Safety and health newsletter for the Oregon construction industry

August 15, 2014


Tool-box topics: powder-actuated tools

Power-actuated tools

The history of powder-actuated tools goes back to 1915, when Englishman Robert Temple invented an explosively actuated device that the Navy used for underwater tasks such as fastening metal sheets over leaking and damaged ships’ hulls. In 1919, he patented an explosively operated tool for driving studs (fasteners) into steel and similar hard surfaces.

Other efforts to develop powder-actuated tool technology continued for the next two decades but the devices were bulky and dangerous. In 1949, Stanley A. Temple (Robert’s son) patented the design for a new tool; however, it still required expensive, dangerous studs and it was not practical for commercial use.

In 1950, Charles R. Webber and Virginius R. Erickson, invented a much safer fastener that could be used with existing single-fire .22 caliber cartridges. As a result, sales of powder-actuated tools and studs increased dramatically and became commercially successful as manufacturers adopted the new features.

Another challenge for manufacturers was developing a tool that could drive a fastener with much force but with a low muzzle velocity. Placing a piston between the fastener and the cartridge solved the problem. The result was an "indirect-acting" tool in which the expanding gas of the power load acts on the piston, which drives the fastener. The desire to make these tools safer also made them more practical.

Are powder-actuated tools the same as gas-actuated tools?

No. Gas-actuated tools, also called fuel-powered tools, are powered by a combustible gas propellant stored in a replaceable canister.

What are the requirements for those who use powder-actuated tools?

Powder-actuated tools must be used only by qualified operators. All operators must:

What are the requirements for qualified operators?

A qualified operator must be trained by an authorized instructor, be familiar with the manufacturer’s operating and maintenance instructions, and must demonstrate how to use the tool correctly in the presence of the instructor. Qualified operators must also know how to clean the tool, recognize worn and damaged parts, and understand the coding system for the power loads.

After being trained, the operator must complete a written exam provided by the tool's manufacturer. The exam must include a statement signed by the instructor that says the operator can (or cannot) distinguish the colors that identify the power loads.

Those who meet these requirements and pass the exam must receive a qualified operator’s card signed by the instructor and must keep the card with them when they are operating the tool.

Those who do not comply with the safety requirements for operating the tool must have their card revoked.

What restrictions apply to the use of powder-actuated tools?

Must powder-actuated tools have warning labels?

Yes, warning labels are required on the tool's container and on the tool.

How should powder-actuated tools be maintained and stored?

What Oregon OSHA rules apply to powder-actuated tools?


General industry

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