Can You Use a Nail Gun on Plaster Walls? (Which One to Use?)

It is common to find houses more than 40 years old with plastered walls. Adding trim, crown molding, fixtures, and paintings to a plastered wall can become tedious work with a hammer.

That is why many people opt for nail guns instead, but can you use a nail gun on plaster walls, though?

Using a nail gun on plaster walls is a viable option, but consider the plaster surface and backing of the wall, the size of nails, and the type of nail gun. Although using a hammer is undoubtedly better for control, you should be able to use a nail gun on a plaster wall relatively easily.

Considering the vast amount of nail guns available, choosing the right nail gun for the type of plaster surface becomes difficult. We will look at the different wall plaster you might encounter and then pair it with the right nail gun and nails.

Can You Use A Nail Gun On Plaster Walls?

Can You Use Nail Guns On A Plaster Wall?

Professionals, contractors, and carpenters coat the horizontal timber stud frame in a plaster-type finish, making it rigid.

They advise that using a nail gun on the battens is okay but recommend caution because it might crack or loosen this plaster finish and leave an unsightly hole to patch or perhaps jeopardize a significant piece of your wall. 

Utilize the appropriate nail size and hammering power to prevent the plaster from cracking. Nail guns shoot the nails very fast and with such a force that they quickly pierce the concrete or plaster.

The problem comes in when it hits the batten backing. The battens flex when the nail comes in contact with it, and this flex or vibration could cause the plaster to crack and loosen.  

Choose The Right Nail Gun For The Job

Carpenter Holding Nail Gun

There are a variety of nail guns, each used for a different job or function, so picking the right one for plaster walls is crucial. Most homeowners and do-it-yourselfers will probably have a brad nailer or finishing nail gun in their tool closet. 

Different Nail Guns And Their Functions

In this section, we’ll look at some of the most common nail guns and their specific functions:

  • Finish Nail Gun: A Finish nail gun primarily gets used for more oversized or bulky baseboards and crown molding. 15 – 16 – gauge finishing nails are a bit larger than brad nails to give them increased holding strength. 
  • Brad Nail Gun: The brad nailer uses relatively tiny 18-gauge brad nails on smaller baseboards, crown molding, and trim, but these nails lack holding strength.
  • Pin Nail Gun: Pin nail guns are the smallest finishing nailers available. They work with 23-gauge pin nails without heads on trim and fragile objects.
  • Frame Nail Gun: Heavy-duty frame nailers work best for wood siding, fences, home frame construction, and decks.
  • Palm Nail Gun: Palm nail guns are little nail guns that are useful in confined locations. They are primarily used for small tasks and yet small enough to fit in the palm of your hand and.
  • Staple Gun: A staple gun has a variety of purposes, but most common applications include carpentry, carpets, and upholstery.
  • T-Nail Guns: Heavy-duty nailers for concrete and steel jobs. They exert tremendous force, and if the surface is not solid, it will probably crack when using one of these nail guns. 

Do you need a nail gun for the job, or can you get it done using a hammer and nail? If you hang something heavy like a picture or art piece, a nail gun might not be the right choice since these nails lack the strength to hold up heavy pieces. Using a nail gun on plaster for this purpose is too risky, and we would advise against it.

However, when hanging lots of trim, molding, or crown and having a plaster wall, it is understandable that one would want to use a nail gun instead of hammering the whole day. Use a finish nail gun with 15 – 16 – gauge nails but understand that the plaster might crack or loosen.

Using a hammer does not prevent cracking, but having better control over the force and angle can reduce the risk.

Different Types Of Plaster Walls

Does the type of plaster or cement-based plastering on the wall make a difference when using a nail gun? Nail guns will force nails effortlessly through most plaster surfaces. This force is so fast and straight that it does not disturb the plaster surface that much. 

However, these pins do not hold firmly enough in the plaster for heavier pieces. Using longer nails might be needed to get it into the lumber or battens behind the wall. That said, remember that hitting the back lumber may cause flexing or vibrations and the plaster to crack or loosen. 

Different Types Of Finishes On Wall Plaster

Historically walls were covered with cement and sand or even clay. Today, however, various plasters can be used to finish inside walls. Here are a few modern-day plaster finishes: 

  • Asbestos Marble plaster
  • Acoustic plaster
  • Granite Silicone plaster
  • Gypsum plaster
  • Barium Cement plaster
  • Keene’s Cement plaster
  • Scagliola plaster 
  • Martin’s Cement plaster
  • Snow Crete Colourcrete Cement plaster
  • Sirapite plaster 
  • Parian cement plaster
  • Thistle Hardwall plaster

Wooden battens behind the plaster are only about a 1/4 inch thick. That is not much holding strength, but it will be okay for smaller, lighter fixtures. When attaching lightweight fixtures to plaster, use a few more evenly spaced out nails. Anchor larger fittings to the wall by adding small pieces of lumber to the corner studs to create extra holding power.

Conclusion

You can use a nail gun on most types of plaster walls. The force generated by a nail gun is strong enough to pierce most wall surfaces straight, clean, and effortlessly.

There is, however, the risk that the plaster may crack loosen or, at worse, cause a whole section of the wall plaster to fall off. The problem is not the nail gun per se but the structure behind the finish that might be too flexible. 

Fixing heavier items to the wall will be better served using a hammer and nail or even a screw. When fixing smaller or lightweight crowns, moldings, or trim to a plaster wall requires less holding power, and a finishing nail gun with 16 – gauge nails will do a great job.

James Thomas

James Thomas

Tool Enthusiast

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