Driving Nails into Hard Timbers

A woodworker who's repairing old barn timbers gets advice on choosing a heavy-duty pneumatic nailgun. February 16, 2014

(WOODWEB Member):
Average framing nailers (Porter Cable, Dewalt, Bostitch) do not penetrate old barn beams enough to seat nails. At 90 PSI, they remain 1/4"-1" out of the wood. Does anyone know of a nailer designed to drive 3 1/2" nails into the beams?

Forum Responses
(Architectural Woodworking Forum)
From contributor C:
While working on my in-laws' barn, my Paslodes were sinking into the oak. 85 years old and hand driving isn't much fun. Seemed like some beams were easier than others. I would junk the Dewalts and Porter Cables and go with Senco or Paslode. My gas Paslode is a hell of a lot better than the Porter Cable, Hitachi and Dewalt.

From contributor M:
I don't know what nailers you're using currently, but many of the newer nailers are designed with engineered lumber in mind and have a good bit more power. We run a couple of framers that do well with just about anything we have thrown at them. Our main nailer is a Bostich F21PL and it has never had a problem with setting, but I can't say I have ever had occasion to do a lot of nailing into solid dry oak. It has a 1050in/lb rating and I'm not sure if other manufacturers list the driving power of their nailer, but that's what you will want to look at.

Another thing that will affect the driving capacity of the nailer is the hose size and length. Don't know how far out you are from the compressor. Also you mention 90lbs. Our nailer is rated to 120PSI, so you may consider looking at what the max pressure rating is for your nailer and running it right at that limit. Keeping a head rebuild kit on hand would be wise though.

We run the above gun mainly because we don't shoot any small diameter or clipped head nails. I am a proponent of full rounds only. The nails these guns shoot look just like a hand nail with a full head. Most of the other guns out there shoot paper or wire collated nails with clipped/half moon shaped heads (Pasload, Dewalt, etc). You have an increased magazine capacity with the clipped head but the holding power is just not there, in my opinion. Countless times I have taken apart work put together with clipped head and you can easily take the boards apart with the shank of the nail never budging, but the head of the nail simply tears through the top board. This is why I like the full rounds. The nail will break before you will ever tear the head through.

From contributor J:
I worked for a construction supply company for a time, and I can tell you there are differences in the tools offered by the company I worked for and the ones at the big box stores. Senco and Hitachi both have cheaper models that they sell to the big box stores. I would look at Max, or the better line of Hitachi or Senco. I prefer them in the order I listed them. For framers anyway. You may want to check your air pressure as well. No less than 100 psi at the tool.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for the great responses. All good things I should look at. The settings I have the gun on allow it to sink the nail (yes, clip head) about 1/2-3/4" into pine lumber from the store. I'm going through ash and honey locust lumber into the oak beams.

From contributor M:
I can't say for sure, but you may just wind up having trouble no matter what because you're shooting into such hard material. The pallet and crating industry comes to mind - they shoot into rock hard material a lot. With a conventional pallet, though, the nails would be much shorter than 16's.

I don't know that it would make a difference either, but there are the high pressure guns and compressors out there (300psi), but I don't really know that the higher pressure equates to more driving force, or if it is just for reduced tool size and weight. What also starts to happen as the tool gets lighter and the driving force increases is there is not so much inertia there with a lighter tool, so the recoil can cause a lot more operator fatigue. We have noticed this with our magnesium guns as opposed to a conventional gun.

The high pressure setups are very pricey combos, but if you're making the money at whatever you're putting together, they may be worth investigating.

From contributor S:
For the past 15 years I have used a Hitachi. Sinks almost every time, even the true 16d nails.

From the original questioner:
My solution may involve drilling holes and using lags. Probably a stronger solution. Not as quick, but it should work. A lot of what I'm doing is repairing old barn floor joists that are rotted on the end, so I'm adding 6'x2"x8"s to repair their 8-12" of rotted ends.

From contributor L:
One thing you can try is to pre-drill the first board just the size of the nail, tap it down to where you are just hitting the second piece, put the gun over it and fire it off. No nails in the magazine of course.

From contributor M:
Another solution is going to be more pricey, but it sounds like you're doing structural repair anyway. Go with some structural screws like the ones available from Simpson and other manufacturers and run them with an 18v impact driver.

We've used a lot of these putting LVLs and other materials together. They're by no means as fast as a nailer, but with a good impact driver they're plenty fast and you'd likely need less fasteners as opposed to nailing.

They aren't that costly if you buy them in bulk boxes/buckets if you need a bunch and it eliminates the pre-drilling part.

From the original questioner:
I like that idea. What screws would you recommend? I'm looking for at least 4" length.

From contributor M:
With the Simpsons you're limited to either a hex washer head style with a bit smaller shank, model SDWH, or a flat washer head model SDWS. The SDWS has a head about the size of a dime or a nickel. They are a hell of a screw, torx drive, and may be a little overkill. The hex head (if you don't mind the head sitting proud) have a slightly smaller shank.

Timberlok is another brand that has screws all the way up to 12" I believe, maybe even larger. We used to buy pails (250) of them for less than a hundred bucks. They are a hex washer head as well. Trusslok is another brand I have seen but never used them.