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Nail Gun Safety — Summer 2008 | Out Here Magazine

'You need to know how to use it'

By Noble Sprayberry

An air-powered nail gun can make fast work of countless jobs, but failing to give the tool proper respect can turn a quick project into an emergency room visit.

Indeed, a steady increase in the number of injuries since the 1990s caught the attention of the Centers for Disease Control.

A tool once most common on construction and other work sites had expanded in popularity, and consumer-level producers made nail guns accessible to more people, according to a CDC report.

Between 2001 and 2005, the number of consumers visiting emergency rooms as a result of nail gun injuries averaged 14,800 annually.

Proper care and basic knowledge, however, can prevent injuries, says Glen Steinbrunner, director of engineering for Maryland-based Black & Decker. "The nailer is no more dangerous than any other power tool," he says. "But before you pick it up and start using it, you need to know how to use it."

First, read the instructions and other printed materials provided with the nailer, says Steinbrunner, who notes Black & Decker prefers to refer to the tools as nailers, rather than guns.

Failing to follow a simple rule often leads to trouble. "If you're not firing a nail into a workpiece, you shouldn't have air going to the tool," Steinbrunner says.

Nailers are commonly powered by compressed air, and disconnecting the hose from the compressor renders the tool powerless. Too often, though, someone will attempt to clear a jammed nail from the tool without taking this fundamental precaution, he says.

Also, a bit of planning can eliminate many nail jams. Consumers must pay close attention to find the right combination of nail and nailer, because each tool accepts only a specific range of nails.

Because many home centers carry generic brands of nails, as opposed to nails from the nailer manufacturer and matched to the tool, always read and follow the nail specifications detailed in the power tool's literature.

Recognizing the need for safe products, federal regulations require nailers to meet detailed standards. Each nailer must have a trigger and an actuator tip to prevent firing unless the tip is depressed, such as against a piece of wood.

Other companies go a step further, offering a trigger lock similar to a gun's safety to prevent an accidental firing, Steinbrunner says.

Also, it's important to never use a nail gun without safety glasses, and always know the thickness of the material being nailed, Steinbrunner says.

Using a 2-inch thick piece of wood and a 2½-inch nail can hurt. "If your hand is on the other side, you can drive a nail right through and into your hand," he says.

Similarly, nailing too close to the edge of the board can cause a nail to skip out of the wood and bounce around unsafely.

"Operating a nail gun is shooting a projectile," Steinbrunner says. "At the end of the day, that's what a nail is. If the nailer isn't used with the proper training, and with the proper precautions in place, it can injure you."

Noble Sprayberry is a freelance writer in Phoenix.