Since our last look at framing nailers in March 2002, eight tough new models with advanced features have hit the street and deserve a closer look. For this review, I worked with the DeWalt D51845, Duo-Fast MainFrame NSP-350 F1, Hitachi NR83A2, Fasco F5C RHN 20-90A, Porter-Cable FR350A, Senco FramePro 702XP, Spotnails YPR90, and Stanley-Bostitch N88RH-MCN-2. I looked for tools that were powerful enough to sink nails into solid and engineered lumber, well-balanced enough for toe-nailing, and light enough for all-day use. I also looked at how useful their adjustments and switches were in real field-use applications. I checked triggering, too, to see if they'd stand up to jobsite conditions and my framers' fast pace.
Nailing. For general-purpose nailing, all the tools performed great. They sank nails in all the material we encountered, including LVL and LSL. Each tool has an aggressive nose that digs into framing for toe-nailing. Recoil on all of the units was acceptable and all the tools bump-nailed rows of floor and roof decking well.
Feel. The balance and feel of each tool were good. Each has a comfortable, padded grip. I noticed a difference in the finger space between the trigger and the magazine on some tools, though. The finger space on the Duo-Fast model might be snug for carpenters who have very large hands or if you are wearing winter gloves. The DeWalt and Stanley-Bostitch tools have ample room, while the rest are in the middle range.
Depth-of-Drive & Triggers
Porter-Cable's small fire-selection switch switches the tool between single- and bump-fire modes.
I think that if you design an adjustment into a tool, it must be easy to use–or it will go unused. Some of the models in this group have features that maximize what you can get out of the tool; others are dependable but more basic. Small design strategies in switches, adjustments, and nail loading can make a big difference between each model. These designs, while not altering the tools' basic function (each tool drives nails all day), create options for easier, even safer, operation. Several of the tools had unique triggering functions, select-fire modes, and other features that made them just a little easier or faster to use.
Depth-of-Drive. An easily adjustable depth-of-drive makes sense, especially to help prevent overdriven sheathing nails. The Fasco, Hitachi, Porter-Cable, and Senco models have thumbwheels that move their nosepieces so you can flush-nail or countersink. Of these, I like Hitachi and Fasco best. The adjustments on the Porter-Cable work great, too, but are just a little harder to access or turn. On the DeWalt and Stanley-Bostitch, you push a button to release and slide the detented nosepiece; both work fine. The Duo-Fast's depth-of-drive requires a wrench. The Spotnails model has no depth-of-drive adjustment.
Fasco's trigger selection works well: Flip the red button out of the way for single-fire. Remove the cap to lock the tool in this mode.
Trigger Adjustment. Switches that toggle between nailing options–single-fire, bump-fire, and on/off–are nice. If you've ever double-fired nails, you know it's dangerous, so having a switch that enables the tool to single-fire is a great safety feature. If this feature isn't simple, however, it won't get used.
Fasco, Hitachi, and Porter-Cable have easy-to-adjust select-fire triggers, which allow you to switch between single-fire and bump-fire modes. I like Hitachi's best in this group. It works easily and is well-protected near the trigger. Fasco's trigger adjustment is a lever near the trigger, and it's also easy to use. It has a small safety cap that, if removed, locks the tool in single-fire mode. The Porter-Cable adjustment works well; however, it's a little more difficult to engage than the others.
Changing to bump-fire mode on the DeWalt, Duo-Fast, Senco, Spotnails, and Stanley-Bostitch nailers requires swapping out the triggers. The reason for this arrangement is a new regulation that requires new nailers without select-fire triggers to be shipped with single-fire triggers installed; a bump-fire trigger is typically included with the tool or available from the manufacturer for the user to install after purchase. (See Tools of the Trade, January/February 2004, for more details.) Finally, the DeWalt has an "off" switch, which prevents the tool from firing at all. This potentially makes moving around with the tool safer–if you actually engage the switch. This feature also would be great on remodeling jobs where kids might have access to the project area during the workday.