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
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
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!