Best Powder Actuated Tools

Updated April 2019
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
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How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

23 Models Considered
8 Hours Researched
1 Experts Interviewed
501 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.

Shopping guide for best powder actuated tools

Last Updated April 2019

 At first, some tasks, such as fastening wood to concrete, seem impossible. But when you start to consider the challenge, you realize not only is it possible, but you have options. The best way to fasten wood (and other materials) to a solid surface like concrete is to use a powder actuated tool.

A powder actuated tool works in a similar fashion to a firearm. A small charge launches a piston, which sinks a pin (fastener) into the concrete or steel at a depth that produces the greatest hold. In order to find the best powder actuated tool for you, you’ll need to understand how the tool works and which features will allow you to most efficiently accomplish your tasks.

If the world of powder actuated tools is new to you, our guide highlights what to look for when shopping and outlines the safety concerns that are associated with this tool.

The material you are fastening should never look damaged after using a powder actuated tool. If it does, you are overdriving the pin.

Key considerations

There are a few different types of powder actuated tools to choose from: manual, semi-automatic, and fully automatic.

Manual powder actuated tools

These powder actuated tools look like large spikes. You load the pin and the charge, hold the tool perpendicular to the surface, and strike the top end with a hammer. You don’t need to use a great deal of force because the charge does the driving for you. Manual powder actuated tools are lightweight and easily portable, but you will need a little room to swing the hammer, and you will likely have to cycle the piston and manually load each pin after every firing.

Semi-automatic powder actuated tools

Most often, a semi-automatic powder actuated tool will resemble a gun with a trigger – although there are a few models that resemble manual tools. Rather than firing with a hammer strike, semi-automatic tools use a trigger to fire a strip of cartridges, but the pins must still be loaded one at a time. For the average homeowner or DIYer, this is the best and most versatile option if it falls within your budget.

Fully automatic powder actuated tools

A fully automatic powder actuated tool allows you to preload a magazine with pins as well as load a strip of charges. All you have to do is press the gun against the surface at a 90-degree angle and squeeze the trigger. This design allows you to work efficiently, but the price may be prohibitive if you will only need to use the tool occasionally.

A high-powered powder actuated tool

Simpson’s Single Shot Power Hammer is a semi-automatic powder actuated tool designed for continuous use. It is a durable unit that comes with a carrying case along with a variety of accessories, such as safety glasses, cleaning tools, and caution signage. The ergonomic two-handed grip makes the gun easy to control whether you are working on the floor or a wall.

Features


Caliber

In general, a .22-caliber powder actuated tool is a better option than a .27-caliber tool, which is used for only the toughest jobs. However, it’s best to check the manufacturer’s guidelines to be sure of the right caliber for your particular situation.

Power dial

A power dial allows you to adjust the driving force of the charge to accommodate the density of the surface.

Silencer/suppressor

Some of the higher-end powder actuated tools have a silencer/suppressor to drastically decrease the volume level of the shot.

Ergonomic grip

You will want a grip that is not only comfortable but padded to help reduce the jolt of the tool’s recoil. Alternatively, some powder actuated tools have technology built in to help reduce recoil.

Safety

You should not be able to purchase a semi-automatic or fully automatic powder actuated tool that does not have a two-step firing sequence. For the shot to be fired, the tool must be pressed against a firm surface to disengage the safety. Then, and only then, will squeezing the trigger allow you to fire the charge.

DID YOU KNOW?

If the end of your pin is sticking up, it has been underdriven. Never try to redrive a pin.

A note on velocity

It is vital to select the proper velocity when using a powder actuated tool. Charge cartridges used in powder actuated tools are color-coded by strength. Most homeowners use brown, green, or yellow cartridges. If the pin isn’t flush with the surface after firing, you will need a higher velocity charge; if the pin is deeply embedded, you will want to back off on power.

Low velocity

The lowest velocity cartridges are gray and brown. These are only appropriate for lower-strength concrete and masonry.

Medium velocity

In most situations, you will probably use a green or yellow cartridge. These are typically the best cartridges for concrete slabs.

High velocity

Red and purple cartridges are for the toughest materials. In general, they should only be used when fastening materials to steel.

EXPERT TIP

It is possible to increase the holding power by applying adhesives on sill plates and wall framing before embedding pins with a powder actuated tool.


