Workshop Mishaps: Air-Gun Gaffes

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This article is from Issue 39 of Woodcraft Magazine.

The story

The scrap situation in my small shop had been out of control for quite a while. One day, I decided to solve the problem by building a simple, compartmented storage bin from 3⁄4" plywood. I fastened the case butt joints with my pneumatic (air-powered) finish nailer. The bin went together so fast that I soon switched to my brad nailer to attach solid wood edging. But at that point things got dicey.

Holding the hardwood strips against the plywood, I fired brads to attach them. After securing a couple of strips, one brad took a sudden turn, after penetrating the hardwood, and shot through the case side, protruding about 3⁄4". Fortunately, it just missed the hand holding the strip. I shot another brad, and it, too, protruded. After a third did the same, I laid the gun aside and finished the job with a hammer and nails.

Case analysis

Nail guns can speed up many woodworking chores such as cabinet assembly and trim work. But Garvey Princip, a woodworker from Ferdinand, Indiana, needed to match the tool, fastener, and pressure setting to the job. It’s unlikely that the quality of the fasteners is suspect. Modern manufacturing methods employ measures that ensure strong and consistent fasteners. However, when Garvey switched from his finish nailer to his brad nailer, he also switched from 16- or 15-gauge nails to thinner 18-gauge brads without dialing back the air pressure. More than likely, he overdrove the brads, increasing their likelihood of bending and exiting the wood.

Shop-smart strategies

Successful use of pneumatic nailers of any sort requires practice and an understanding of your tools and materials. These pointers should help Garvey shoot trouble free:

  • Match the tool to the job. Finish nailers, with their beefy 15-gauge nails measuring 11⁄4" to 21⁄2" long, do well for joinery and architectural trimwork. Brad nailers, using 18-gauge nails in the 5⁄8" to 2" range, are good for attaching thin cabinet backs and moldings up to 1⁄2" thick. A headless pin nailer, equipped with 23-gauge nails from 3⁄8" to 2" long, excels at attaching thin workpieces, such as glass retainer strips and fine trimwork.

  • Match the gauge to the stock. Because a fastener’s bending resistance directly relates to its cross-sectional diameter, or gauge, thin fasteners deflect more easily than stout ones. The harder and denser the wood, the more likely the nail will bend unless properly gauged. A 15-gauge, 11⁄2" nail may be more suited for the task at hand than an 18-gauge brad of the same length.
  • Adjust the pressure to avoid overdriving. Sinking a fastener’s head 1⁄16" is plenty. Typically, your compressor output should range from 60 to 110 psi for driving nails, brads, and pins. The lighter the assignment, the less pressure needed.

  • Keep body parts at least 6" away from pneumatic nailers and pinners, and wear eye protection! 


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