Nail Gun vs. Hammer: Which One to Use?

Nail Gun vs. Hammer: Which One to Use?

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If you are planning to start building things made of wood, you will most likely need some sort of tool to drive those nails. The two choices at your disposal are the hammer and the nail gun.

Yes, you are definitely familiar with both of these, but what are the major differences between them, and which is better for you?

Nail Guns and Hammers: The Basics

Before we get into talking about the differences between nail guns and hammers, let’s first figure out what exactly each of them is.

What Is a Nail Gun?

Nail Gun Nail guns are power tools designed to drive nails into wood at fast rates. Nail guns come in various types and sizes, but they all use power. In terms of the power source, nail guns can be electric (either corded or cordless), pneumatic, or fuel-powered (such as butane).

In terms of firing the nail, pneumatic varieties use air, some use magnetic firing systems, and many use simple springs. Nail guns can be quite large and heavy, but of course, the ability to drive nails with the pull of a trigger is a pretty big benefit.

What Is a Hammer?

Hammer A hammer is a manually powered tool that uses nothing but your own biceps to drive nails into wood. Hammers feature handles that are about a foot in length, with a two-sided head.

A normal claw hammer, the one that you are most likely accustomed to, has a striking head on one side designed to drive nails, and the other side has a claw designed to remove nails (and for prying).

That said, there are many types of hammers out there, and yes, they have been around for as long as nails have. After all, people needed a way to drive nails into wood before the advent of electricity and technology.

Nail Gun vs. Hammer: What Are the Differences?

Ok, so now that we know what hammers and nail guns are, let’s try to figure out which is best for you by comparing the major differences between them.


In terms of variety, there are quite a few more hammers out there than nail guns. Accounting for all of the basic hammers, mallets, and specialty hammers, you can find well over 40 types of hammers.

On the other hand, you can find just over ten types of nail guns. In other words, you will find more hammers for very specific jobs than nail guns, although most nail guns can be used for a variety of jobs.

Size, Weight, Ease of Use, and Portability

Hammers are very simple tools indeed, and moreover, they’re also relatively small and lightweight. Ok, so a hammer does still have some weight to it, but nothing like a full-size nail gun, not to mention that a hammer is much less chunky too.

Nail guns are just much bigger and heavier. Yes, this is because they have moving parts and plenty of speed, but they aren’t small or light. If we are talking about portability and ease of use in terms of weight and fatigue, a hammer might provide you with an advantage, at least in the short run. When having to drive dozens of nails at a time, though, a nail gun is indispensable.

Using a Hammer to Strike a Nail

Speed and Force

The downfall of the simplistic hammer is of course that you are limited to manual labor, with how fast you can work depending on your own speed, accuracy, and manual dexterity. It can take a good five seconds to hammer in a nail.

On the other hand, an automatic nail gun with a power source allows you to drive nails in a fraction of a second with the pull of a trigger. Nail guns allow for great speed, which is why many professionals use them.

On a side note, a good nail gun produces much more force than your arm and a hammer ever could, something else that makes life a bit easier. You have to hit a nail a few times to drive it all the way in, whereas a nail gun drives it in all the way every time.

One or Two-Handed Use

Another downfall of the normal hammer is the fact that you need both hands to use it. You need to hold the nail in place with one hand and then strike it with the other.

Nail guns on the other hand allow for one-handed use. Hold the gun with one hand, point, and shoot. This leaves your other hand free for other tasks, maybe for holding the wood in the right place as you nail it down. Nail guns are definitely more convenient in this sense.

Need for Power

One disadvantage of nail guns is, naturally, that they need a power source. This could be a type of fuel, electricity, a battery, or an air compressor, but the fact of the matter is that nail guns are limited by your access to a fuel source.

For instance, a fuel or pneumatic nail gun always needs to be hooked up to the fuel source, whether gas or air, and battery-powered nail guns suffer from the fact that they quickly run out of batteries. With hammers on the other hand, as long as you can swing your arm, you can keep nailing until the end of time.

Using a Pneumatic Brad Nailer


Hammers are of course very dependable too. It’s nearly impossible to break a hammer with a quality metal hammer. As long as your arms work, the hammer works, and that’s what we call dependability.

Nail guns on the other hand, due to the fact that they have many moving parts, can break down. They are not as dependable. That said, this should not be an issue if you get a quality nail gun.

Depth Control

A big advantage that you get with hammers is that they allow you to control how deep that nail goes into the wood, which is important in some cases.

Nail guns on the other hand just fire the nail into the wood in one shot. There is no real control over nail depth with nail guns.


The other difference has to do with cost.

You can find a good hammer for around $20, whereas a decent nail gun will cost you ten times as much if not more.

Which of the Two Should You Use?

When it comes down to it, the number one deciding factor here is what you need the tool for, or in other words, how big the job at hand is.

If you are just building one or two things, then a hammer will do fine. However, if you have big and/or consecutive jobs, such as if you are a roofer or some other type of building professional, then you probably want a nail gun.

If you have plenty of time to spare and you don’t mind using your arms, then a hammer is fine. However, if what you need is speed, then there is no rivaling the nail gun.


The bottom line is that both of these tools are very useful in their own rights.

Yes, both have the same purpose, but one is best for smaller and short-term work, whereas the other is ideal for constant use and speed.