A couple of years ago I reviewed two gas powered cordless nail guns. For me, the downsides of those tools (stocking fuel, the smell of the exhaust gas, and low speed) outweighed the convenience of cutting the cord. Last year DeWalt released a 20V MAX cordless framing gun powered entirely by battery. I got the company to send one for testing and I have been pleasantly surprised by its performance.
How It Works
When I first heard about this gun I wondered how a tool without an air- or combustion-powered piston could create enough force to drive framing nails. Battery-powered finish guns have been around for years and rely on a belt to transfer power from a brushed motor to a flywheel and from there to the drive mechanism. The rotor of the DCN690’s brushless motor functions as a flywheel and transfers power directly to the drive mechanism. Doing away with a separate flywheel did away with a bunch of parts, allowing the manufacturer to produce a relatively light and compact gun capable of driving many framing nails per charge.
When you depress the nosepiece you can hear and feel the rotor start up. About a second later you can shoot the nail. In contact trip mode you can bump fire—not as fast as a pneumatic nailer but fast enough to toenail rim. Waiting for the motor to spin up takes some getting used to but is not a problem for the kind of tasks we use the gun for.
We don’t use it for high-volume nailing; for that we have pneumatic coil guns. The DCN690 comes out of the truck for small pickup framing: installing bird blocks, joist blocking, truss bracing, and other items where we drive only a few nails at a time. I’ve used it on small jobs where I spend much of the time waiting for the cut man to hand pieces up from the ground. For that kind of work, the speed of the gun hardly matters and it is convenient not to have to deal with a hose.
The 20V MAX gun has the power to drive framing nails in sawn lumber but you should not count on using it to nail LVLs together. But to be fair, it’s a tough job for most guns and is why many framers run the pressure too high on their tools.
The tool is well balanced and comfortable to handle. At 9.1 pounds (with battery) it’s no heavier than the average stick nailer—and without any hose to drag around.
According to the manufacturer it will drive something on the order of 700 nails per charge. I have no idea if that is correct because I never counted. We’ve had this gun for almost a year and have never run it down in less time than it would take to charge a spare battery. The DCN690 won’t replace a pneumatic for high volume fastening but it’s a useful tool for pickup work and things that might otherwise be nailed by hand.
The tool has adjustable depth-of-drive on the nose and a swiveling belt hook large enough to hang on 2-by material. A selector switch allows you to switch between sequential and bump fire and there’s a trigger lock for safety. Should the driver become stuck part way down there is a stall lever on the front of the tool to release it. The DCN690 is available bare (DCN690B) or in a kit (DCN690M1) that includes a tool, charger, and one 4.0 Ah battery.
The Bottom Line
Who should own this gun? If you’re a production framer who always has a pneumatic out then there’ no compelling reason to consider this tool. But if you’re a remodeler who frames intermittently or a builder with a guy who does punch work, then the price of this gun would be money well-spent. If you do get this gun, buy into the system because you’re going to want a spare battery.
The tool we tested for this article is an early model; DeWalt now offers a two-speed version DCN692) of the gun; speed one is 2- to 3-inch nails and speed two is for anything longer. The only difference between that gun and this are the speed settings.
DeWalt DCN690M1 Specs
Power source: 20V MAX battery (18 volts)
Firing modes: sequential and bump
Fasteners: .113-.131”; 2-3 1/2” long
Collation: paper; 33 degrees
Weight (w battery): 9.1 pounds
Country of origin: Czech Republic
Kit version includes: tool, charger, and one 4.0 Ah 20V MAX battery
Web price kit: $450 ($400 bare)