Skip to main content

«  View All Posts

Roof Installation

Hand Nailing vs. Air Nailing: Which is Best

January 24th, 2020 | 4 min. read

Hand Nailing vs. Air Nailing: Which is Best

Print/Save as PDF

Nashville is a beautiful city that’s growing exponentially. With that being said, we have all seen the massive amount of new construction that is going up all across the city and all the renovations going on bringing old properties into the new style curve.

Whether you’re building a new house, renovating an older property, or you see the need for a new roof on the horizon, one of the choices you’ll have to make is how you want the shingles your roof installed. After doing some research you will find the age-old battle of hand nailing vs. air nailing (pneumatic nailing).

In this article, you’ll learn from a roofing contractor with 45 years of experience why hand nailing should be the preferred choice. I give you the information you need about why nail placement and applying the right pressure is crucial to the life of your roof. 

While our company has been using the hand nailing method for our entire 30 years in business, I believe the information below is the standard belief about the two. 

The importance of nail placement 

Nail placement is limited to a very small area on the shingle. Placing a nail outside of this area can cause many problems from voiding the manufacturer's warranty to premature roof failure. A person using an air gun can certainly place the nail correctly, but finding a company with a history of high-quality installation with air guns can be hard. 

While anyone can pull the trigger of an air gun, hand nailing is a skill that takes time and a lot of practice to learn. While air gun nailing might seem faster, a well-trained hand nailer can do it almost as fast. The key difference between the two is accuracy.

Hand driving nails into shingles allows for the roofer to place the nail on the proper nail line and then drive the nail in. Ensuring that the nails are properly placed each and every time because the head of the hammer stops flush on top of the shingles. 

Just because a company uses hand nailing doesn’t always necessarily mean quality craftsmanship. Poor craftsmanship of any kind will lead to premature roof failure. You really need to do your research on finding a roofing contractor that has a good installation history. 

Applying the right pressure

Not applying pressure to a nail properly (under-driven) will leave the nails too high which will cause a hump in the shingle above it. Wind can then blow up and under the shingles causing it to lift and potentially blow off, or overtime, it can rub through the top shingle causing a nail "pop" (the nail "pops" through) which in turn will cause a leak.

If too much pressure is applied then nails are considered "over-driven" or "blown through".  They will not hold the shingle because the nails have been blown too deep which will cause the shingles to potentially slide down the roof or blow off because there is nothing holding the shingle down.

When hand nailing, the head of a hammer is much larger and when it hits the nail, it lands flat on the roof's surface. It's very uncommon to have nails that have been over-driven when hand nailing simply because they don't have the pressure from the compressor like the air guns do. 

When installing shingles over the roof's decking, a lot of the nails get driven between the wood, which in turn needs to be removed and replaced to a better location. Hand nailers can feel when this happens and can easily make corrections as they go. Air nailers can’t feel this so they become overlooked and eventually, nails will rise and leaks will happen.

The problem with air nailing pressure

Air pressure is regulated by an air compressor which remains on the ground. The pressure for the air guns must be adjusted often in order to maintain the proper level of pressure suited to the conditions the roofer is working under, such as weather conditions, wood variations, shingle type, etc. And each of these conditions requires different amounts of pressure. 

This means that the roofer must get off the roof to adjust the pressure on the compressor for the different conditions. We have found that most roofers set the compressor way too high to save themselves from having to get up and down off of the roof. The problem with this is that the nails get blown through the shingles bringing problems to a new roof before it’s even finished.  

An air gun crew will nail a shingle on in a split second with little to no care of their nail placements, sacrificing quality for speed. More than 60% of all roof repairs are due to shingles being improperly air nailed on.

Is it possible to install a roof correctly using an air gun? Absolutely! It's just harder to keep the correct pressure all day and to find someone that cares enough to make sure the job is done correctly. Using an air gun, the potential for error is much greater. 

One customer’s story

We recently had a client who had their roof replaced just over two years ago by a local, very reputable roofing company. They were unaware of it at the time, but it had been improperly installed using air guns. 

When the gusts of winds that are typical in Middle Tennessee hit their roof, whole sections of the roof system started sliding off. The sad part about this story is the repair costs had to come out of their own pockets to replace the roof. 

The manufacturer's warranty was void and their roofer's workmanship warranty had ended after one year. 

Ask a roofing contractor what method they use

Now that you have a better understanding of the air gun nailing and hand nailing debate, you’re ready to start the process of hiring a roofing contractor. But did you know which method they use is a question every homeowner should ask?

You're not alone. Asking what nailing method they use is just of these main questions. That's why you need to know the rest of the top questions to ask a roofing contractor.

Luckily, we already thought about this. 

The team at Bill Ragan Roofing has provided high-quality roofing services in Nashville and surrounding areas since 1990. Our high-quality workmanship and customer service speaks for itself. That's why we offer you a lifetime warranty. If you’re local to the the Nashville area, don't hesitate to contact us for all of your roofing needs. 

To learn the main questions every homeowner should ask potential roofing contractors,  check out this article on the Top 8 Questions To Ask A Roofing Contractor.

the complete guide to purchasing a roof

Table Of Contents

Related Articles