ManMade Essential Toolbox: Yep, We’re Calling ‘Em Essential. Why You Definitely Need an Air Compressor and Nailer Kit

Each week in 2015, ManMade is sharing our picks for the essential tools we think every creative guy and DIYer needs. We’ve selected useful, long-lasting tools to help you accomplish a variety of projects, solve problems, and live a hands-on lifestyle that allows you to interact with and make the things you use every day.  

created at: 12/16/2015

Okay, friends. Here’s the thing with air nailers and compressors, at least for creative woodworking, every day DIY, and casual weekend use: they’re amazing. Optional, sure? But the amount of time and frustration they can save is immense, and in most shops, worth every penny. 

And here’s why: “nail guns,” unless you’re framing a house, are not a replacement for hammer and nails. Instead, they’re most useful as an extra pair of hands, or four, for aligning and registering parts and keeping things in place while adhesives dry. They’re incredibly useful for trim work, installing cabinets, stairs, carpentry, and woodworking. They don’t only hold things together; they hold things in place while something stronger holds the parts together. And that’s even more useful.   created at: 12/16/2015

So, where to start: if you don’t have any pneumatic tools, you’ll need a compressor. Our advice is this: don’t look for a medium-sized, middle-of-the-road model for general use. Middling options are too big to be portable, and quite large to store. And they’re too small for high volume work, such as spray finishing or running a larger framing nailer. So, our vote is, get a portable, very lightweight option, two gallons or less, for running 16-gauge or smaller tools. Sure, they’ll cycle more, and be a bit louder, but for casual use, it’s usually not a big deal.  And because they’re easy to manipulate, you’ll actually use it. Then, if you really want to get into spray work, pneumatic mechanical tools for auto work, or heavy-duty construction, get a large, high SCFM (standard cubic feet per minute) that you’ll hopefully move as infrequently as possible. 

Most of your average home-owner tools (brad nailers, staplers, etc) only require ~.5 – 1.5 cfm at 90 PSI. So, even some of the smallest oil-free compressors can handle it.

 

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Then, you’ll need some pneumatic fasteners. If you have none, this is where I’d start:

  • First, get an 18-gauge brad nailer. This is a general purpose, good for almost any holding task size that can handle fasteners up to 2″ in length, which is long enough for use with standard “two-by” framing lumber, which is 1 1/2″ thick
  • Next, treat yourself to a 23-gauge headless pinner. These are a fairly new option on the market and they are wonderful.  They’re perfect for avoiding splits on lumber up to 1 1/4″ thick, which makes them great for cabinets, trim and molding work, and woodworking. The nails are about the size of a regular sewing needle, so they’re practically invisible when countersunk with the grain. They don’t have a ton of holding power, but work great to keep parts in place while the wood glue or construction adhesive dries. 
  • Supplement those two with an 18-gauge narrow-crown stapler. These beat the pants off your standard staple gun, and are super helpful with working with mesh or screens, poultry netting, and upholstery work.
  • Lastly, if you find you need it (or it comes along in a kit), get a 16-gauge finish nailer. This is the largest size these small compressors can handle, but can fire off fasters a bit longer than the brad nailer. This is helpful for coarser construction, such as installing siding, building two-by-four frames, installation through drywall into stud work, or holding things in place when building a deck as you drive in the screws.

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As usual, you get what you pay for. These type of tools are often the first thing to go on sale at home improvement stores around Father’s Day and the November/December holidays, so you can often get a good deal. Expect to pay around $100-175 for the compressor, and between $75-150 for the nailers. You can often find boxed sets of a compressor and three nailers for significant savings. These are a great deal.

Oh, and don’t forget to pick up a blow gun for helping to clean off tools and sawdust. These beat the pants off those hand-freezing cans of compressed air. 

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created at: 12/16/2015