Many roofers have differing opinions about whether it is better to hand nail or use a roofing nailer to install shingles on your roof. This may make it hard to decide which one is truly best. That begs the question:
Which is better for installing shingles on my roof Hand Nailing vs Nail Gun? Hand Nailing Shingles is better than using a Nail Gun or a Pneumatic Nailer because it allows the roofers to feel the nail placement and ensure optimal installation. However, most manufacturers claim that either method is a viable option.
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Despite manufacturers taking a middle ground stance on which installation method is best. Some roofers maintain the idea that using a Pneumatic Nailer is best. Here are the reasons why they say a roofing nailer is best.
Benefits of Using a Roof Nailer:
Speed is very important to roofers because the faster we can go the more money we will ultimately make and the less we will have to spend on labor costs. In general, a roofing nailer (Amazon) is faster than hand nailing shingles. So if you are trying to get a job done as fast as you can this may be a big factor in your decision making.
No Smashed Fingers:
One downside to hand nailing is hitting your fingers when you set the nail. This especially happens if you are not used to hammering things by hand. This can also happen if the nail slips on metal as you nail down drip edge, flashing’s, or turtleback vents. With a pneumatic nailer, you do not use your fingers to set any nails. Rather you just push the tip down and push the button to place the nail. This keeps your fingers safe from getting smashed by the hammer.
These are some of the reasons why some roofers insist that a roofing nailer is better than hand nailing. But I will argue that despite these benefits, Hand Nailing is better than using a pneumatic nailer.
Why Hand Nailing is Better than a Roof Nailer:
Not Always Faster:
While I will admit that in general, a roofing nailer is faster than hand nailing. It is not always the case. Some experienced roofers can hand nail just as fast if not faster than someone with a roofing nailer.
Also, speed is not the most important thing, I believe a good quality installation is better than a fast installation. Many times with a roofing nailer as the speed goes up, the quality goes down. I will explain more about why this is later on in this article.
While it is common to accidentally hit your finger when hand nailing, especially if you are not as experienced with hand nailing. There are certain techniques you can do to make it less likely to hit your finger.
One method is called the two-hit pound. The two-hit pound is when you softly tap the nail on the first hit. This is just hard enough to set the nail but not so hard that if the nail slips you won’t hurt your hand. Then the second hit is when you pull your hand away and hit the nail hard with your hammer. This method takes some practice but over it makes it less likely for you to hurt your finger and it increases your speed.
With a roofing nailer, you may not smash your finger, but you could accidentally shoot a nail through your finger or into yourself. It is less common but can still happen if the nailer gets jammed and the person is not careful when trying to fix it.
Feeling the Nail:
One of the main benefits of hand nailing is being able to feel the nail as you hit it in. The wood decking underneath the surface may contain spots of rotten wood, holes, or cracks. If you put a nail into one of these spots, it will not be effective in securing the shingle down to the roof. And the shingle will probably be blown off during the next strong wind.
When you hand nail shingles, it allows you to feel for these soft spots and add extra nails when necessary to compensate for the weak spot.
When you hit one of these soft spots with a pneumatic nailer, you will often shoot straight through the shingle. This happens because the roofing nailer is set at a constant pressure to drive the nail into solid wood decking. This is a big problem when you are laying shingles over a roof that was built with slats.
One of the most important parts of installing shingles is ensuring that the nails are properly placed in the nail line. The nail line is the part on the shingle where the top shingle overlaps with the bottom part of the shingle.
This line is the best spot for setting nails because it will hold the shingles in place. Each manufacturer marks the nail line a little bit differently. But the most common way is a chalk line or a painted line that runs across the shingle. As you can see in the example photo.
When using a roofing nailer, it is far too easy to go too fast and miss the nail line. If the shingles are not properly nailed on the nail line then they will not be as strong and may blow off in a storm.
Hand nailing ensures a better quality installation because it is easier to make sure the nails are being set in the proper place.
Hand Nailing is More Convenient:
Another huge benefit to hand nailing is that you don’t need to worry about dealing with an air compressor or hoses. The air compressor is an additional expense and is a pain in the back to lugging around from job to job.
Additionally, the air hoses are annoying to deal with because you can get tangled in them. They also pose a high tripping hazard and could cause someone to fall off the roof.
They do make roof nailers (amazon link) that don’t have air hoses but they are either more expensive and require you to continually buy gas canisters, or they are not as effective for setting shingles.
With hand nailing, you do not need to worry about tripping hazards, tangled air hoses, batteries, gas canisters, or air compressors. It is much more convenient than using a pneumatic nailer.
Roof nailers are more expensive than roofing hammers. With a pneumatic nailer, you need to purchase the power source, which is most often a large air compressor, then the nailer, and the coil of nails. All in addition to a tool belt and backup hammer just in case the nails do go in all the way. This all adds up quickly and can burn a nice hole in your wallet especially if you are just doing your own roof.
Hand nailing on the other hand is much more affordable. All you need is a hammer, tool belt, and nails. The hammer and nails can easily be carried in your tool belt, unlike the roofing nailer.
Roofing hammers are much more durable than roofing nailers. If you ever drop the pneumatic nailer off the roof it will likely break. Then you have to buy another one or pay someone to fix it which can easily cost over $100.
However, if you drop a roofing hammer off the roof it probably will not break. On the rare chance it does, then you are only out about $30.
The final reason why I choose hand nailing over pneumatic nailers is that roofing hammers or hatchets have shingle gauges. This is also the reason why I say its easier to use a roofing hammer over a regular hammer.
Shingle gauges help you measure out or ‘gauge’ the distance between shingles and the height of the shingles. This helps you to easily place the shingles in a straight line and according to manufacture recommendations.
If you do not have the correct shingle placement and spacing, you could void the manufacture warranty.
Best Roofing Hammer:
In my opinion, the best roofing hammers are made by AJC. I really like these hammers because of all the features they have. They are the roofing hatchets that I always use. Here are all the features that like about it.
You can also Click this link to check out my gear guide to see what other types of roofing gear I recommend.
- Affordable Price
- Adjustable Shingle Gauge for both left handed and and right handed roofers.
- Wood handle makes it light weight
- Has a Nail Puller in the head
- Magnetic head for quickly nailing down roofing felt
- Incorporated Utility Blade in the head for easily cutting shingles along the rake edges of the roof.
Is hand nailing shingles better? Hand nailing shingles are better than using a pneumatic nailer. Hand nailing ensures proper nail placement to maximize shingle strength. Additionally, you will not have to worry about the hassle of dealing with air compressors, hoses, and added expenses.
Should roofs be hand nailed? Manufacturers do not specify which method is better. They insist on the most important part of properly installing the shingles according to their specifications. In general, it is more convenient to meet those recommendations by hand nailing shingles to the roof on the proper nail line.
Can you nail into shingles? Yes, you can and should nail shingles on the proper nail line that is designated by the manufacturer. This is indicated by a painted or chalked line that spans across the shingles. Properly placed roofing nails will ensure the shingles do not blow off the roof.
Do you pull the plastic strip off shingles? No, it is not necessary to pull the plastic strip off the shingles. The plastic strip on the top part of the shingle is added during the manufacturing process to guarantee that the shingles do not stick to each other when stacked for packaging.