Ease of Use Features
The title of this section is kind of a misnomer. PATs are anything but easy to use–they're tough tools that do a brutal job in the hardest possible materials. But there are two features that really separate the tools, nearly creating a tool category within a tool category–booster advance and pin collation.
Booster Advance. Each tool has a universal shot-strip that feeds through the bottom of the handle and ejects from the top of the tool with each shot. For the Powers and the Remington, you must slide the barrel to advance the strip after each shot. You can do this two ways: the old push/pull routine where the momentum of the moving barrel advances the shot-strip; or you can pump it like a pump-action shotgun with your free hand. While both methods work well on each tool–and are fine for plating a finished basement or setting junction boxes–if you're shooting in rapid succession, the barrel gets smoking hot. This means touching it to "pump" it is out of the question. And, if you're shooting down subfloor (about 100 nails per sheet), you're hunched over and the push/pull is just too much work.
The Hilti, Ramset, and Simpson shot-strips self-advance, which is a vital component to achieving production speed with these tools. Ramset utilizes a spring that pushes the barrel down when the tool is pulled off the work to advance the shot-strip. The action works well, saves time, and keeps your hands away from the barrel. Hilti and Simpson use recoil energy from the spent booster to advance the shot-strip. Both systems work extremely well.
Simpson's box is tough and has room for cleaning supplies, boosters, pins, and eye/ear protection.
Credit: Photo: David Sharpe
Loading Pins. Each of the tools in this test is sold as a single-fire semi-automatic tool; however, the Hilti and Ramset models are upgradeable to fully-automatic. Hilti got their design right on the money: It can blast big 2-1/4-inch nails (vital for fastening 2-by stock), and it allows for a quick, one-handed change-out between semi-automatic and fully automatic for use with washered nails, non-collated nails, and working in tight places. Ramset's design works very well, but is a bit more limited. The magazine handles nails only up to 1-1/4 inches and the magazine change is more cumbersome. The Powers, Simpson, and Remington models are all manual-load tools and function well as designed.
Box. My jobsites are fast-paced places where tools and boxes get thrown in and out of gang boxes and from one corner of the site to the other. I need a toolbox that stands up but also holds all the accessories that the tool needs. Simpson leads the pack with a heavy-duty old-school steel box that has plenty of room for the tool, accessories, and all the shots and nails you'll need for the day or week. Next in line is the Powers box. It's well laid out with a slot or area for every item and accessory. It's a little light on space for nails and shots, but still works well. Hilti comes next with a nice big box that has enough room to store several clips of nails and shots, but not enough room for a day's work. The major drawback with all Hilti toolboxes is that you can't tell which side is up and you have to mark the top (we use a big duct tape X) to avoid opening it upside down–this really bothers me. Remington follows with a good basic box. Ramset's box is more like a foamed rifle case rather than a toolbox, with virtually no room for nails and shots.