The following is the first of a two-part series, which will focus on the development and use of the nail gun in the residential construction industry. The second part will focus on litigation against nail gun manufacturers, for the serious injuries and deaths it has caused over the last 30 years.
On a present day construction site, the use of power hand tools have enabled workers to greatly increase productivity by reducing physical stress on muscles and joints caused by repetitive hammering and sawing. In the home building business, the “nail gun,” has largely replaced the handheld hammer, in stud work, roofing and decking. Starting in the 1950’s, the Bostitch Company (then a division of Textron Industrial) took a small German made, handheld, pneumatic stapler used by furniture manufacturers to fasten small brass buttons decorations on sofas and chairs, and redesigned it to shoot nails into studs in framing work.
A nail gun, using 100 psi of compressed air, can drive a three inch long nail through two 2x4s in a fraction of a second. Bostitch, intentionally designed its pneumatic nailer to look like and work like a machine gun by adding a device called a “contact trip” at the end of the barrel.
In the 60’s, Bostitch introduced its most powerful model nailer, the N16. Its intent was to associate the N16 nailer with the M16 semi-automatic rifle used in the military. The N16 nailer, as designed was intended to shoot one, three inch nail into a stud when framing. However, the addition of the contact trip allowed multiple nails to be continuously fired when the trip mechanism remained in contact with the wood.
Not only is shooting multiple three inch long nails unnecessary when framing out studs, it is also extremely dangerous. Most carpenters think it’s necessary to pull the trigger to discharge another nail, but the contact trip allows continuous firing. Unintended actuation of the contact trip creates a cluster of nails, until a nail ricochets back toward the operator, striking him or a co-worker.
In 1973, in an attempt to eliminate this hazard, a Bostitch design engineer designed and patented the “sequential trip” work actuating mechanism. The sequential trip was designed specifically to replace the contact trip, and eliminate, completely, the discharge of multiple unexpected nails. The addition of the sequential trip caused Bostitch to lose its entire market share of the sale of Bostitch nails. As a result, their sales director banned the use of the sequential trip within six months, and its sale of nails greatly increased.
The real reason, nail gun manufacturers use the contact trip is because they make their real money selling nails. Nail guns, like handheld hammers, never wear out. Guns can last 20 years.
It is a little known fact that, all nail gun manufacturers in the United States belong to a trade organization named “ISANTA,” the International Staple and Nail Trade Association. The nail gun is the vehicle through which profits are generated.