Nail Gun Vs. Hammer | Which One Should You Choose?

Last Updated on April 7, 2023 by Barry Gray

If I’m honest about things, one of the tasks I hate the most is hammering nails. I find the repetitive nature of it all a bit mundane, and it just gets even worse when I know I have a number of nails to bang into place to complete a project.

That’s why I did invest in a nail gun a few years ago. A nail gun is the perfect solution when you have a number of nails to hammer in, or even if you are worried about damaging plaster. Alternatively, if it’s a single nail, then a hammer would be perfect.

But I realize that this does then open up an interesting question. Which one should you choose if you have both a nail gun and a hammer? Actually, can you use a nail gun for every eventuality, or are there still times when a hammer is your best friend and will come to the rescue?

I love thinking about these types of questions because I know we can fall into the trap of thinking a particular power tool will solve all our problems. Well, that’s not always the case. 

But over the course of the next few minutes, I aim to answer the question of which option you should choose and when. Hopefully, you will then be able to make the correct decision for your project as a result.

Now, I know some individuals will end up owning both. After all, who doesn’t own a hammer? Yet I know there can be times when it may feel like a balancing act as to when a particular tool should be used. Fear not; I will help you out with all of that.

nail gun or hammer which one to choose

The Nail Gun – When is it Used?

So, allow me to run over the times when a nail gun is best to be used. After all, it’s easier to associate when you could use a hammer since it applies to every single time you need to hammer in a nail.

But a nail gun is a bit different. With a nail gun, you can be slightly more careful about how and when to use it in your projects.

In theory, you could use a nail gun for almost anything. However, I find a nail gun works better when carrying out projects such as building a fence, framing, adding trim or boards, and even roofing. Now, I know that does cover an array of projects, but I think it also shows the versatility of the nail gun.

But I need you to be aware of one thing. Different nail guns exist for various reasons and nail sizes. That means a framer nail gun will not be the best option for attaching trim. The nail gauges are too large and would lead to the nails standing out when you really want them to vanish into the material.

All of that means you need to think about when you would use a nail gun, how it would be used, and how it relates to your projects. Honestly, you don’t have the same problems with a hammer. You just have the one hammer that works with all nail sizes and lets you get on with the job in question.

Why Use a Nail Gun? The Advantages

nail gun or hammer

A nail gun brings with it a number of clear advantages. First, there’s the speed aspect. 

Depending on the model of nail gun you own, it is possible for you to be able to fire out several nails a second, and that’s seriously impressive. But even if your nail gun does not offer that speed, it still takes a second for a single nail to be fired into the surface.

But speed is not the only advantage.

You see, a nail gun also offers absolute accuracy. All you need to do is to line up where you want the nail gun to fire, and it’s going to sink the nail right in on that spot. This precision can be key in so many projects, and a nail gun is 100% accurate. Of course, it does need you to know where you want it fired, so if the nail ends up in the wrong spot, it’s not the fault of the nail gun.

But accuracy brings another advantage, and that’s a clean finish. A nail gun fires into one spot. There are no hammer marks in the surrounding area where you didn’t manage to strike the nail as clean as you like leading to scuffs.

Now, that clean appearance is not something that happens every single time. There are moments when a nail gun will leave a mark, but there are methods you can use to get around this particular problem.

But this clean approach also applies to the nail itself. That nail will go in straight and won’t bend under pressure. Again, this offers a more secure hold with the nail, which is another huge advantage.

Another advantage is that you don’t have to hold a nail with one hand and the gun with the other. Also, most nail guns are straightforward to use with just one hand, and that makes a huge difference when it comes to having to handle material and nail it into place.

Overall, I feel a nail gun brings several advantages that make using the tool significantly easier. The positive impact it can have on your project is immense, and if you do plan on carrying out projects where nailing things into place is a common theme, then investing in a nail gun is crucial.

However, I also feel the advantages can be summed up like this:

  • The speed cannot be matched in any other way
  • The accuracy is astonishing when you use a nail gun
  • You will complete your project in less time than you thought possible
  • The nails won’t bend giving greater strength to your project

The Nail Gun – Disadvantages

using a nail gun compared to a hammer

I’m not saying that a nail gun is perfect in every situation. That’s certainly not the case. Also, the disadvantages can vary depending on the type of nail gun you own.

Take the power source as a prime example. You have three options with nail guns ranging from pneumatic to electric and finally battery-powered. 

The disadvantage of a pneumatic nail gun and an electric nail gun is that you need to be attached to other things to operate it. In the case of the pneumatic version, you need an air hose and compressor and have to move that around with you. For the electric, you need to be plugged into the main power supply.

Both of these options can restrict your movement to a certain extent. Using an electric nail gun will not make sense if you intend to work outside regularly.

There’s also an issue with the impact a nail gun can have, which also changes depending on the type. 

A pneumatic nail gun comes with the most significant impact. The pressure really forces the nail into the wood, no matter the type of wood you are using for your project, and it does so without any problems. An electric or battery-powered nail gun still has considerable impact, but it does drop compared to a pneumatic nail gun.

That means you need to think carefully about how you intend to use your nail gun before deciding which one you need to buy.

I should also refer you back to the point I made earlier regarding the different types of nail guns on the market and how they are only used for specific jobs. I do see that as a disadvantage because you could easily find yourself owning a nail gun, but it just cannot fire out the appropriate nail gauges for your needs.

Basically, you could be in a situation where you own a nail gun but have no option but to get a hammer out and get to work.

