Pneumatic and electrical tools are similar except for the method of actuation. Pneumatic tools are driven by gas, usually compressed air supplied by a gas canister or compressor. The amount of pneumatic, or air, pressure required to operate the tool depends on the size of the tool and the type of operation you are performing. Check the manufacturer’s manual for the proper air pressure to operate the tool.

Pneumatic tools can also run on compressed carbon dioxide (CO2) stored in small canisters, which allows for greater portability. Pneumatic tools are generally cheaper and safer to run and maintain than the equivalent electric power tool. Pneumatic tools have a higher power-to-weight ratio, allowing a smaller, lighter tool to accomplish the same task.

In this unit, you will learn about different types of pneumatic tools and their uses. You will also learn how to select the right pneumatic tool for the job, use various types of pneumatic tools, and provide the proper care of the pneumatic tools to keep them in good working condition.

When you have completed this unit, you will be able to do the following:

Major sections of this unit



Types and Uses

 There is a wide variety of power nailers and staplers available. A heavy-duty nailer, shown in Figure 1, is used for framing or sheathing work. Coil-fed nailers (Figure 2) are used in roofing. Finish nailers (Figure 3) are used for paneling or trimming. 

Figure 1 — Framing nailer.

Figure 2 — Coil-fed nailer.

There is also a wide variety of staplers (Figures 12-3 and 12-4) that you can use for jobs such as fastening sheeting, decking, roofing, or trimming.

Figure 3 — Narrow stapler.

Figure 4 — Wide stapler.

Using Power Nailers and Staplers

  • Keep the tool pointed away from yourself and others. Never load fasteners with the contact trip or trigger activated. Serious personal injury may result.
  • Wear eye protection when working where flying particles may cause eye injury.
  • Always disconnect the tool from the air supply before making any adjustments or attempting any repairs to the tool.

The following steps describe how to use a power nailer and stapler properly:

  1. Check for smooth and proper operation of the contact trip and pusher assemblies. Do not use the tool if either assembly is not functioning properly. NEVER use a tool that has the contact trip restrained in the UP position.
  2. Check the air supply. Ensure that the air pressure does not exceed the recommended operating limits.
  3. Connect the air hose.
  4. Check for audible leaks around valves and gaskets. Never use a tool that leaks or has damaged parts.
  5. Push the magazine release and slide the magazine to the open chamber.
  6. Position the nailer on a stable surface so the contact trip is pointing away from you.
  7. Insert the fasteners into the chamber as shown in (Figure 5).
  8. Slide the magazine until it clicks, securing the magazine.
  9. Depress the contact trip firmly against the work surface as shown in (Figure 6).
  10. Pull the trigger.

Figure 5 — Insert the fasteners.

Figure 6 — Press the nailer against the work surface.

Care of Power Nailers and Staplers

Observe the following safety tips when operating nailers and staplers:


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The needle gun scaler (Figure 7) is used to remove rust, scale, and old paint from steel surfaces aboard ship. You must be careful when using the needle gun because it will “chew up” anything in its path. The needle gun scaler does the job with an assembly of needles impacting the surface hundreds of times a minute. The main advantage of this scaler is that it can clean out irregular surfaces. The needles self-adjust to the contour of various surfaces, as illustrated in Figure 8. Do not use the needle gun scaler on light-metal surfaces because it will pit the surface with its impacting needles.


Figure 7 —  Needle gun scaler.

Figure 8 — Needle gun operations.

Care of Needle Gun Scalers

Observe the following safety tips when operating needle gun scalers:


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Types and Uses

Pneumatic Drills

Pneumatic drills (Figure 9) have generally replaced hand tools for drilling holes because they are faster and more accurate. With variable speed controls and special clutch drive chucks, they can also be used as electric screwdrivers. More specialized power-driven screwdrivers are also available, which have greatly increased the efficiency of many fastening operations in construction work.

Figure 9 — Pneumatic drill.

Pneumatic Impact Wrench

The pneumatic impact wrench (Figure 10) consists of a pistol-grip handle on a housing, which contains a motor that energizes the driving anvil inside the muzzle of the housing. Attachments are fastened to the driving anvil by snapping them onto the socket retainer. The pneumatic impact wrench with its accompanying equipment is primarily intended for applying and removing nuts, bolts, and screws. It may also be used to drive and remove socket head or self-tapping screws.

Figure 10 — Pneumatic impact wrench.

Using Pneumatic Drills


Wear eye protection when working where flying particles may cause eye injury.



A firm grip is required to turn the chuck key in either direction.

The following steps describe how to use a power drill properly:

  1. Select the proper bit required for the task.
  2. Fit the chuck key (Figure 11) into the side adjusting hole between the jaws and the chuck and turn the key counterclockwise until the chuck opens enough to admit the bit shank.

Figure 11 — Drill chuck and key

  1. Insert the bit in to the chuck jaws and tighten securely by turning the chuck key clockwise. Remove the chuck key and store where the key will not get lost.
  2. Before drilling, ensure the work is stationary or firmly secured.
  3. Use a center punch or awl to make a small prick point in the spot where the hole will be made (The prick point will prevent the drill bit from bouncing or slipping away from the spot where the hole is to be drilled).
  4. Connect the air hose.
  5. Place the drill bit on the marked spot and depress the trigger switch. Begin drilling (Figure  12), exerting firm but even pressure to keep the bit cutting. Withdraw the bit frequently from the work to clean the chips from the bit flutes and to allow the bit to cool.

