Nail Gun Techniques and Safety Tips

Nail Gun Techniques and Safety Tips


All nail guns are dangerous. Over thirty thousand nail gun accidents and injuries that require an emergency room visit occur each year. In addition to nail gun users, coworkers who aren’t using the nail gun at the time are often the victims of these accidents. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has published a guide to nail gun safety with recommendations. Here we summarize nail gun techniques and safety tips for pros and do-it-yourselfers.

Know Your Tool

Electric, pneumatic, and combustion fired nail guns all carry risks. These may include tripping hazards from cords and hoses, and hazards related to the explosive nature of the flammable gas that powers internal combustion powered nail gun tools.

Nail guns come with different types of triggers and safety features. Before using any power tool, read and memorize the operating and safety instructions. Identify each part of the tool, including the contact safety tip, trigger, magazine, and the type and size of nails the tool can safely fire.

The safest type of trigger for a nail gun, according to OSHA and NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health), is the full sequential trigger. A nail gun with this type of trigger will only fire if the user activates specific parts of the tool in the required order. The user must press the contact safety tip into the material that will receive the nail and then depress the trigger. Both must be released and pressed again, in the right order, for the tool to fire the next nail.

Other types of trigger mechanisms are popular because they increase the speed with which nails and fasteners can be applied. The bump or contact trigger allows the user to continually depress the trigger while “bumping” the contact safety tip along the surface of the material. While useful for flat surfaces, these types of triggers cause injury when coworkers accidentally bump into the tool. Injuries also happen when the user tries to use the tool in an awkward position or on a vertical or slanted surface.

Single sequential triggers work like full sequential triggers, except an operator only needs to release the trigger to fire the next nail. Single actuation triggers allow the first nail to be bump fired and then allows the user to move the contact safety tip, releasing only the trigger and then squeezing the trigger again.

Wear Protective Equipment

Workers using nail guns must wear boots or shoes that protect toes from nail gun injuries and eye protection capable of withstanding high impact in the form of safety glasses or goggles that comply with the American National Standards Institute Z87.1 governing such protective gear. New users may not realize how loud pneumatic nail guns can be, so workers should also wear ear protection to protect hearing from the repetitive loud banging noise that these tools can make. Hard hats are also necessary for all nail gun users and those in the vicinity.

Know the Types of Injuries Nail Guns Can Cause

Emergency room doctors and nurses have the x-rays to back up stories of the many and sometimes bizarre nail gun injuries they have seen. Most nail gun injuries affect the hands and fingers. However, emergency rooms have seen nails in knees and backs, too. Common types of nail gun accidents include:

  • Nails penetrating the workpiece right into fingers or hands
  • The user missing a shot and injuring themselves or a coworker
  • Unintentional discharges from bumping into the safety contact tip while the trigger is depressed
  • Double firing
  • Ricochet injuries from hitting a hard or metal surface
  • Repetitive stress injuries, sprains, and muscles strains from holding and carrying heavy nail guns for long periods or in awkward positions

Ways to Reduce Risk of Nail Gun Injuries

Common sense goes a long way to reduce the risk of nail gun injuries. However, common sense benefits from reminders and refreshers from time to time. In addition to wearing protective gear every time a nail gun is in use, inspect the tool and power source before every use. Set the pressure according to the manufacturer’s recommendation. Use the correct kind of compressed air for pneumatic nail guns, and never make a substitution with any other form of compressed gas, which could result in a serious explosion and injuries. Make sure the tool is clean and properly loaded with the right kind of fastener. Don’t use rusty or corroded nails. These could break or cause a backfire. Similarly, check the work surface for imperfections that could cause a nail to misfire, backfire, or ricochet.

Never use a nail gun when you are sleep deprived. Don’t engage in side conversations or allow other distractions to draw focus away from the task. Keep your hands a foot away from the workpiece. If you need to hold pieces of lumber together in order to nail them, consider using clamps placed carefully clear of where you’ll be applying nails.

Never, ever tamper with or disable nail gun safety features. Use only your dominant hand to hold the nail gun. Never drag or carry a nail gun by the hose or the cord. Always disengage the power before handing the tool off to a coworker or helper, moving around the workspace, or going up or down steps or a ladder. Never leave a nail gun anywhere a child could get hold of it or where anyone without the proper training could reach it.

Workers cause injuries to others by forgetting to release the trigger, thinking that the contact safety tip will prevent the gun from firing. This is true until someone or something bumps into the tip. Avoid awkward physical positions. If you can’t fit the nail gun easily into the place it needs to be to perform the task you want to do with your dominant hand, don’t use it. Revert to a good old-fashioned hammer. Safety is more important than speed. Don’t reach, stretch, or bend to use a nail gun, and try to avoid working above shoulder height. Make sure the work area is stable and free of tripping hazards.

Nail gun techniques and safety tips translate to many types of power-fastening tools. Always respect the power of the tool and the properties of the materials you are working on. A power tool for roofing or flooring and even a framing stapler for securing artwork in a frame are all capable of causing injury when used improperly or carelessly. Read the instructions, wear protective gear, follow directions for safety, concentrate on your work, and allow sufficient time to complete your project safely.