The Hammer – When to Use it?

hammer or nail gun

But what about the hammer? So far, it sounds like there would be no reason for you to bring out that old hammer and start banging in those nails. However, that’s not the case. For me, there are always times when using hand tools just makes so much sense.

Clearly, if you only have a few nails to hammer in, then I would not go to the length of getting out my nail gun, loading it up, and then firing in those nails. At that point, it just takes too long, and it makes more sense to use a hammer.

Also, you need to remember that nail guns can be a bit on the bulky side. Getting your nail gun into position to do the job you want is not always possible. 

A hammer doesn’t come with those same problems, and that’s where it becomes almost your rescue tool. Also, there’s that repeated point about a nail gun only working with certain types or sizes of nails. 

But the hammer does come with another advantage. You don’t have to worry about a power source. Well, that’s not entirely true because you become the power source in this instance. 

You have no cables to worry about or no air compressors to contend with to get the result you want. Instead, it’s just you and brute force on your part that will then get the job finished. 

A hammer is not only portable but lightweight, and it will do the job you want even if it does take longer than you would like. Also, while it’s lightweight, it does clearly take some effort on your part. If you need to hammer in a number of nails, fatigue becomes an issue in the same way as it can if your nail gun is on the heavy side.

But in general, I feel a hammer does have a number of advantages, which can be summed up in just a few points.

  • You are free to go wherever you want as you aren’t attached to anything
  • It’s lightweight and not as bulky as a nail gun
  • You don’t have the issue of trying to get a hammer into position
  • It works with any size of nail
  • However, you can end up fatigued if you need to hammer a number of nails

A Hammer Advantage You May Not Think About

using a hammer instead of nail gun

Now, clearly, I see a hammer comes with several advantages, including those I mentioned above, focusing on no cords and getting into those tricky areas. However, there’s one other advantage you may not even think about: the depth to which you can sink in a nail.

Yes, I know different nail guns allow you to change the depth, but only within limited means. You may have a model with a wheel that changes between three different settings, but that’s not always enough.

You see, a nail gun is all about firing nails home and nothing else. A hammer allows you to add some finesse that’s missing with the power tool option. Basically, a nail gun works well with a fence as it’s all about sheer power repeatedly and driving a nail home, but not every project is like that.

Let’s say you just want to lightly pin something down to hold a piece of your project in place. You may just want the lightest of holds from a nail until you align something else and check everything is perfect.

A nail gun is not going to give you that option. Instead, a nail gun will fire the nail home and could make the rest of your project a whole lot harder.

That’s the perfect opportunity for the hammer to take over. There, you can lightly tap the nail or pin until it’s just the ideal depth, and then move on to the next part. Then, when you are ready, you can strike it home with the hammer.

I’m sure you can see how that situation would work better with the manual hammer approach as opposed to the nail gun.

The Disadvantages of a Hammer

using a hammer

But look, a hammer does have its own number of disadvantages. 

Of course, the time it takes to hammer in a nail can be problematic. This indeed becomes the case when you have a number of nails to hammer in, as it will eat up precious time for your project. If you have ever tried to build a fence using a hammer and some nails, you will know what I’m talking about.

But that’s not the only disadvantage you should be aware of.

To use a hammer, you need to use both hands. One to hold the hammer and the other to hold the nail. That does then become complicated when you also have to hold a piece of trim or anything else in place before you hammer it home. If you are on your own, then you start to wish you had three hands.

But I can then add in another degree of difficulty. 

Imagine if you are trying to hammer home something and you are on a ladder with nobody to help you. At that point, you are trying to juggle the nails, hammer, board, and also your balance on the ladder. Honestly, it’s not the safest of things to do, and I recommend you avoid those situations.

So, Which One Should You Choose?

using a nail gun

Let me just get down to the critical question here: Which option should you choose? 

Well, there is not one single definite answer to give here. Both tools have their own areas where they are better than the other option. That is why I always suggest you take things on a case-by-case basis. 

However, I admit that I would probably use a nail gun 85% of the time and a hammer for the rest. I know that means I do lean heavily on a nail gun, but it’s for a good reason.

You see, speed is almost everything. I know at times, I can get a bit impatient with projects and want to move on to the next part, so the very idea of standing there for an eternity hammering in nails manually does not appeal. I’d much rather blast in those nails to pin that crown molding on and get onto the next part.

But another vital point is connected to how many hands you need to complete your project. I’ve mentioned this with both the nail gun and hammer, and it’s easy to see why this is important.

When it’s only you working on your project, then a nail gun does make life easier. How on earth can you hold a piece of trim, a nail, and a hammer all at one time? A nail gun removes one of those issues. 

Overall Conclusion

Both a nail gun and a hammer clearly have their own particular times when using one over the other is the best option. I think with any power tool it’s always best to think carefully about what you want to achieve and whether there are any issues to contend with in the process. Only then will you really know if the power tool option is the best one to use.

However, before you go ahead and get started on your project, I suggest checking out these additional articles posted here on the site.

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Barry Gray

Hi, I’m Barry. I’ve loved woodworking and bringing things back to life for more years than I care to remember. I hope my passion for tools comes across loud and clear in everything you read here on The Tool Square.

2 thoughts on “Nail Gun Vs. Hammer | Which One Should You Choose?”

  1. But you could use a hammer to bend/break/penetrate/dent materials whereas you can’t use a nail gun for it. That’s the manual multiple tool’s pros. Hahahaaa.

  2. I hand nail everything use to use nail guns but everything is predilled first except sheathing. 3/32 for 8cc 7/64 for 10cc 9/64 for 16cc bont have to worry about nothing splitting nails go where I want them to go


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