Our Colorado condo job gave us the opportunity to test the tools on a variety of on-site engineered lumber applications, and allowed us to test them under harsh jobsite conditions.
Most of the tools performed admirably on every task we put before them. They shot through 1 1/8-inch composite rim band into the LVL cords in our I-joists, and they worked equally well in all our light wall and roof sheathing. Once we were done nailing LVL header material, raw power became less important than other tool performance features–especially depth-of-drive adjustment. Still, the jobsite required some measure of brute force, too.
The 1 1/8-inch OSB deck was a challenge for some of the tools. However, compared to nailing solid LVL, it was like nailing marshmallows together. We weren't surprised to find that the tools that powered nails into stacks of LVL also punched into the heavy engineered decking without a hiccup. The Hitachi, Senco, Stanley Bostitch, and UNI/Apach tools showed that they're power-nailing masters. But since this stuff didn't require as much bulldog power as the yard test, the less powerful tools closed the ranks fast. The Paslode, Jamerco, Makita, and Max nailers fastened the OSB almost as well as the first group did. The Airy, Fasco, Interchange, ISM, and Porter-Cable nailers were not quite as hard-hitting as some of the other tools, but this test showed that they got the job done well.
The Spotnails and Grex tools had the hardest time nailing off these thick decks. They both had trouble consistently sinking nails into LVL and they needed time to gather more air for their next shots.
Any tool powerful enough to flush-nail a 12d in two layers of LVL is going to countersink nails in sawn lumber, and it's going to blow right through OSB sheathing. Countersinking nails into structural panels weakens the panels' structural integrity, so the ability to flush-nail in various lumber thicknesses and densities is vital. A tool-less depth adjustment gives a nailer this on-the-fly-versatility.
When we started shooting off 7/16-inch OSB wall sheathing, the Makita, Hitachi, Jamerco, Airy, Grex, Max, and Stanley Bostitch nailers' tool-less depth-of-drive adjustments gave us a consistently flush-nailed finished product. I liked Makita's adjustment best because it was the easiest to use. The Grex's adjustment gave us some trouble, but the remainder worked without a hitch. I think a tool-less depth-of-drive adjustment makes a nailer versatile enough to use for power-driving in the yard or on all phases of jobsite framing. And chasing down a wrench that's going to be lost anyway is time away from work. Paslode's depth adjustment isn't tool-less, but at least it stores its allen wrench right on the tool–securely set in the magazine.
Tricked-out shooters. Features like depth-of-drive adjustment, select-fire operation, adjustable air deflectors, and foam grips are more important in the field. That's where you'll encounter widely varying material density and thickness (which make quick adjustments vital) or awkward positions (where adjustable air deflectors and select-fire modes affect comfort and safety.) The Hitachi, Makita, and Max models are the most well-equipped nailers. Of the three, the Hitachi is easily the most powerful. If you're going to dedicate a nailer to engineered lumber, especially at a nailing station and cost is no object, then the Hitachi is the one for you. However, if cost does matter, then a no-frills workhorse like the UNI/Apach or Paslode is your best bet. They're both reasonably priced, basic power punchers that'll sink nails and won't slow you down.