Last Updated on April 1, 2023 by Barry Gray
If you have ever worked with plaster walls, you may already have experienced that dreaded cracking when trying to hammer in a nail. I think this is one of the most soul-destroying things to happen when you have wanted to do one job, and then you have this horrible, cracked piece of plaster staring back at you.
But I don’t want you to be sitting there in your house surrounded by plaster walls and suddenly feel scared at the idea of putting anything on your walls. Instead, using a nail gun is quick, easy to do and highly effective. But be aware you need to be careful, or you can crack the plaster.
So, I’m going to try to change your approach, and I intend to do so by looking at what can happen when you swap a hammer for another tool: the nail gun.
So, Can You Use a Nail Gun?
But let me get the answer to this question out of the way first, and you can indeed use a nail gun on plaster walls. In fact, I think this is a better option than using the old way of grabbing that trusty hammer and getting to work.
However, I don’t want you to simply grab your nail gun and start firing those nails into the wall without much thought. That’s still going to potentially lead to some damage if you fail to pay attention to what you are doing, and that would then put you back in the same position as you would with a hammer.
The Problem with Other Methods
But before I delve more into how to get the best results with your nail gun, let me describe why other methods or approaches could prove to be significantly more difficult.
Hammering a nail into plaster walls could quickly turn into a potential headache.
First, there’s the real risk of you striking the wall as you go to hit that nail home. Depending on the age of the plaster, this could quickly turn into your plaster wall cracking and crumbling in parts before your very eyes.
Even a slight tap could lead to problems. But that’s not the only issue in my eyes.
Hammering in nails, especially when you have a number of them, takes time. Nobody wants to waste time doing something such as this if they can avoid it. So, using a hammer will potentially lead to both damage to the wall and some of your own personal frustration.
But even if you decide to screw something into the wall instead of hammering a nail, then you still have the same problem of it taking up valuable time. Why not use the quickest and safest way possible and get a nail gun to do the job for you?
But Don’t Just Use Any Old Nail Gun
So, I’ve hopefully sold you on this idea of using a nail gun, but you cannot simply go out there and use any old nail gun. Instead, it’s crucial that you only use one that has a special tip on the gun aimed at preventing damage to softer surfaces, such as plaster.
The intention of these tips is to help with the force that comes through a nail gun. You can imagine how the blast from the gun’s tip touching the wall could crack the plaster. So, these tips are designed to stop that from happening.
If you try to use a nail gun on plaster walls without these tips, you could cause more damage than a hammer. So, I don’t think it’s worth the stress for you not to then go ahead and ensure your nail gun is up for the job.
Also, just double-check your own nail gun and see that it states it’s suitable for use on plaster. Not every gun on the market has this, and it will only increase the chances of you damaging the wall if you do go ahead and use the incorrect gun.
How to Correctly Use a Nail Gun with Plaster Walls
As you now know, it’s possible to use a nail gun, with some caution thrown in there for good measure; how do you use it correctly to get the best possible end result? Well, I have a few tips and steps that I think you should follow to hopefully smooth the way for a good job that’s well done.
You really have two types of nails to think about here: brad’s nails and finishing nails. Each nail has a specific job, so your choice depends on your project.
Finisher nails come with a larger and thicker head. These nails will primarily be used to attach baseboards, trim, or anything that’s classed as being a thicker material.
Brad’s nails, on the other hand, are smaller in size both in length and the size of the head. That means these nails work better for any jobs involving thinner material, such as adding molding to plaster walls.
Protecting the Wall
It’s extremely important that you protect the wall as much as possible when using a nail gun, or the plaster will potentially crack and crumble. You can do this using a couple of methods, and both should make a difference.
First, ensure you hold the nail gun at 90 degrees to the wall. You need the nail gun to be in a position where it can fire in a straight line. Not only does it mean the nail will go in at a better angle, but it also means the force of the nail gun is evenly hitting the wall.
If you hold at an angle, then some parts will have more force applied than others. You can see how this could result in some potential damage, which we want to avoid.
Another thing you can do is to use a scrap piece of wood as some type of backing board. The aim here is for the piece of wood to absorb some of the energy from the nail gun. Once again, this can stop it from fracturing the plaster.
Personally, I feel the scrap piece of wood as a backing board is the better option. It offers the best protection, but the point about holding the nail gun at 90 degrees still stands.
Setting Up the Nail Gun
You also need to set up the nail gun, and that primarily means checking that you have no debris affecting the action end. Clear away anything that could obstruct the nail from being fired, but do this with an empty gun. You never know what kind of accident may occur.
Debris on the nail gun will result in a misfire, which you do not want to contend with.
But you then have the distance to think of regarding the wall and the nail gun. You may be tempted to hold it tight against the wall, but that’s a bad idea. However, holding it too far away from the wall is also not the correct way of doing things. Keep in mind that this tool is different from a staple gun, and one area that’s different is this point about distance.
The problem with holding a nail gun too close to the wall is that it increases the chances of the nails bending as they are fired into the plaster. If that happens, you have another problem trying to remove the nails, as they are clearly not sitting correctly on the wall.