Staff  | BestReviews

Powder actuated tool prices

If you are just looking for a quick solution to a small weekend project, you can find an entry-level powder actuated tool for between $20 and $80. In this price range, the tools are manually operated, meaning you trigger the cartridge by tapping the top of the tool with a hammer.

If you plan on driving pins more than occasionally, you will probably want to consider a semi-automatic powder actuated tool. These tools look and work like a gun – you press them against the surface to release the safety and pull the trigger. This type of tool will cost between $150 and $300.

If you are looking for a pro-level powder actuated tool, you can plan on spending around $1,000 and up. At this level, the guns are fully automatic, featuring a magazine that holds a strip of pins to increase workflow. Many also have a dial to fine tune the power so you can achieve the perfect sink.

Before low-velocity tools were available, high-velocity powder actuated tools fired pins at speeds that exceeded 1,000 feet per second, which is nearly 700 mph – the projectile speed of some rifles.

Tips

● Always check with local building officials to be certain that there are no restrictions on powder actuated tools or construction techniques.
● Perform a center punch test before using your powder actuated tool. This is accomplished by striking a drive pin into the concrete. If it penetrates easily, the concrete is too soft. If the concrete cracks, it is too brittle. The perfect concrete will produce a well-defined dimple with no cracking or penetration.
● Load pins before cartridges – you never want to load pins into a live tool.
● Only drive pins at a 90-degree angle.
● Whenever possible, operate your powder actuated tool with two hands.
● Powder actuated tools recoil after firing. To avoid injury, do not lock your elbows while using.
● After performing a center punch test, fire a test pin or two to be certain you won’t overdrive or underdrive your pins.
● When working with concrete blocking, only embed the pin in mortar joints or you will crack the block.
● Powder actuated tools can only be used if the concrete is at least three times as thick as the pin’s intended penetration. The penetration depth should be between one inch and 1 1/4 inches.
 

An affordable powerhouse

This .22 caliber powder actuated tool can be used on masonry, concrete, or steel. The sleek, semi-automatic design makes this powerful tool extremely versatile and portable. The oversized padded palm grip helps absorb the recoil so you can work longer with little to no discomfort. The tool is powerful enough to drive pins up to three inches in length.

Other products we considered

There were two more powder actuated tools that caught our eye when we were searching for the best. On the low end of the price scale, the ITW Ramset HammerShot Low Velocity Powder Actuated Tool is a .22-caliber option. It is a lightweight manual tool that’s more than sufficient for smaller home projects. If you prefer a semi-automatic tool, the ITW .27 Caliber Fastener Tool is a powerful .27-caliber powder actuated tool that features power adjustment, which allows you to fine tune the overall driving force of the tool. It is a durable option capable of handling your toughest fastening needs.

Some people call powder actuated tools Hilti guns or Ramset guns, which are brand names for these tools.

FAQ

Q. What is overdriving?
A. Overdriving happens when you use too much power to drive a pin or the pin is too short for the materials. It is easy to identify this problem because the head of the pin penetrates the surface of your wood. Often the piston may also protrude from your powder actuated tool. You can use a rubber mallet to tap the piston back in place, but it must be inspected before you use the powder actuated tool again. It is possible to damage the tool by overdriving.

Q. What type of safety equipment do I need?
A. At the very least, you need safety glasses with side shields or safety goggles and hearing protection. It is a good idea to also have a hard hat, and some people prefer to wear gloves to protect their hands from the recoil. If you are using a powder actuated tool with others around, make sure they keep a safe distance from the work area. Additionally, it is important to make sure no one is on the other side of a wall when framing.

Q. What is clamping?
A. Clamping is what happens to your materials when you properly use a powder actuated tool. The pin is firm against the wood, and the wood is firm against the concrete – all the materials are clamped together. If there is space between the pin and the wood or the wood and the concrete, either the pin is too long, or you are not using a powerful enough cartridge or setting.

The team that worked on this review
  • Allen
    Allen
    Writer
  • Eliza
    Eliza
    Production Manager
  • Enid
    Enid
    Editor
  • Katherine
    Katherine
    Editor
  • Melinda
    Melinda
    Web Producer
  • Taji
    Taji
    Writer

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