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13 Tips on How to Use Your Caulking Gun to its Greatest Efficiency

You’ve decided to improve your material placement activities on the jobsite whether it’s for weatherproofing structures by applying air barriers, filling control joints, or placing firestopping. In preparation for your investment, you’ve done your research:
  • You’ve reviewed your common construction to your annual construction material purchase to determine your common products and quantities used annually. 

  • You’ve used this information to select the proper components to configure the caulking gun’s operating system, matching thrust to material viscosity. 

  • You’ve purchased the right type of caulking guns that should be in your tool inventory including both manual and powered tools.

  • And you’ve equipped your tool bag with the necessary accessories, tools, and common wear items to keep the job going smoothly.

Now it’s time to reap the benefits of your diligent work.

Here are 13 tips to share with your team on how to use these versatile tools so that the combination of technician and equipment produces a good-looking, durable bead with minimal material waste and costs. 
Caulk Knife

Tip 1.   Before pulling your caulking gun from your tool bag, make sure that the surface you are about to treat is ready. Use your caulk knife to remove any old material from the work area. Make sure the substrate is free of any dirt and debris so that it doesn’t restrict the flow of material from the gun’s tip. Also be sure you have an area set aside that is free from dirt or contamination, and out of direct sunlight, where you can place your caulking gun caulk when resting. 

If you are bulk loading your caulking gun, be sure the pail, skim plate, and loading sleeve are also clean.

Tip 2.   Inspect and organize the caulk, sealants, or adhesives you plan to use that shift. 

Check that all the product codes match, that packaging isn’t damaged, dirty, or out of round, and fits in your gun’s containment unit. Discard any packaging that isn’t right, as its use will only gum up your gun’s operations. 

If you are reusing a cartridge, take the time to ensure the entire nozzle is free from old material. The best way to clear out the nozzle is with a threaded screw.

Tip 3.   If you are working in cold weather, make sure that you warm up the gun, accessories, and product to the application temperature specified by the material supplier. You can prevent this problem by storing material in hot pots, installing insulating sleeves on your gun’s barrel, and only exposing a limited amount of material to the cold weather when you work.

Tip 4.   Practice makes perfect so take a few minutes prior to beginning the actual bead placement to test your system. Ambient weather can cause sealants and caulks to flow differently from day-to-day. Even if it’s a small job, apply a short length of bead to a flattened surface to judge how the gun is working. You can adjust your grip and squeeze on a manual gun, and the pressure applied to the thrust control system on a powered gun.

Manage expectations by performing a mock-up, and practice using the gun prior to beginning the project. This way you’ll be able to fine-tune the caulking gun’s power ratio to the material, and gauge any drag the substrate might create.

And along with testing out the bead placement, grab a spatula to finish the bead.

Applying Sealant with Caulk Gun on Jobsite.
You might want to have the full range of spatulas, both metal and plastic, so that you can determine the best way to finish the bead.

Tip 5.   On those jobs that require straight lines on the bead’s outer edge, consider using a construction grade painter’s tape to outline the placement. White Cap sells a full line of painter’s tape that can be matched to both the substrate on which it will be placed, and to the construction material to avoid build-up or chemical reaction. Look for a polyethylene-backed tape coated with a high-tack, removable acrylic adhesive system.

Tip 6.   Check the grip of your gun. For some tasks, you might want to use a heavier gun that will help position stiffer materials. But on other projects, you might want to select a lighter gun, especially if you are working from a ladder. 

Tip 7.
  For vertical and horizontal applications, position yourself so you can move your gun in a straight line and at a consistent speed using only your upper body and not your wrists. This will help you create straighter bead lines and help reduce fatigue.  If you are planning to work from a ladder, make sure your caulking gun is equipped with a ladder holder.
Tip 8.   When filling control joints, use the right size backer rod, and use a rod installation tool to be assured of the right placement.

  • Why is backer rod so important? It acts as a bond breaker preventing a condition called three-sided adhesion – when the sealant bonds with the base as well as both sides of the joint. Backer rod allows the sealant to bond only to the joint’s sides and move more freely once set. It also creates an hourglass shape at the base of the joint keeping the joint depth consistent while maximizing the strength of the bond. 