But holding it too far away also leads to problems. At that point, you increase the chance of the nail being driven in at an angle rather than straight. After that, you are then back in that situation of taking them out and filling in the holes.
Nobody wants that to happen. For me, it’s probably one of the most annoying things to have to deal with, and it’s such a small job.
Checking the Nails After Firing
If you have had the nail gun at the correct distance and angle, then the nail should be sitting flush with your plaster wall. If not, then you can hardly leave it partly sticking out. So, what do you do?
Well, some people say you should try and tap it home with a hammer, but then you bounce back to the potential problem of damaging the plaster. However, you have little in the way of options here, so I would use the softest of taps to get things moving. After all, you are probably talking about such a small distance.
The Advantages of Using a Nail Gun with a Plaster Wall
I’ve shown how it’s possible and advised to use a nail gun with a plaster wall. Yet, perhaps you want to know some of the genuine advantages of using this approach? Well, I have a few for you.
They are a Time-Saver
I mentioned this earlier, but a nail gun really is a time-saver when it comes to larger projects. You can fire a number of nails into a wall in the time it takes you to hammer one nail into a wall. If you know you will be sinking a large number of nails in a project, then a nail gun really is the only way forward.
They are More Precise
Precision is not a problem when using a nail gun. If you aim it correctly before pulling the trigger, that nail gun will sink the nail into that very spot. All you need to do is to measure, pick your spot, and fire.
I do love the level of control a nail gun provides to you. There’s no need to worry about swinging a hammer around and hoping you don’t miss your strike. It’s all about lining it up, tapping that trigger, and the job is done.
You Get a Polished Finish
As long as you have your distance and angle perfected, then a nail gun will ensure you have a polished finish with your project. You just cannot compete against this with a regular hammer. One nail sticks out a bit while another goes in at an angle, and before you know it, your project looks more haphazard as a result.
That just does not happen with a nail gun.
They are Easy to Use
I know a hammer is easy to use, but people mistakenly believe that most power tools bring with them some degree of complexity. Well, a nail gun doesn’t fall into that bracket.
All you need to do is to load up the nails, line up where you will fire the nail, and hit the trigger. It doesn’t come much easier than that, and yet the tool remains highly effective at what it does.
A Recap of the Advantages
- It’s very easy to use a nail gun
- It takes a split second to complete the job
- It makes the finished result look neater
- The nails are inexpensive
- Precision is not a problem
The Disadvantages of Using a Nail Gun
I’m all about being fair in my assessment of things, so I have several things that I see as a disadvantage of using a nail gun.
You Can Still Damage the Wall
If you fire it wrong, then you can still damage the wall. Actually, with the force that’s behind a nail gun, the damage could prove quite substantial. However, that’s why I suggest using the scrap wood method to reduce the chances of that damage. Also, work on your technique before you go ahead and start firing nails into a plaster wall. More experience reduces the chances of anything going wrong.
You Could Over-drive the Nails
This goes back to the issue of getting used to using a nail gun because it’s difficult to judge the depth of the nail from time to time. That can lead to you over-driving the nails into the plaster, and with that, you do increase the chances of breaking the plaster or destroying plasterboard.
But as I’ve said, if you work on your technique and get used to using a nail gun elsewhere, it lowers the risk of this happening.
It’s Tiring Using Them
Some nail guns are heavier than others, so fatigue in your arms can quickly become a problem. However, this is only a disadvantage if you intend to hammer in several nails at once.
Ultimately though, it’s clear that using a nail gun is a fantastic idea, and I would urge any individual to give it a shot rather than the old way, which was to hammer it home manually.
Lastly, I have a few final tips that I hope will make using a nail gun on plaster walls a bit easier for you.
Ensure You Use the Right Nails
This may sound obvious, but it’s incredible how many people use the wrong nails for a project, which only leads to problems. Make sure you have the correct size since this changes the depth of the nails, and also that they are suitable for whatever it is you plan on nailing to the wall.
Make Sure Your Nail Gun is the Right One
Again, I’ve mentioned this earlier, but not every single nail gun can be used with plaster walls. If you are unsure, then contact the manufacturer and ask them directly. It may very well stop you from causing yourself a whole lot of problems when the nail gun throws out all of that power and damages the plaster.
Use the Correct Tip
When checking if your nail gun can be used on plaster walls, check it comes with the correct tip at the same time. The right tip will lower the genuine risk of damaging the wall, and it’s just a simple add-on that you really should not be without.
Basically, the key is to make sure you have the correct equipment, as the power that’s behind a nail gun can prove to be substantial.
If you have plaster walls in your home and need to use nails, I suggest getting a nail gun rather than a hammer. This is not about hammering things in as quickly as possible, but a nail gun does reduce the chances of you potentially damaging the plaster.
Keep in mind that plaster can prove to be fragile, and hitting that nail home with a hammer could prove to be particularly damaging. A nail gun is significantly more accurate, and the nail is forced into the plaster without anything else being damaged.
But before you go ahead and get started on this project, perhaps consider checking out these additional articles.