Nailers are now used on almost every jobsite, and in many private residences as well. According to the Centers for Disease Control, almost 30,000 construction workers are seriously injured in nail gun accidents every year. And tragically, those numbers have been steadily rising over the past decade.

While efficiency has made nail guns commonplace on construction sites around the country, these are inherently dangerous tools. When used improperly, nailers can cause serious damage, and put operators out of work for life.

Using A Pneumatic Nail Gun Safely

There’s a right way to use a nail gun and a wrong way. Learn to use your nailer safely and you’ll vastly decrease the chances of causing, or sustaining, an injury yourself.

This guide covers the specific dangers presented by pneumatic (air-driven) nail guns, because they’re by far the most popular type. For more general tips, check out our Nailer Safety Guide here.

Consider Your Compressor First

Pneumatic nail guns use highly-compressed air to drive a piston that, in turn, drives a fastener. Unlike electric or many gas-powered nail guns, pneumatic nailers need an external air compressor to work.

Many common mistakes actually involve this compressor, rather than the gun itself. Proper safety protocol requires you to treat the compressor just as carefully as you do the gun.

1. Never assume anything. Check to make sure both your nail gun and compressor are working properly before you begin. Thoroughly tighten every screw and cap. With the air disconnected, your gun’s trigger should be loose and easy to pull.

At the end of the day, clean and oil your nailer to prolong its life. By the same logic, you should always drain your compressor after use. If you don’t, condensation can get trapped in the hose and disable your gun the next time you hook it up.

2. Never work on the gun with its air supply connected. If you have to fix the gun, because its jammed or you notice leaking air, always disconnect the compressor first.

3. Know where your hose is at all times. People trip over their air hoses all the time. If your finger is on the trigger, you might accidentally drive a nail into your leg.

4. Never drag the hose. If your compressor’s tube is caught on something, don’t yank it free. Go back and find the problem.

5. Only use dry air. Never connect a pneumatic nailer to oxygen or carbon dioxide. Just clean ambient air from the right compressor. Check a nail gun’s factory specifications to find out what pressure you’re supposed to use, and never exceed it.

Wear The Right Stuff

Make sure your outfitted in the right Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for your job. The Occupational Safety & Health Administration requires a certain set of PPE for work on most construction sites. Generally, the setup includes:

  1. Hard hats
  2. Ear protection: earplugs or earmuffs
  3. Safety shoes with reinforced toecaps
  4. High Impact eye protection

Your safety goggles should be marked on the packaging with “ANSI Z87.1.” Always use goggles with shields that protect the sides of your eyes. One popular nail gun, Hitachi’s NV83A2, was recalled after consumers discovered that a faulty feeder could fire nails sideways. Even when workers aren’t using a defective nailer, eye injuries are extremely common.

You can find more protective equipment specs on the OSHA website.

When You’re Ready To Start…

When you’re using a nail gun, always assume that it’s loaded and could go off, even when you don’t want it to. Whenever you point it, think: “if my gun went off right now, would anyone get hurt?”

1. Connect your gun to the air supply correctly. Always point it down, away from others and yourself. Use a firm grip; there’s no room for laziness.

2. Leave your finger off the trigger until it’s necessary. If you’re not actively driving nails, your finger should be out of the trigger guard entirely. Don’t walk around with your finger on the trigger. Assume that if you bump the contact nose, it will fire.

3. Avoid bump nailing. If your nail gun doesn’t have a sequential trip trigger, don’t use its contact nose to “bump” fasteners along a surface. This only results in sloppy work and wasted resources. It’s also dangerous.

4. Only fire into your work surface. Keep the tip of your gun away from a surface’s edges. Prepare for kickback, but don’t brace too much. You don’t want the tip to jump forward, drive a new nail, and ricochet off the first one.

Anytime you fire into a surface, assume that your nail will pass all the way through. Then ask, “is anyone on the other side?” It happens more often than you think.

5. Pass a gun carefully. If you need to hand your gun off to someone, disconnect the compressor hose first. This is especially crucial if your lowering the nailer to someone below you. Never lower it using its hose.

6. At heights, secure your compressor hose.

Working on scaffolding or a roof? Tie your compressor’s hose down first. If you need to set your gun down for a second, you’ll be sure that it won’t be pulled down by the weight of the hose.