Check out the shelves at any home center or hardware store, and you’ll find quite a wide selection of materials available in those familiar long, slender tubes: caulking in different formulations and colors, sealants, roofing tar, and adhesives for dozens of applications. As different as the tubes are, they all have one thing in common. They all utilize the same simple, inexpensive tool to apply them with–the caulking gun.

A caulking gun is an essential tool to have hanging at your home workbench. There are only a couple of types available, and they are inexpensive enough that it’s worth paying a couple of bucks more and getting one from the upper end of the selection.

Caulking guns are designed to cradle the tube in a half-round or open frame. They have a handle with a trigger, and the trigger advances a plunger mechanism to push the material out of the tube. There are two common tube sizes–10-ounce and one-quart–so there are two sizes of caulking guns as well. For most household uses, the smaller 10-ounce gun is all you need.

At the lower end, typically around $3, the caulking guns use a ratcheting plunger, easily recognized by the series of notches cut into the plunger’s shaft. The action on these types of guns is not as smooth and is more prone to jamming, resulting in a bead that’s harder to apply uniformly. For around $10, you can opt for an easier-to-use model that has a couple of moveable plates that grip a smooth plunger rod, resulting in easier, smoother use with less jamming. Since a caulking gun will last most people a lifetime, it’s worth the extra money.

If you have a large project coming up, such as gluing subfloor, using the quart tubes of material will prove faster and more economical. For that, there are the larger, quart-capacity caulking guns available for around $20, which utilize the same smoother, more jam-resistant design.


If you have a lot of caulking to do and are looking for a caulking gun with smoother operation and a lot less stress on your hands, you may want to opt for one of the powered guns. For an investment of only around $25 to $30, you can get an air-powered caulking gun that works quite well. It accepts all standard 10-ounce tubes, and uses the power of compressed air, instead of the strength of your hand, to push the material out of the tube. The only downside is that you need to have an air compressor, and you are tethered to an air hose, which can be inconvenient for some projects.

Got some big jobs ahead and need an effective combination of power, convenience, and ease of application? You might want to consider investing in a cordless electric caulking gun.

Ridgid, for example, has recently introduced a new 18-volt cordless caulking gun that’s packed with features. Utilizing the same battery and charger as all their other 18-volt tools–which makes them easy to swap between tools–the Ridgid gun is designed to fit both 10-ounce and quart-size tubes. The battery provides power to the plunger to dispense the material, so the operation is very smooth and dispensing is dependable and uniform. And since the battery is doing all the work, it takes only light, steady pressure on the trigger as opposed to the harder squeezing action required for a standard, non-powered gun. A dial adjustment mechanism regulates the pressure and therefore the amount of material being dispensed, making it easy to adjust between materials of different thicknesses.

The Ridgid gun also has one of those “why-didn’t-I-think-of-that” features that is ideal for applying adhesives. Called a “joist follower,” it’s a simple metal fork that attaches to the front of the gun and runs along each side of a joist or stud, keeping the gun’s spout centered and the adhesive flowing accurately where you want it. 

The Ridgid gun, in a kit with charger, battery and carrying bag, retails for $149.99. Another top manufacturer of professional-quality tools, Milwaukee, also offers three models of cordless gun kits ranging from $165 to $269.

Remodeling or repair questions?  E-mail Paul at


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