By Michael Davis
I spent most of my career framing with solid-sawn lumber before the more stable, denser, and stronger engineered stuff started sliding off the truck. Now, my company, Framing Square in Albuquerque, N.M., works with engineered products all the time–laminated strand lumber (LSL), laminated veneer lumber (LVL), parallel strand lumber (PSL), and oriented strand board (OSB) to name a few. And sometimes we run into a problem working with them: Our air tools can't sink 12d nails in the tough stuff. I didn't spend big bucks on compressors and nailers so that my guys and I would be out there swinging our hammers, too.
A pneumatic nailer needs a lot more punch to drive a 12d into solid engineered lumber than it does for any natural timber. Even Southern yellow pine and Douglas fir's density can't compare to that of an LVL. We wanted to see if the pneumatic tool industry had any solutions to this problem, so we took 15 framing nailers out to my production yard and a jobsite to run them hard on every type of engineered material we could get our hands on.
The high-end condominium project that we're currently framing in Western Colorado uses engineered lumber throughout the framing process. The design incorporates every type of engineered product I've seen. So, between our production yard (where we prefabricate our wall assemblies) and the jobsite (where we erect the building), we had the perfect test track for these pneumatic nail bangers. In the yard, we built LVL stud columns and headers as well as PSL columns and installed them into sawn-lumber wall assemblies. On site, we nailed I-joist framing, 1 1/8-inch LSL rim joist material, and 1 1/8-inch OSB decking. All the exterior walls wrap with 7/16-inch OSB and the roof deck is 15/32-inch OSB.
We focused our yard test on pure nail-driving power, looking for tools that consistently sink nails in some of these super-dense materials. This is especially important during wall assembly where two pieces of engineered lumber are joined to form a header or multimember column. Besides delivering power, a tool must be easy and comfortable to use in the field, and it should be versatile enough to work with various materials on the fly. So we evaluated each of the nailers' recoil, weight, adjustments, ergonomics, and "feel" when we got to the jobsite.
We tested the Airy AUA 219OC, Fasco-Beck R5C RHN 20-90 SS (CT), Grex SF9021, Hitachi NR90AC, Interchange Brands ICB-FN88, ISM Fastening Systems 921 ProPower, ITW Paslode F-350S, Jamerco JTNFH90A, Makita AN922, Max SN890RH, Porter-Cable FR350, Senco FramePro 750 XL, Spotnails NPR90, Stanley Bostitch N88WW-1, and the UNI Ultra Tools/Apach AN-9034AC.
The production yard power test yielded four distinct tool groups: most powerful, powerful, powerful enough, and least powerful punchers.
Most powerful. The Hitachi, Senco, Stanley Bostitch, and UNI/Apach tools are knockout punchers. They flush-nailed and countersunk nails in LVLs as if they were fastening sawn lumber.
Powerful. The Jamerco and Paslode tools consistently flush-nailed at a normal nailing pace.
Powerful enough. The Airy, Fasco, Interchange, ISM, Makita, Max, and Porter-Cable nailers flush-nailed, but shooting into an LVL took a lot out of them. They required time to cycle a full air charge before they were ready to go again. With these tools, we had to slow our nailing pace a bit.
Least powerful. The Grex and Spotnails tools had plenty of power for fastening sawn lumber, but they left nails as much as 1/2-inch high in LVL.