It’s a safe bet that most nails driven on modern construction sites aren’t put there by a hammer. Framing and roofing nailers have made the job faster and easier, so it’s no surprise they get put in the game while hammers ride the bench—at least for the bulk of the work. We compared the best framing nailers to see which tool performed the best. Now, we’re focusing on what to look for in a Pro roofing nailer.
Quick Article Summary
- Weight matters
- Check balance and grip
- Depth of drive should be easy to set
- Dry fire lockout reduces wear and wasted time
- Look for tool- and trigger-free mode adjustment
- Check the trigger pull force
- Does it include an NPT connector?
Coil Roofing Nailers
Whereas framing nailers drive longer, smaller-headed nails (typically from a collated stick) to fasten lumber, roofing nailers drive shorter, larger-headed nails from a collated coil. You can use these nailers to fasten shingles, house wraps, and siding. There’s not a huge amount of variability among these nailers, but some features might lead you to choose one over another. Our key metrics are power and ergonomics.
The Weighting is the Hardest Part
Let’s start on the ergonomics side of the equation. Talk to Pros and they will tell you that weight is the most important consideration when choosing a roofing nailer. Securing shingles and siding is an all-day or multiple-day job. With a heavy tool, the work is brutal. It’s not only the tool weight, but the user also needs to pick up and hold heavy materials in place for nailing, which adds to the fatigue of the job.
Coil roofing nailers have a large fastener capacity than other nailer types, but that’s a double-edged sword. On the one side, work doesn’t have to stop to reload nearly as often as with a stick or framing nailer. However, these nailers typically weigh more, especially at the beginning of the coil.
For this reason, we prefer the nailer itself to be as light as possible. As long as the nailer is acceptably light and drives nails without jams, then the other features are secondary. Metabo HPT (formerly Hitachi), Makita, Bostitch, Senco, DeWalt, and Max have some incredibly light roofing nailers that weigh less than 6 pounds. Look for magnesium, aluminum, and even plastic bodies to save on weight.
We Look for Balance in Pro Roofing Nailers
Knowing what to look for in a Pro roofing nailer means understanding how a tool feels in your hand during various uses. Besides being lightweight, a nailer should be well-balanced from the head through the handle. Having a forward-leaning tool may be OK for the roof, but a better-balanced system will make siding much easier.
Holding and using a tool all day also means you want a comfortable grip. Many of these tools have decent overmold grips, but we still really like the Ridgid Hex Grip. It just stands out to us as an exceptional design. Some tools also feature a larger circumference than others on the handle. Depending on your hand size you may prefer one brand over another.
Tool-free Depth of Drive Adjustment
Is the fastener depth easy to read and change? It should be. Since variable air supply levels make this mostly trial and error, you need the ability to easily dial in the nail drive depth. Typically, this involves activating a mechanism that moves the firing head towards and away from the piston/driver to vary the depth of drive. If the manufacturer provides a thumbwheel, ensure that it works well both with and without gloves.
Dry Fire Lockout
We still shake our heads today when a pneumatic or cordless nailer comes to us without this feature. Dry fire lockout prevents the nailer from firing when it doesn’t have a nail in the magazine to drive.
Many manufacturers include this feature because it avoids unnecessary wear. It also eliminates the frustration of firing a sequence of nails only to later discover the board, shingle, or material isn’t actually fastened.
Tool-free Firing Mode Adjustment
All nailers have a single action mode where one nail is driven for each trigger pull, but some also have a bump fire mode that allows a nail to be driven each time the nailer’s nose is depressed as long as the trigger remains pulled. Bump fire can help you work much more quickly, but a slight danger lurks in the increased speed. If the nailer recoils and then fires, it’s possible to shoot multiple nails through the same hole, causing a potential jam.
Roofing nailers accommodate a range of nail lengths, and the nail basket/magazine should move easily up and down. This adjustment ensures the nails feed smoothly and in alignment with the firing mechanism.
Trigger Pull Force
A roofer will drive hundreds of nails per day with a roofing nailer. The repetitive force of the trigger pull can add up to fatigue and pain over time. This is especially true in single-action firing mode. It’s important that the trigger pull force is light. For bump fire, you’re holding the trigger down, so a high spring tension will also work against you.
Roofing nailers should seldom jam when properly maintained. Still, when they do, it often requires tools to free the magazine and get at the offending nail. Some models include either a tool-free magazine release or a jam-release latch. Either feature makes jam-clearing an easier prospect should the worst happen. Still, the best guns will jam up less often, pushing this feature further down on our priority list.
Adjustable Exhaust Vent
Many nailers have an adjustable exhaust vent that deflects the burst of air that accompanies a drive. Otherwise, the repetitive burst might blow right at you in certain positions and uses. The best exhaust position for roofing won’t be the same as for siding.
Pneumatic vs Cordless Roofing Nailers
A majority of roofing nailers are pneumatic. These work more quickly, weigh far less than cordless models, and provide reliable use. A few gas models have it the market, however. These allow for cordless or hoseless operation. The trade-off for cordless operation is often cost and a heavier nailer. However, these are helpful for smaller jobs or punch list work where dragging out the compressor and hoses is inefficient.
More recently, battery-only models have hit the scene. In particular, the DeWalt cordless roofing nailer uses a single 20V Max battery to drive hundreds of nails per charge. We don’t recommend this tool for an entire roof, but it may be a great solution for punch lists or repairs—saving you the hassle of a compressor and hose.
Swivel Quick Connector
A small convenience on pneumatic nailers is a swivel air connection which allows easier hose movement. You can quickly and easily add your own 1/4-inch NPT male fittings, but we prefer the flexibility of a swivel adapter.
Some roofing nailers include a shingle guide. This acts as a jig to ensure each shingle is in the right place for nailing. Pros almost never use features like this, but for the weekend warrior it may speed up the work by helping you be more consistent.
Roofing Nailer Maintenance and Final Thoughts
You’re going to need to oil a coil nailer quite often—at least once a day. Refer to the manufacturer’s instructions for proper maintenance.
Now that you know what to look for in a Pro roofing nailer, check out a couple of our most recent reviews and our tips on how to use a roofing nailer like a Pro!
We hope this guide has helped you know what to look for in a Pro roofing nailer. If you’re a Pro and you have tips about choosing a roofing nailer, add them in the comments below—or hit us up on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter!