February 29, 2024

Roofing Nail Guns: The Best Guide for Roofers

Understanding the best features in roofing nail guns allows you and your staff to hit the nail on the head, literally and figuratively!

Time to read:
6 Minutes
Written by
Matt Radford

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. That's right. We're talking nail guns.

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.

Choosing the best nail gun isn't black and white, though. There are a lot of things to consider when choosing the best fit for you. This guide can help.

Roofing nailers aren’t your average nail gun!

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 roof material
  • People might laugh.

Hurt feelings aside, a poor install using the wrong tools has far-reaching consequences—improper fastening and nail depth will cause any material to fail much faster, resulting in damages to your reputation, finances, and your customers' homes.

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 are made to shoot nails to attach roofing materials like shingles or metal. They're built to keep you safe on the job. Using the right tool is key to a high-quality install and to staying safe.

A Brief History of Nail Guns

The idea of the nail gun started in the early 1900s, when people tried out pneumatic tools for industry. Pneumatic tools use compressed air as their power source to generate mechanical motion. These tools use compressed air to do work, like driving nails, cutting materials, or running machines. They usually have a pneumatic motor or actuator to convert the air energy.

A lot of different industries use pneumatic tools, including construction, manufacturing, automotive, and — you guessed it! — roofing. They're popular because of their reliability, efficiency, and versatility. Examples of pneumatic tools include nail guns, impact wrenches, pneumatic drills, and pneumatic grinders.

By the 1930s, patents for pneumatic nail guns had been filed, laying the groundwork for a transformative innovation in construction.

The rise of nail guns in construction

Nail guns were changing the world of construction in the 50's and 60's. Workers could complete projects faster and more efficiently.

While nail guns found success across various construction disciplines, it wasn't long before they found a specialized niche in roofing. Roofing nail guns were born out of the need for tools tailored to the unique requirements of roofing professionals.

Nail guns for roofing

Roofing nail guns boast lightweight designs, ergonomic grips, and angled magazines, allowing for easy maneuverability and access in tight spaces. These features make them irreplaceable for roofers navigating the peaks and valleys of residential and commercial projects alike.

Nail guns of today

As technology advanced, so too did nail gun design. Electric and cordless models entered the scene, offering greater portability and versatility for users.

When they were newer, there were also a lot of accidents involving accidental firing and injuries. Safety standards around the tool have also increased, their use outweighing any dangers of misuse.

Top 4 nail gun brands

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.

Bostitch

Thomas Briggs founded Bostitch in Massachusetts in 1896, and the company has a long history. Originally known for manufacturing wire stitchers, the company later expanded its product line to include a wide range of fastening tools and equipment, including nail guns.

People celebrate Bostitch nailers for their user-friendly design and ease of use. The brand's roofing nailers, in particular, are praised for their intuitive operation, featuring single-action, side-loading canisters that make refilling nails a breeze. Additionally, Bostitch offers a generous 7-year limited warranty on most of their nailers, providing peace of mind to both seasoned professionals and novice users alike.

Hitachi

Hitachi, now known as Metabo HPT, has been a prominent player in the power tool industry since its founding in 1948 in Japan. The company initially focused on electric motors but later expanded its product range to include power tools, including nail guns.

Hitachi roofing nailers are renowned for their durability and reliability. They are engineered to withstand the rigors of job site use, with a firing mechanism designed to prevent double-firing and ensure consistent performance.

While Hitachi roofing nailers may be slightly more expensive than other brands, they offer excellent value for the price. Most models come with a 5-year limited warranty, providing added assurance to users.

Dewalt

Dewalt, a subsidiary of Stanley Black & Decker, is a household name in the power tool industry, known for its robust and reliable products. Founded in 1924 in Pennsylvania, Dewalt has built a reputation for manufacturing high-quality tools for professionals and DIY enthusiasts alike.

Dewalt roofing nailers are among the best on the market, offering versatility and performance. The brand provides various power source options, including pneumatic nailers and models powered by their renowned 20V MAX battery system.

Experienced users favor Dewalt roofing nailers for their efficiency and speed. Dewalt offers warranties from 3 years to lifetime, depending on model and purchase location, ensuring reliability and customer satisfaction.

Senco

Senco, founded in 1948, has established itself as a leading manufacturer of fastening tools and equipment. Based in Ohio, the company specializes in pneumatic tools, including nailers, staplers, and screw systems.

Senco roofing nailers are well-regarded for their performance and durability, despite being slightly heavier than some competing models. The weight distribution of Senco pneumatic tools is designed to reward experienced roofers, providing stability and control during operation. Most Senco nailers come with up to a 5-year warranty, offering users peace of mind and confidence in the product's quality and reliability.

What to look for in a nail gun

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 works 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!

Weight matters

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.

Check the balance

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.

Ease of adjustment is essential

Nail guns will have varied knobs, buttons and features for loading the nails, adjusting the psi, maneuvering shingle guides, and other functions. Depth adjustment should be easy, as should monitoring air pressure.

These aspects of the tool play a significant role in comfort and safety. 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.

A lockout features save time

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.

Firing modes

There are several firing methods between different brands and types of nail guns. Sequential-trip or full sequential triggers are considered the safest. They're ideal for less-experienced roofers. It means the nail gun requires an individual trigger pull and then the depression of the contact safety tip at the end of the gun to fire a nail - each time.

A contact trip or contact trigger allows for speed but is considered less safe than sequential-trip triggers. This firing mode means 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.

Corded vs cordless nail gun

Cord nailers aren't worse or better than cordless.

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.

Consider the nail capacity and adjustable magazine

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.

A hair trigger isn’t for everyone.

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.

Choosing the best nail gun for you

As you can see, there are a LOT of different features and parts of a nail gun. Choosing the best one isn't an easy answer, because each roofer works differently and has different preferences. Again, we can't emphasize enough the value of "try-before-you-buy" with nail guns.

Don't settle for one you don't like. Your nail gun is your best friend on the job. It's okay to be picky.

Hopefully, this guide helps to give you some background and considerations when choosing the best nail gun for you.

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