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A Guide to Fastening Tools

Screw Guns, Nailers, and Staplers
... by Andrew Wormer ~ in association with
There aren't too many materials that can't be fastened together by hand with a simple hammer or screwdriver, the right nail or screw, and a little a bit of elbow grease.

But over the years, manufacturers have developed fastening tools such as screw guns, nailers, and staplers that make this essential part of construction faster and easier.

Screw Guns:

Screws have always been superior to nails when it comes to holding ability, but until recently it has been faster to drive nails--either with a hammer or a pneumatic nailer--than screws. Now, however, different types of screw guns make it possible to use screws in a wide range of applications, from hanging drywall to fastening down a deck to installing trim. Screws also have the advantage of being easier to remove than nails.

Practical Matters:

When looking for the right screw gun, the first consideration is how the tool will be used.
  • If you're hanging drywall, a lighter screw gun will be easier on your arm, especially if you are working overhead.
  • If you're fastening down a deck with bigger screws, you'll probably want a heavier screw gun that operates at a lower rpm.
  • If you are looking for a screw gun that can also function as a drill, then you'll probably want a combination drill/driver.

1. Automatic vs. Manual Loading:

While most screw guns are manually loaded--that is, you place the screw in position on the magnetized bit, which holds it in place until you are ready to drive the screw into the workpiece--auto feed screw guns are also available. Smaller ones are light enough to be used for fastening drywall, while larger auto feed screw guns can be used to fasten decking and subflooring without having to bend over.

Some auto feed systems come as a complete unit and include the driver, while others are designed to be attached to an existing corded or cordless screw gun. Rather than using individual screws, auto feed screw guns need to be loaded with collated screws, which are, of course, more expensive.

2. Drywall Screw Guns:

Available in both corded and cordless versions, drywall screw guns have an adjustable nosepiece to set the depth of the screw, and a clutch that only allows the bit to rotate when the tool is pressed against the workpiece. Designed for continuous duty, these screw guns have enough power and durability to drive 1-and-5/8-inch screws all day long without burning out. They typically operate at a higher rpm than regular drills so that the screws go in fast.

3. Combination Drill/Drivers:

Drill/drivers are one of the most versatile tools that you can own. While they function like a drill, the additions of an adjustable clutch, variable speed control and reverse, electric brake, and dual speed ranges give you precise control while driving screws into a variety of materials.

They won't drive screws as fast as a screw gun, but they are extremely handy because they also perform a variety of other tasks.

The most versatile drill/drivers are cordless. This tool can go anywhere without having to rely on an electric power source. With two batteries, you can use cordless drill/drivers for hours without having to pause for a break.


A. Cordless Nailers:

Most nailers are powered by air and require a compressor and hoses, but cordless nailers have become increasingly popular because of their quick setup and portability.

B. Brad Nailers:

There are also electric nailers that drive small 18-gauge brads. Like their pneumatic counterparts, these nailers are compact and lightweight, and are very useful for trim and cabinet work.

C. Gas-Powered Nailers:

Some manufacturers have developed nailers powered by small propane-fueled internal combustion engines, with a rechargeable battery supplying the juice to the engine's sparkplug and fan. Though it sounds like a heavy arrangement, these nailers weigh no more than comparable pneumatic nailers.

This type of nailer is great if you do a lot of solo carpentry. You can just pull it out of its case and start nailing without having to drag around hoses and a heavy compressor. And while these nailers aren't as fast as pneumatic nailers, they'restill a lot quicker than nailing by hand, and they're much easier on the arm.


A. Staple Gun:

When it's time to put up housewrap or fasten down asphalt felt paper, you'll need a stapler. A single-shot staple gun will work fine, but the non-electric models require a pretty firm squeeze and will leave your hand sore and cramped if you have to drive a lot of staples.

B. Hammer Tacker:

A hammer tacker is a lot faster and more fun to use. This type of stapler is used like a hammer--just whack it against whatever you are stapling off. Though not extremely precise, the hammer stapler allows you to fasten down a large area of material very quickly.
Author Andrew Wormer is a contributing editor to Fine Homebuilding magazine and the author of The Builder's Book of Bathrooms and The Bathroom Idea Book (Idea Books).
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