fire with the slightest pressure, unless the tool will be used by a roofing vet with an excellent safety record and plenty of experience.
Tools that need to be babied can bottleneck productivity if you’re not diligent about performing routine maintenance. Either avoid tools that require meticulous cleaning and calibration, or make sure to work regular maintenance into your schedule.
There are a ton of variables to consider when picking a roofing nailer. Take some time to toy around with friend’s tools or make some rounds through tool stores to get a feel for different guns before settling on “the one.”
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