Types of Pneumatic Tools

Just as Paul Bunyan's axe gave way to the chain saw, many do-it-yourselfers are replacing their hand tools and even electric tools with pneumatic tools. The compressed air that drives pneumatic force can pack quite a punch, whether it's for nailing, pounding or cutting. Once you're familiar with the types of pneumatic tools available, you can decide whether or not investing in a set is right for you.

Nail Guns

Carpenters use nail guns to frame walls.

Pneumatic nail guns shoot framing nails for building walls, roofing nails for fastening shingles, finish nails for fine woodworking and cabinetry and a whole host of other nails for everything from building concrete forms to attaching sheathing.  Nails arrive in strips, are loaded into nail guns and fired with each pull of a trigger.

Screw Guns

Pneumatic screw guns relieve their operator of the work of grabbing and holding each screw before fastening.  These tools accept a strip of general purpose or roofing screws and individually feed screws to a tip where they're loaded onto a bit and fastened--all by the pull of a trigger.

Paint Sprayer

The pneumatic paint sprayer combines paint and compressed air to spray and quickly coat large areas with paint.  Paint is loaded into a special chamber and the depression of a trigger causes air to shoot the paint from the end of a pistol-like gun. The tips of these guns, called nozzles, can be changed and adjusted to manipulate the shape or rate of the paint spray. 

Pounding Tools

Pneumatic pounding tools chip and pound away at hard surfaces, such as stone and concrete.  This tool typically looks like a pistol with a chisel attached to its end. Depression of a trigger allows pneumatic force to cause the chisel to ram back and forth.  Large versions of these tools may be used for demolition, digging or trenching.


Imagine an electric power drill attached to an air compressor hose and you've got a pneumatic drill tool.  These tools typically resemble the electric, pistol-grip drill, but use compressed air to create rotary motion instead of an electric motor. These tools can be used for both fastening and boring, depending upon their attachment, called a bit. 


Like the drill, the pneumatic grinder employs rotary force, except in this case the force spins a disc.  This tool is typically held with two hands and, depending on the type of spinning disc or brush attached to its end, it can be used to cut materials, grind materials or even polish materials.


The pneumatic sander creates the reciprocating motion required to run abrasive paper across surfaces.  Like an electric power sander, this tool features a flat bottom to which sandpaper is attached and a top-mounted handle. These tools aren't trigger operated, rather they're switched either on or off. 


Whether at the auto mechanic's shop or watching NASCAR, you've probably heard the high-pitched ratcheting of a pneumatic socket wrench.  Auto workers use pneumatic, rotary force to spin sockets and other fastening tools, most often through a pistol-like, trigger-operated tool. Many pneumatic wrenches feature torque adjustment for precise auto building and repair applications. 

About the Author

Based in Hawaii, Shane Grey began writing professionally in 2004. He draws on his construction experience to write instructional home and garden articles. In addition to freelance work, Grey has held a position as an in-house copywriter for an online retailer. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in theater arts from Humboldt State University.