Hot Topics: Pneumatic or Electric Nail Gun?

A man installing a wood floor with a nail gun.

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Original Post: Pneumatic or Electric Nail Gun?

petethebuilder Member

I'm looking to tear up a tile floor and replace it with a solid wood floor. With this project, I'll need to lay down about 300 square feet of ¾" 2 ¼" solid red oak flooring.

I'd like advice on what kind of nail gun to buy. I'm very comfortable using a variety of powered woodworking tools, but I've never owned or really used a nail gun. Primarily, I'd be buying this tool for the job at hand, but it might be nice for other small woodworking projects or doing trim work. I'm not a pro, just a household DIYer. I currently don't own any pneumatic tools and so I don't own or really want to store a compressor. My interest is primarily woodworking and doing home projects and I don't work on cars or do mechanical work.

That said, I'm considering pneumatic, but leaning against it. In fact, I'm not even seriously considering a cordless nailer because I don't expect to use it much beyond this job and even if I do, much of what I'd use it for would be inside my shop where outlets are always in reach. So, I'm planning to go with a corded nail gun. If anyone here can make a strong case for going pneumatic (and having to invest and store a compressor), please let me know.

That said, let me confirm that for this flooring (¾" 2 ¼" solid red oak), I should be using 2" cleat nails. My subfloor is ¾" 7 1/4" wide plank, running diagonally. Considering I might use it for woodworking, I guess I'd want the gun to be able to shoot staples as well. I'm assuming I should buy a "flooring" nail gun that shoots at the 45 degree angle to secure the tongue, or at least get a model that supports that angle.

Shoot me a brand or model if you can, but I'm mostly looking for general advice.

czizzi Forum Topic Moderator

For your flooring project, you will need a floor nail gun that sets cleats, but as you hit the piston with your hammer, drives the pieces of flooring tight together. This is the only function that this gun will do. It will not be suitable for any other job, be it finish nailing or framing.

As a one-off job, you may look into renting or look into Harbor Freight as they have the most affordable floor nailer; I have one and it works great. From time to time they have combo packs where you can get a compressor and three nail guns for a decent price. That will satisfy all your other nailing needs.

petethebuilder Member

On your advice, I checked out Harbor Freight, but all things considered, I think a rental is the way to go. Are 2" cleats correct considering the thickness of the wood floor and subfloor?

czizzi Forum Topic Moderator

You want the most grab you can get. If the subfloor is a plank set on the 45, then you risk sending a cleat down a void, which may result in a squeak down the road.

petethebuilder Member

I've watched a few videos by now on the topic. After an unfinished floor is in place, is it general practice to go over the cracks with some kind of wood putty before finishing? I always assumed the finish would fill those in without issue.

marksr Forum Topic Moderator

There is a wood paste that you can smear over the floor before your final sanding (before stain/poly). It's easy to apply and once sanded, the only filler that remains is what's in the cracks. I don't remember the product's name, but you can buy it at most any hardwood flooring store.

petethebuilder Member

I can handle that, but is it necessary or common practice? In my case, I'd be using it with new unfinished flooring. Is there any issue with hindering expansion? I'm having a little trouble identifying the actual product.

marksr Forum Topic Moderator

It's a fairly common practice when finishing new flooring.

czizzi Forum Topic Moderator

All the floors I've installed have been the prefinished variety. From that experience, I noted that not all the boards are exactly the same width. It varies 1/16" in either direction. If you put a board next to one that is a 1/16" narrower, then when the next course of wood goes in, you will have a small gap. What I do is measure each and every board and separate into piles by width. Each row only comes from the same pile of like widths. The result is no gaps. This works for prefinished wood, so I imagine it would also work for unfinished wood and negate the use/need for fillers.

Marq1 Member

“I checked out Harbor Freight, but all things considered I think a rental is the way to go.”

Two lessons learned:

First: rentals are iffy. You’re trying to get the job done so you can get the equipment back and you may run out of time and have to rent it again the second or third day. Look at Craigslist or eBay to find a good quality (not Harbor Freight) nailer, like a Porta Nailer, use it at your leisure, and then resell. I’ve done this many times with specialty tools and in the end the cost is almost nothing!

Second: skip the pneumatic. The manual nailers are best to really set the boards tight with the hammer strike!

“It varies 1/16"”

What brand of floors have you used that you find this level of variation? I've installed many floors, all prefinished, and never found this kind of situation. If I did, I’d probably pack it all up and return them. Not acceptable!

czizzi Forum Topic Moderator

It was more on the short side than the wider side, but frustrated me nonetheless and I feel it worthy to mention as something to watch out for during your install, particularly if purchasing from a box store, which may not carry the highest end materials. You don't find out about it being off until you set the next row. Then, you have to cut out the nails and waste time getting it right.

I've also seen brand new unfinished, put in by others with filler everywhere waiting to be sanded. To me, if there wasn't a variation in widths, fillers wouldn't be needed.

petethebuilder Member

When I consider cost, it's more about my cost versus the cost of hiring a pro. I don't see myself laying down another solid wood floor, but I'll check the rental price vs. purchase before deciding, as you do make a good point. Generally, I do a very good job on projects and keep code, etc., but I'm slow and don't like the deadline of a rental return.

What about manual floor nailers where you smack them with a special hammer? Whether I rent or buy, they're significantly cheaper than an air nailer, being I would need to rent/buy the compressor.

marksr Forum Topic Moderator

They work, but do take significantly more effort to set the nail than the pneumatic floor nailer does.

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