By Steve Veroneau
When I started in the trades 20 years ago, there were only a few pneumatic finish nailer brands to choose from. Features were functional but crude compared to today's tools. Nailers were still better than hand nailing, but they were expensive enough that not every carpenter could have one. Since then, nailers have improved: Features are better and prices have dropped. And now the race has more runners than ever, and the goal is not just to get a few basic brands in the hands of carpenters, but to design a tool with the best mix of features, price, and utility for growing markets. It's a tight race.
I tested 10 15-gauge angled pneumatic nailers: the Craftsman 18177, DeWalt D51275K, Hitachi NT65MA2, ISM 15DA250, Makita AF632, Max NF550/15-65, Porter-Cable DA250B, Senco FinishPro 41XP, Spotnails XBA1564, and Stanley-Bostitch N62FNK-2. I ran them for 12 weeks trimming my company's custom homes and extensive whole-house remodels, installing every molding I could think of. I also used them in trim work applications like hanging doors and setting hardwood stairs. I looked for them to sink nails flawlessly in hardwood and softwood, have smooth depth-of-drive adjustment, load easily, and be comfortable to hold all day. I also looked for easy adjustments and for any added features that make on-site trim work easier.
The timing for this test was perfect: I had a new project ready to trim and a crew standing by. We each took turns with every tool all the way through the house. The undisputable finding, after setting 25 doors and nailing off what seemed like a mile of softwood molding and hardwood stair parts, is that each nailer functions well. I found very little difference in each tool's ability to set nails consistently. As I continued to work with each of the tools, it became clear that the greatest distinctions between them are in their weight and feel, operation details, nails, and added features.
Weight & Balance
Obviously, light tools are good. But "light" doesn't mean much if the tool is not balanced. A poorly balanced finish nailer is harder to position on the work nail after nail and requires extra effort to place and use each time; this is especially noticeable when overhead nailing. A well-balanced tool rests steadily in your hand, no matter how you're nailing.
The lightest tool in the group is the Stanley-Bostitch at 3.8 pounds, and it's great. But combined with its light weight, it also has terrific balance–a great combination.
The Craftsman, DeWalt, Hitachi, Max, Porter-Cable, Senco, and Spotnails tools all weigh between 3.9 and 4.6 pounds, and I could feel no weight difference between them.Balance is a different issue, however, and here the DeWalt was exceptional. I particularly noticed this while performing overhead work–it stayed nestled in my hand, and I could effortlessly keep it in a balanced position. Spotnails' very compact design also provided superior balance and feel.