Years ago I'd routinely build houses that didn't have any metal connectors in them at all. Everything was blocked or ledgered and a few 16d nails were considered adequate for almost any connection. Once in a while I'd use the odd joist hanger, so I kept a coffee can full of 1-1/2-inch hanger nails in my truck box. It would last me a year.

I also used to keep a framing hardware catalog in the glove box of my truck. It was more of a flier really, eight or 10 pages max. Over the years the flier grew into a book and is now bordering on becoming an epic novel with a half-dozen specialty catalogs available to supplement it. And every time there's another earthquake or hurricane, it gets a little bigger.

On/off switch controls like this Max feature can help improve safety.
Photo by dotfordot.com On/off switch controls like this Max feature can help improve safety.

Modern wood structures are packed with joist hangers, framing clips, and strap-ties of every description. It's not uncommon for us to have strap-ties that require 40 or 50 fasteners. My old coffee can of hanger nails was eventually replaced with full 50-pound boxes and today I'm buying cases of collated fasteners and special tools to shoot them.

The framing hardware industry is expanding fast and the fastener and tool folks are racing to catch up. Today there's a selection of tools ready to shoot nails in two lengths and three diameters to make the tedious, thumb-smashing job of nailing framing hardware a whole lot easier. In this test we got our hands on some of the industry's latest offerings and put them through their paces.

The Tools

This latest batch of pneumatic hardware nailers falls into two categories: traditional-style single-fire nailers and multi-blow nailers. Both categories are further divided into tools that drive 1-1/2-inch nails only and those that drive both 1-1/2- and 2-1/2-inch nails. The dual-length tools can be used to install most hardware you're likely to encounter.

The single-fire group includes the Bostitch F33PT, Hitachi NR65AKS, Max HN65J, Paslode F250S-PP, and PneuTools RNS-250 for 1-1/2- and 2-1/2-inch nails, and the

Bostitch MCN150 and PneuTools RNS-150 that only shoot 1-1/2-inch nails. All of these models are single-purpose stick-nailers with special features that allow them to accurately place nails into metal connector holes, except for the Bostitch F33PT, which is a convertible-nose framing nailer. The Max is a unique high-pressure coil nailer, which requires its own special hose and 400-psi compressor.

The multi-blow tools we tested include the Grip-Rite GR150 and GR250 and the Senco HN150 and HN250. Both 150 models shoot only 1-1/2-inch nails and both 250 models shoot 1-1/2- and 2-1/2-inch nails. These are basically the same tools with only very minor cosmetic differences between the brands. Although the specifications I received from Grip-Rite and Senco vary slightly, as far as I can tell, the GR150/HN150 and GR250/HN250 are the same tools, inside and out (I even took them apart to check).

A multi-blow tool is the result of Frankenstein-ing a palm nailer with a stick-nail magazine, and as the name implies, it must strike the nail multiple times in order to drive it home. There is no trigger; pushing the nose against a surface activates the driver and the attached magazine moves up with the nose. Therefore, extra caution is needed because bumping the bottom half of the nailer can cause inadvertent firing. Multi-blow driving helps prevent double-firing and ricocheting but is much slower. The operator typically has to listen for change in sound to know when the nail has been completely driven.

Nail Placement

When installing hangers with your work on the ground, you can stand over the connectors and see the nose of the tool clearly. But that's the exception, not the rule. Most of the time you'll be standing on a ladder trying to reach around a brace, and once you put the tool in position you won't be able to see the nose at all; you'll have to place the nail by feel. That's why you have to find a tool with a placement system that works so well you can literally use it with your eyes closed. And the speed of nailing is determined by how quickly you can line up with the next hole, so an effective system will also let you move faster.

Bostitch's F33PT converts from a framing nailer to a connector nailer with this kit.
Photo by dotfordot.com Bostitch's F33PT converts from a framing nailer to a connector nailer with this kit.

For guiding a nail into a metal connector hole, nailers like the Bostitch F33PT, Max, and Paslode use a hardened metal probe that sticks out past the nose of the tool. The rest of the tools simply use the tip of the nail to find the hole. Both techniques worked pretty well, but the probe tools worked a little better for me, especially when I was flying blind.

The Bostitch F33PT and Paslode have good probe designs, but the tools are large, which makes it more difficult to maneuver the probe. The Max nailer has a great probe design, and it's small, slim, and light. I had the best results working by feel with this tool.

Of the tools that rely on a protruding nail as their guide, I liked the Bostitch MCN150 and Hitachi designs the best.

Size & Maneuverability

A hardware nailer should be compact and lightweight. When we started testing in tight spots I knew right away that the big guys were not going to make the cut. The Bostitch F33PT and Paslode are both well-made solid performers, but when space is limited, they're just too bulky. These were the only tools with full-size magazines, which added to their length.

Once we narrowed the field to the remaining tools, this test became more complicated. Some of the tools are lighter than others, but may be a little taller or longer. With height, length, and weight all factored in, here's how they rank from small to large: The smallest and lightest tools in the group are the 1-1/2-inch-only nailers: the Grip-Rite GR150 and Senco HN150 multi-blow tools followed by the Bostitch MCN150 and PneuTools RNS-150. Then we have the dual-length nailers: the Grip-Rite GR250 and Senco HN250 and the Max, which is as light as the smallest tools but whose length, height, and 100-nail coil magazine make it slightly larger. The final two tools jump up slightly in size and weight: The Hitachi and the slightly larger PneuTools RNS-250 come in at the large end of this group, but they're both compact enough to maneuver well.

Power

We tested our tools in both Douglas fir framing lumber and in the hardest wood we have on site: LVL engineered lumber. The multi-blow tools all have the same driving power–they rely on the operator to hold the tool in place until the nail is completely driven. Longer nails or harder wood simply increased the amount of time a fastener took to be driven.

Probe tips help speed up tricky connector hole locating.
Photo by dotfordot.com Probe tips help speed up tricky connector hole locating.

For the single-fire tools, those that can bring more air to bear on the driver are going to punch the hardest, so for the conventional air pressure tools, it's no surprise that the bigger models drove nails more consistently. For the conventional air pressure tools, the Bostitch F33PT and Paslode drove nails with authority, and while it's not nearly as large a tool, the Hitachi felt about as strong and was my choice of the heavy hitters. It edged out the PneuTools RNS-250 and was head and shoulders above the smaller Bostitch and PneuTools entries, which performed well but would occasionally leave a nail standing when we really got going on the LVL.

Now that's at conventional air pressure. If you show up with a 400-psi compressor, a special high-pressure hose, and the Max HN65J running at 320 psi, it's game over for the other models. The Max has power to spare; you can nail as fast as you like and you'll never get ahead of its air supply. And along with all that power, the Max has finesse. It drove 2-1/2-by-.162-inch nails into LVL like darts into foam board and was smooth and easy to control.