Makita is bringing its high-pressure nailer line to the U.S., and we were the first framing crew in the country to get our hands on its framing and siding coil nailers and brand-new 400-psi compressor. High-pressure nailers are more common in Japan, where the affinity for efficiency and compactness drives a lot of product designs. Makita's models have been available there for about three years; they were released in Europe last year. Now it's our turn. (We're not strangers to high-pressure nailers, however – we tested Max's high-pressure framing nailer and compressor a few years ago and have since been running its high-pressure compressors on some of our jobs.)
Instead of importing its existing compressor, Makita designed a smaller unit to be more competitive in our price-driven market. The AC310H compressor is a stylish piece of equipment with a full roll cage and protective mesh kickplates on the sides. It measures a compact 18-3/4; by 14-3/4; inches by 20-inches tall and weighs 79.4 pounds. Makita says the compressor's 1.6-gallon air tank provides as much air at 400 psi as a standard-pressure 5-gallon compressor. Our standard job compressor is an 8-gallon wheelbarrow model, so we didn't expect the Makita to run the entire crew, but we did test its limits.
The AC310H has two high-pressure and two standard-pressure air outlets, each with its own regulator. With four nailers connected – two guys framing and two guys running wall sheathing – the compressor could keep up, but just barely; it had to run nonstop and started to heat up. So we eased up on it by unplugging one of the sheathing nailers. The compressor still ran the majority of the time, but didn't struggle.
It's important to note that we were building at an altitude of 7,500 feet, and the thinner air means the compressor was handicapped by about 25 percent from its rated performance at sea level. In my estimation, the Makita should be able to comfortably handle three or four guys siding, three guys framing, or two sheathing or decking – at sea level, anyway.
An accessory wheel kit is available for the AC310H; it includes 8-inch solid rubber tires and an upright handle complete with hose-wrap hooks. The wheels handle rough terrain fairly well and really help lug the nearly 80-pound machine around a job site.
The two high-pressure coil nailers we tested look very similar except for their overall size and magazine depth. Several coil construction nailers are available in this line in Japan, but Makita is introducing just two models here that are the right size for framing and siding work. You can tell that the smaller nailer was not originally designed for siding because it – like the framing nailer – has toenailing spikes on the nose; you need to use the plastic tip (included with both models) to avoid marring siding and trim.
The AN911H framing nailer shoots wire- or plastic-collated coil nails 1-3/4 to 3-1/2 inches long in .113- to .162-inch diameters. The tool operates between 180 and 320 psi and can hold up to 300 nails in its magazine. It's 11-1/2 inches tall, 4-7/8 inches wide, and 12-1/2 inches long and weighs 5.1 pounds empty.
The AN610H siding nailer can handle coils of most common siding nails – plastic or wire-collated – from 1-1/4 to 2-1/2 inches in .099- to .113-inch shank diameters. It operates between 140 and 320 psi and holds as many as 400 nails in a coil. At 11-1/8 inches long, 5-3/8 inches wide, 10-7/8 inches tall, and 4.2 pounds empty, it's smaller than the framer.
Both tools have a push-button firing-mode selector and a simple depth-of-drive dial, but only the siding nailer has an adjustable exhaust deflector.
The idea behind high-pressure systems is that the nailers can be small yet powerful. The AN911H framing nailer is both – but adding a 2.6-pound coil of nails brings its weight to roughly what we are used to with a full-size stick nailer, except it feels front-heavy. As you shoot nails, the balance starts feeling better and better, but right about the time you get comfortable, it's time to reload.
We don't see a lot of coil-nail framing tools in the Colorado market, so it took a little while for some of my guys to get used to working with them. And during testing, I could hear them going back and forth between commenting on the extra weight of the 300-nail coil and complaining about running out of nails so quickly when they went back to work with their old stick nailers.
Makita's high-pressure framer does pack a punch. We framed with Douglas fir at its minimum pressure of 180 psi and built headers and beams with multiple plys of LVL at about 250 psi. One major advantage of the high-pressure tools is the performance headroom: If you run into especially hard woods like southern yellow pine, oak, or ipe, you can simply crank up the pressure and power through. The AN911H is designed to drive hardened nails through wood into steel channel up to 1/8 inch thick and even into green concrete. Heck, at 320 psi, this nailer could probably shoot hardened nails into the side of an armored car.
We used the AN610H siding nailer with 1-by cedar, 1-by T&G fir, fiber-cement siding, and composite wood trim, and none of the materials provided any challenge at 180 psi. We had to adjust the depth-of-drive setting to the minimum to prevent overdriving nails into the cedar. The tool had lots of headroom; its steel and concrete nailing abilities are similar to those of the framer.
Although neither tool has jammed on us yet, I was surprised that such high-tech nailers have no provision to help clear a jam should one occur. Makita recommends driving the nail back down the throat of the tool and then prying it out with a screwdriver.
Another thing missing on the nailers was a working rafter hook. We were told the hooks on each tool fit job-site safety rails in Japan, but we need them to fit Western 2-bys to be of any use.
Also, particularly after Makita won an Editor's Choice award from our publication a few years ago for having "off" switches on its entire line of construction nailers, we were disappointed to discover that these new premium nailers don't have them. This feature can help crews comply with OSHA's rule that an unattended nailer has to be disconnected or switched off.
Makita is helping to push the leading edge of nailer technology with this launch, and I suspect that compact, high-pressure nailers will eventually make much of our old equipment obsolete, especially the bulkier tools like framing and siding nailers. But that day hasn't arrived yet for me. As impressed as I am with these tools, I'm inclined to wait for wider distribution of parts and services – and for the stick nailer Makita has planned – and let the prices settle. But for the small crews or solo guys out there who could get by with one compressor and just a few select nailers – and can afford them – I think Makita's high-pressure system could be a worthy investment.
Michael Davis owns Framing Square in Conifer, Colo., and is a contributing editor for Tools of the Trade.
AC310H compressor: $999
AN911H framing nailer: $599
AN610H siding nailer: $629