Most nailers, from the smallest brad nailer to the beefiest framing nail gun, require a constant source of air at 70 to 120 PSI (pounds per square inch) to operate. A compressor that cannot produce this level of air pressure is inadequate for driving a pneumatic nail gun. Underpowered nailers will jam or fail to penetrate the wood or not fire at all.
While a compressor may be able to deliver a single burst of air in the required pressure range, the delivery of a volume of air at pressure is more important to the proper operation of the nailer. The volume of air that the compressor can deliver is measured in Standard Cubic Feet per Minute (SCFM). Larger compressors with bigger tanks will deliver more air to your tools at a consistent volume. If the volume is inadequate, the compressor pump will have to run and recharge the tank, making you wait to fire the next fastener.
Matching the Nail Gun to an Air Source
The air requirements of a nail gun can be perfectly matched to a compressor and still produce unsatisfactory results. Nail guns are asked to operate differently when performing specific jobs. A brad or finish nailer may be asked to fire a handful of fasteners and then be set aside while the next steps of the job are performed. This gives a smaller compressor plenty of down time to recharge when its pressure begins to drop. A framing carpenter, on the other hand, needs to be able to fire dozens of heavy nails in rapid succession. If he is constantly waiting for a compressor to recharge, his productivity will diminish quickly. Match the pressure and volume of delivery to the job you are going to ask the nail gun to perform.