  • If a joint that is too shallow to install backer rod, you can use bond breaker tape as an alternative. These tapes are made of Teflon™ or polyolefin and create a non-stick surface at the base of the joint that allows for proper adhesion to both sides of the joint. 
Caulk Accessory on Jobsite

Once the joint is prepped with backer rod or bod breaker tape, place the gun’s nozzle at the bottom of the joint. Keeping the nozzle deep in the sealant, triage the gun so that it dispenses a steady flow of sealant preceding the nozzle to avoid air entrapment. Also try pushing the caulk into the gap rather than dragging it over the gap. This greatly increases the odds of the caulk adhering to both surfaces. Try to find the right tip that allows good product movement. You might even want to use a tip with a slight angle to fill the gap. 

When caulking grooves are shallow and nearly flush to the adjoining surfaces, avoid pushing the gun’s tip too hard as you dispense material. You might have to adjust the gun’s trigger to stay in control and avoid cross movement across the joint. 

And when you are filling a gap between two types of substrates, try to ride up a caulking gun's nozzle along the substrate with the smoother surface. If you move the gun up in the gap’s middle or ride along the rougher surface, you’ll often end up mirroring the roughness in your bead.

Tip 9.   When you have a bead to place and it’s too long to place in one movement, start at the other end and meet in the middle. It’s easier to tool the junction of the two beads than to try to continue a bead once you’ve stopped without creating a glob. When possible, position bead junction somewhere other than eye level.

Tip 10.
  Use the tips, tip extensions, and barrel extensions that are in your toolbox. Caulking gun manufacturers routinely introduce new tip and nozzle configurations that are based on real jobsite conditions. These accessories can help you avoid overreaching, minimize material waste, and save you placement time.  

Tip 11.   To avoid drips, remove the cartridge from a powered caulking gun immediately after finishing a dispensing cycle. When using a manual caulking gun, you can avoid drips by pressing the manual gun’s recoil plate.  

Dripping or run-on from a sealant or adhesive dispensing gun is often caused by the material and can be due to several factors. Some issues can be minimized by the operator and the design of the dispensing tool, but others are outside the control of either.  

Among the uncontrollable are the viscosity of the material (thicker products tend to drip less), the compressibility of the material (the less compressible, the less potential for run-on), swelling of the cartridge (rigid cartridges drip less), and friction of the piston inside the cartridge (pistons that retract slightly after the pressure is released drip less). 

If dripping becomes a major problem, you can purchase guns with a no drip feature. A caulking gun with a full-time non-drip feature is, by design, inefficient. The first 1/4 to 1/3 of each trigger stroke is wasted motion bringing the ejector or piston back into contact with the material and repressurizing it before any new material flows out the nozzle. Except for applications that require the repeated application of very small quantities of material, Albion recommends that you use a standard gun with a well-designed recoil plate and release the pressure yourself to stop the dripping as needed.
Concrete Jobsite Caulk Gun

Tip 12.   Use tooling aids to leave a smooth bead and always have a set of caulking spatulas in your toolbox. Consider purchasing a set of precision tools that include machined concave joint profiles you can match to a specific bead profile to ensure good adhesion to the substrate. Opt for tools that are made with premium grade stainless steel and are ground and tapered for optimum flex.

Weather conditions or sunlight can quickly dry out the bead’s surface in the period between application and tooling. You may want to add an approved tooling aid that helps restore the material surface texture before tooling. But check the material’s instructions before adding anything on the surface of just-tooled sealant or on substrate surfaces as the lubricant may interfere with sealant cohesion or adhesion.

Latex acrylic sealants use water as both a suspension agent and a tooling lubricant, and they are relatively immune to this problem.

Emulsion acrylic sealants are probably the least susceptible to quick drying and most manufacturers will allow you to mist-spray a little clean water to stop the drying.

If you are placing polyurethane sealants, you probably need to add a lubricant on the tooling device. Some manufacturers of polyurethane sealants allow water or soap solution for tooling; others prescribe proprietary tooling lubricants.

Silicone sealant manufacturers usually recommend dry tooling, although some may recommend a tooling lubricant if additional sealant is placed in the joint.

Tip 13.   Reach out to your White Cap professional. Caulking guns and the accessories that support their use have evolved into high-tech tools. Manufacturers are constantly updating features that can make your investment a profitable option. Stay abreast of these updates by being in contact with your White Cap professional who offers an extensive array of guns, tools, and accessories for any job.

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