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Q.In cold weather I always have problems keeping nail guns working, due to frozen air hoses. Is there a solution?

A.Framing contractor Michael Davis responds: I thought I knew a thing or two about working in cold weather until I went to build condominiums on Colorado's Western Slope, with morning temperatures of 6° or 7°F and highs in the 20s. Everything is frozen solid, even the lumber, which is 19% moisture. Cutting a board results in a shower of ice crystals and frozen wood particles, and hitting your finger with a hammer at those temperatures is definitely something you want to avoid.

Keeping air nailers working under those conditions is a challenge, because compressed air contains moisture. But there are things you can do.

I start by tenting the compressor as close to the power supply as possible to avoid blowing breakers and burning up motors. I put an electric heater next to the compressor inside the poly tent, which is held up by a simple wooden framework. Keeping up the temperature of the compressor tank ensures that the air coming out of the tank is warm, so it doesn't condense moisture in the hoses or guns. Draining the moisture from your compressor tank is always important, of course. In warm weather, I do it every afternoon; in cold weather, I do it four times a day. When I put the compressor to bed at night, I keep the heater going and let it warm all night. Starting out in the morning with a warm, dry compressor gives you a big head start.

I also store my nailguns and hoses in a large metal box and keep a heater going in there, as well. I put a piece of wire mesh across the box in front of the heater, so that nothing comes in direct contact with it. I drape an insulated concrete blanket over the box to keep the heat in. In the morning, my hoses are dry and pliable, and the air tools are toasty warm. Nailers always need oil, but in cold weather it's especially important. When I put them in the box at night, I give them a few drops of oil and stand them on end, air connector up. This lets the moisture rise out of the tool as it is heated, and lets the warm oil drain down into the works.

If you go to the trouble of tenting your compressor at the power pole so it blows warm air, you want to ensure that that air is still warm when it hits the tool at the other end of the line. So don't lay the hose in the snow. The ground is frozen, so you can't drive stakes to hold it up. Instead, I fill a bunch of 5-gallon paint buckets with sand and set one every 10 feet or so in a line from the compressor to where I'm working. Then I pull my hose over the buckets and wire it to the handles so that it stays taut. At the building, I nail some loops of banding to the wall and run the hose through them to keep it up out of the snow and out of the way. I do the same with the electric lines. Keep everything up out of the snow and ice. There is nothing worse than freezing your hands off trying to roll up wet, icy cords and hoses at the end of a cold day.

Finally, depending on how cold it is, you may have to keep extra tools and hoses in the warming box and swap periodically. If you follow these steps, you should be able to work in about any cold, short of Antarctica. And if it's that darn cold, stay home!