Do You Need a License to Use a Powder Actuated Tool? Hilti or Ramset


If you need to attach wood or other material to concrete, you will most likely want to use a Powder Actuated tool for the task. Powder Actuated tools, such as the Hilti gun or the Ramset gun are very powerful tools used to fasten wood or other material into concrete or steel. A small charge sends a piston, which sinks a pin or fastener into the concrete or steel at a depth that will produce the strongest hold. The question is, with such a powerful tool, do you need a license to operate it? 

Do you need a license to operate the Hilti or Ramset gun? While a “license” isn’t required for a Hilti gun, you must have a valid operator’s certificate. You can usually get an operator’s certificate from the tool’s manufacturer or supplier following some training. Each certificate is only valid for the specific make and model of the specific tool. In some places, federal legislation requires a license to store and use the explosive charges that are used in these tools. 

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What and Why?

A powder actuated tool, by definition uses an explosion to propel and discharge fasteners and should be operated with the same precautions as firearms. An employer must make sure the employee operating the tool has a valid operator’s certificate. The authorized employee must also be competent to use the tool. Competent is defined as follows:

  • Qualified, because of factors such as knowledge, training and experience, to do assigned work in a manner that will ensure the health and safety of persons. 
  • Knowledgeable about the provisions of the Act and the regulations that apply to the assigned work 
  • Knowledgeable about the potential or actual danger to health or safety connected with the work

A competent operator would be:

  • Qualified, by completing the training required to obtain an operator’s certificate and being able to demonstrate knowledge of the tool
  • Knowledgeable about the hazards related to using the powder actuated tool

The powder actuated tool and its explosive charges must be properly stored in an area only accessed by authorized employees.

If you are interested in getting the proper training and certifications for the Hilti tools, go their website and look for training offered online or in your area. 

General Safety

There are several general safety precautions to keep in mind with these tools.

  • Allow ONLY trained, competent and authorized people who are familiar with regulations governing the tool to operate them
  • Powder actuated tools operate like loaded guns and the same respect and safety precautions should be followed
  • Use manufacturer’s information as a guide for safe operation and maintenance of the tool
  • Wear safety glasses or goggles, or a face shield and a hard hat
  • Wear hearing protection
  • Always brace yourself when on ladders or scaffolds to keep good balance
  • Keep tools pointed in a safe direction, never point the tool at anyone
  • Load the tools just before use. Do not carry loaded tools from job to job
  • Do not leave powder actuated tools unattended
  • Do not let bystanders near the job. Shields to protect others against possible ricochet may be called for

Operating Safety

  • Always use the tool at right angles to the work surface
  • Check the chamber to be sure it is clear and free of any obstruction before use
  • Do not use where flammable or explosive vapors, dust or similar substances are present
  • Do not put your hand or any body part over the muzzle (front) end of a loaded tool

Using the Projectiles Safely

  • Use only the fasteners, nails, studs, etc. recommended by the manufacturer
  • Make sure the base material is free from holes or openings and has a sufficient consistency to prevent a projectile from going right through it
  • Do not load a tool until immediately before use it
  • Do not force a projectile into a working space that is harder than the projectile itself. If the base material is unknown, use a hammer to drive the projectile, as a center punch

Safely Charging Cartridges

  • Only use cartridges recommended by the manufacturer
  • Charge cartridges are color coded to show their strength. Only use thee cartridge appropriate for the job being done
  • Use the weakest or lowest strength cartridge first as a trial
  • Be sure to have adequate ventilation
  • Hold the tool in the fixing position for a minimum of 5-15 seconds when it misfires. Keep the tool pointed away from you and others to avoid injury and unload cartridge with extreme caution
  • Be careful when using the tools near live electrical circuits. Make sure the nails do not enter live circuits that may be buried
  • Keep cartridges locked up when not using
  • Do not try to force a cartridge into the tool
  • Discard of unused cartridges with care
  • Do not carry loose cartridges in pockets, always carry them in original packaging

Caring for a Power Actuated Tool

  • Clean and maintain tools according to manufacturer’s instructions
  • Always check tools before use to be sure to be sure they’re in good working order
  • Mark defective tools “out of service” and remove until properly repaired
  • Store tools and cartridges in a locked container when not using. Be certain the tool in unloaded before storing

How to Properly Dispose of Cartridges

A powder Actuated tool uses casings that are very similar to bullets for firearms to house the charge needed to drive the fastener, such as a nail, with a huge amount of force. OSHA regulations require that the user be trained and certified in the use of the tool because it is so similar to a firearm, shooting nails and screws instead of bullets. The proper disposal of spent cartridges, or cartridges that did not fire is both an environmental and a safety concern. 

Spent Cartridges

The casings for the fasteners are typically made of brass. Spent Cartridges are those that have been fired, and the charge is spent and the fastener delivered from the casing. The proper disposal of these cartridges is of environmental concern because would take hundreds of years (if ever) to decompose in a landfill. Also, they may come in strips bound in plastic, which does not decompose. 

Since the strips of the spent cartridges are made of brass, you can gather them all together and recycle them, along with the plastic strips holding them together. Inspect all of the casings in each strip, and remove the casing from the plastic, and take each to the appropriate recycling facility.

You can also check with the manufacturer or supplier of the casings. They may reuse them. Since the brass is expensive, some companies may be willing to pay you for them.

Unspent Cartridges

Unspent Cartridges are treated the same as live ammunition rounds; potentially hazardous. If a strip of cartridges has never been used, store it in a secure, cool, dry environment. If a round misfires, or does not fire at all when actuated, remove the faulty cartridge strip and start with a new one. The faulty unspent cartridges should be stored in water in a bucket.

Final Thoughts

Powder actuated tools, such as the Hilti or Ramset are extremely powerful tools and can be very useful. These tools should only be used by those that are properly trained and with extreme caution. 

Related Questions

Can you use Ramset single shot nails in a Hilti electric concrete nailer?

No, the Hilti is designed to use 27 cal, while the Ramset uses 22 cal.

Can anyone on the job site inspect powder actuated tools before they are used?

Only employees that have been trained in the operation of the specific tool in use shall be allowed to operate or inspect the tools and it should be done before each use.

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