Figure 12 — Position the drill.

  1. Ease up on the drill pressure as the bit approaches the other side of the work surface.

After completing the hole, carefully withdraw the rotating drill bit to prevent binding or breaking and release the trigger switch.

Care of Drills

Observe the following safety tips when operating drills:


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Types and Uses

Orbital Sander

The orbital sander (Figure 13) is designed for medium-duty applications, such as sanding, polishing, and finishing on a variety of surfaces, including woods, metals, and fiberglass. The orbital sander has a built-in regulator for speed control during operation.

Figure 13 — Orbital sander.

Dual-action Sander

The dual-action sander (Figure 14) is designed for use in industrial, woodworking, and automotive applications. The dual-action sander provides a swirl-free sanded surface and is ideal for edging, metal preparation, and finish work on body filler.

Figure 14 — Dual-action sander.

Inline Sander

The inline sander (Figure 15) is designed for smoothing down body filler or shaping and levelling large flat surfaces. Using Pneumatic Sanders

Figure 15 — Inline sander.

The following steps describe how to use a pneumatic sander properly:

  1. Select the proper attachment and secure it to the spindle, as shown in Figure 16.

Figure 16 — Select the proper attachment.

  1. Attach the sanding paper to the sanding pad.
  2. Make sure the work surface is secured to prevent movement.
  3. Pour three to five drops of air tool oil into the air inlet. Then connect the air hose.
  4. Depress the switch on the sander so that the attachment is turning before placing it on the work surface.
  5. Begin moving the sander back and forth in wide, overlapping areas, as illustrated in Figure  17.

Figure 17 — Use a sweeping motion.

  1. Brush or clean the sanding dirt from the work surface frequently.
  2. When finished, lift the sander from the work surface before turning off the switch.

Start the work with an abrasive grit, just coarse enough to remove the high spots and roughness. Use finer grits of sandpaper until the desired finish is obtained. Never go from a coarse grit to a fine grit in one step; swirl marks made by coarse abrasives may be difficult to remove.

Care of Pneumatic Sanders

Observe the following safety tips when operating pneumatic sanders:


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Types and Uses

Straight Grinders

A grinder is a rotary drive tool with an output spindle designed to carry an abrasive device. Two common designs are available: straight and angle. The straight grinder (Figure 18) has a handle in line with the motor and spindle. The angle grinder (Figure 19) has a handle or handles set at right angles to the motor and spindle axis, which are in line. The angle grinder’s output shaft is usually driven by bevel gears, so the output spindle is at an angle to the motor axis. Die Grinders A die grinder (Figure 20) is a rotary drive tool that uses collets for mounting an abrasive device. An angle die grinder’s output shaft is driven by bevel gears, so the output spindle is at an angle to the motor axis.

Figure 18 — Straight grinder.

Figure 19 — Angle grinder

Figure 20 — Die grinder.

Care of Grinders

Observe the following safety tips when operating grinders:


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Review Questions

1. What pneumatic tool is used for framing or sheathing work?

A. Heavy-duty nailer
B. Impact wrench
C. Needle gun scaler
D. Portable drill

2. A pneumatic stapler can be used to fasten sheeting, to fasten decking, and what other type of job?

A. To fasten edging
B. To fasten roofing
C. To smooth body filler
D. To smooth swirl marks

3. Before making adjustments on a power nailer, what action should you take?

A. Connect the air supply
B. Dust the work area
C. Load the magazine
D. Disconnect the air supply

4. What pneumatic tool will remove rust, scale, and old paint from steel surfaces aboard ship?

A. Heavy-duty nailer
B. Impact wrench
C. Needle gun scaler
D. Portable drill

5. Which of the following characteristics is a main advantage of a needle gun scaler?

A. Used on light-metal surfaces
B. Uses clean and dry or dirty and wet air
C. Cleans out irregular surfaces
D. Creates minimal dust 1

6. You should NEVER allow an air tool to operate at what throttle position without a work load on the tool?

A. One-quarter
B. One-half
C. Three-quarters
D. Full

7. What type of pneumatic tool has replaced hand tools for making holes?

A. Needle gun scaler
B. Pneumatic drills
C. Pneumatic impact wrench
D. Portable grinder

8. Before drilling, what tool is required to tighten the chuck jaws?

A. Alignment punch
B. Chuck key
C. Flexible screwdriver
D. Spanner wrench

9. When using pneumatic drills, what personal protective equipment should you wear?

A. Gloves
B. Safety harness
C. Steel toe sandals
D. Welding goggles

10.What type of sander will smooth down body filler or shape and level large, flat surfaces?

A. Dual-action
B. Inline
C. Miniature
D. Orbital

11.Before using a pneumatic sander, what minimum number of drops of oil should you pour in the air inlet of the tool?

A. One
B. Two
C. Three
D. Four

12. How much pressure is required for using a pneumatic sander?

A. Heavy
B. Intermediate
C. Intermittent
D. Light

13.What pneumatic tool uses collets for mounting an abrasive disc?

A. Die grinder
B. Straight grinder
C. Impact wrench
D. Inline sander


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Answers to Exercises

1. A
2. B
3. D
4. C
5. C
6. D
7. B
8. B
9. A
10. B
11. C
12. D
13. A


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Copyright © David L. Heiserman
All Rights Reserved