Paslode, Senco, and Hitachi all offer a full range of fasteners from 1-1/2 to 2-1/2 inches and in .131, .148, or .162 gauges, all of which are available in bright or galvanized finishes. The Stanley-Bostitch listed only a .148 nail in either 1-1/2- or 2-1/2-inch sizes, but the company plans to have a full set of fasteners in all the standard sizes when it rolls out the finished tool.

So how does an inspector know you've used the right nails? He makes you pull a few out and show him – even if they're way up in ridge beam rafters. Hitachi and Paslode eliminate nail-pulling by marking their nails so that they can be identified after installation. Paslode stamps a code into the head of each nail; this is a great system, but you have to get pretty close to read the markings. Hitachi uses a color code. With their Tracker system, you can identify the fasteners in ridge beam rafter hangers 16 feet overhead, which saves climbing and squinting and may get you through your frame inspections a little quicker.

Ergonomics

Size and Weight. A nailer's weight really becomes a big deal when you have to work with it in awkward positions. The Paslode tool, weighing in at a full 9 pounds without nails, is beefy. A day spent working between joists with this tool means you've earned your money. The Stanley-Bostitch prototype is the largest tool in the group, but surprisingly weighs only 7.9 pounds, a weight comparable to the more compact Senco SN60MC, which weighs in at 7.7 pounds. My wrist's favorite tool, however, is the feather-light Hitachi. With the full-size magazine it weighs only 6.2 pounds; it's even lighter with the short clip.

Mobility. Senco's tool is short and compact with a stocky body and a short, one-clip magazine. In contrast, the Stanley-Bostitch prototype is a full-size framing nailer –you can get the Stanley-Bostitch between joists, but there will be lots of times that you'll wish it were on a smaller frame and/or had a shorter magazine. The Paslode also is big, but it works so well, you can forgive some of its girth. The Hitachi, especially when fitted with its optional one-clip magazine, is the slimmest, lightest nailer in the group. Its streamlined body is only 3-1/4 inches thick at its widest point and its compact size and clean lines make all the other tools in this group look dated.

Dependability

All four tools in this test appear rugged enough to handle the jobsite. The Stanley-Bostitch prototype is an adaptation of the company's tried-and-true N88RH full-head framing nailer (interchangeable nosepieces allow this tool to do double duty as a framing nailer and hardware nailer). We ran lots of nails through all the tools during our test and didn't have a single breakdown. Mechanically, these are all very sound nailers.

Winners

In the final tally, we think the Hitachi NR65AK is the best tool in the group. It's a pleasure to use –light, compact, and consistent. It's also got great color-coded nails. Second on our short list is the Paslode 5250/65S PP. If you already use Paslode for your framing nailers, the 5250/65S PP will be a great addition to your lineup and its code-stamped nail heads can save you from pulling nails during inspection. We liked the Stanley-Bostitch N88RH-2MCN Prototype; it performed well. The idea of a dual-purpose tool makes good economic sense, but because the tool we tested is still a prototype, we need to reserve judgement until we see the finished product. Nevertheless, Stanley-Bostitch seems to have a very good idea on its hands. The Senco SN60MC needs work. I like Senco tools a lot, but the nail placement system on this model was a problem.

Michael Davis is president of Framing Square, a large framing, siding, and trim company in Albuquerque, N.M., and is a contributing editor to Hanley-Wood's Tools of the Trade.

Tools of the Trade has arranged with the companies in this test to donate their tools to Habitat for Humanity.