NailGunThis house is the second historic home where I’ve installed salvaged vintage fir flooring. The first time I did it, and also when I first started working on the upstairs for this house, I borrowed a pneumatic flooring nail gun from my friend Giang. And oh my goodness, that nail gun was like butter. Giang is one of those friends who’s great to know because when he buys a product, he does tons of research. So if I decide to buy the same product, I’ll just choose the brand Giang did, knowing I can trust his choice! 🙂

Since we have quite a bit of flooring left to do, and may also employ a flooring nail gun in the barn loft, we decided to buy our very own gun. It seems justified over renting or continuing to borrow Giang’s gun, knowing that we can re-sell it when we’re done and recover a portion of our investment.

So, we got it: the PortaNails Inc. Hammerhead II.

It’s a $500 gun, the most expensive one on the market, as far as I found. It’s pneumatic, of course, and quick-loads nails from the back with no need to detach the air or remove any parts. It has a quick-change face nail shoe, so you can conveniently switch back and forth between face and angle nailing (which happens often, since you have to face nail the first, and last five courses of boards in each room, and any that go around obstacles). It comes in its own fancy plastic case, where everything fits just perfectly. It drives special saw tooth nails, which are nigh impossible to back out if you ever do mis-nail a board- they really grab!

The two times I borrowed Giang’s gun, it behaved flawlessly, and that was while using a rather cheap and modest-sized air compressor. So imagine our disappointment when our new gun’s ram piece starting sticking in the “down” position within a few rows of installed flooring. I tried everything the manual suggested, and still, each time I’d reset the ram, the gun would drive one nail, and then the ram wouldn’t retract.

I poked around on the web, and belatedly found a few reviews from customers who cited this problem too, and concluded the gun was a piece of junk. But this can’t be, I thought, it’s the most expensive one on the market! So, I figured I’d give the manufacturer a chance to back up their price and product. I called their 800 number, and was connected to a service technician named Randy.

He gave me some things to try: dry-firing the gun for 20-30 times to try to get the interior lube warmed up. Didn’t work. We discussed the size of our air compressor, which is smaller than the gun’s instructions say you need. But since Giang’s gun always worked fine with our compressor, I questioned this. In the end, we used the excuse to go buy a bigger, fancier air compressor. But this did not solve the problem either!

I took the gun apart, and nothing looked amiss, other than a cast metal component that guides the ram’s path. I thought it wiggled a bit in its casing, like it was sized slightly out of spec, so maybe was creating drag? I re-greased the interior parts in the cylinder, just as described in the manual (this gun takes no oil, only periodic grease). Still, no improvement. So I called Randy back; and he and I took it apart together on the phone a second time and did more experiments. No conclusions.

NailGun So, he sent me a brand new one three-day air. Isn’t that nice? Well, I’d expect it from the most expensive nail gun company on the market, but still, I was happy. I tested this one as soon as I got it, and it behaved as I expected: perfectly through five rows of flooring. Then I didn’t work on the floor for a while. When we started up on it this weekend with the goal of finishing a whole room, things started out well, then this gun started doing the same thing! Oh, dismay!

So, I took this one apart too—I am getting good at it now! It’s actually pretty easy to dismantle, and the manual has clear instructions and a good exploded diagram to help you. The gun also comes with a little kit of all the tools you need to take it apart : five allen wrenches, a large Philips screwdriver and a socket. On this one I noticed the ram, which is kind of a piston ringed with a rubber O-ring, wasn’t sliding very easily in the cylinder. So I cleaned the cylinder of some black gunk, and greased it up a lot (which I think I didn’t do with the first gun, because the manual warns you against over-greasing things). It slid much better after this!

And that did the trick. The gun was perfect all weekend after that. Except for the times when we forgot to re-load it with nails, or realized the air compressor was too low on air because the circuit breaker had blown! 😀 All operator error, of course. I love this nail gun! It’s like butter, I’m telling you!

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