As a framing contractor, I fasten most things with a pneumatic nailer — but some jobs are just easier to do with a fuel-powered gun. Such tasks would include installing bird blocks, rolling trusses and floor joists, and doing pickup framing — in short, any work that involves driving a limited number of fasteners in multiple parts of the building. I have used cordless framing nailers in the past and was not a huge fan, but in recent years the designs have been tweaked to eliminate some of the problems.
Early this year, Tools of the Trade sent me the newest models from Paslode and Bostitch, and this story is about my crew's experience with those guns. Both are designed around an internal combustion engine, so instead of using a hose and compressor they use batteries to ignite fuel dispensed from a gas canister. The technology works very well, but there are drawbacks to going from compressed air to fuel: The tools cycle more slowly than pneumatics and require more maintenance.
Paslode CF325Li Specs
Collation: 30-degree paper tape
Bostitch GF28WW Specs
Collation: 28-degree wire-weld
Paslode invented fuel-powered nailers more than 25 years ago, and the company's experience shows. Its newest tool, the CF325Li, has several upgrades over previous models. The nose has been redesigned to make toenailing easier. Depth-of-drive can now be set without tools, by squeezing part of the nosepiece. The adjustable belt hook is large enough to fit over 2-by framing — which is important because even though the gun is rugged, it's more complex than a pneumatic and I would not want it to fall from a height.
One of the best new features is the lithium-ion battery. It's smaller and lighter than its predecessor and can be charged enough in two minutes to drive an additional 200 nails. To avoid draining the battery while the tool is in storage, you can pull the battery out until it clicks into a position where it no longer touches the contacts. This means you don't have to remove the battery (and risk losing it) to prevent it from losing its charge.
Paslode also redesigned its fuel cells to make them faster and easier to load. Loading the gun is a matter of dropping in a cell, pivoting an adapter piece onto it, and engaging the cell by closing the actuator cover. You used to have to manually engage a tip on the cap of the cell. The new-style cells can be adapted to older Paslode tools and other brands of fuel-powered guns by installing an included adapter cap.
The CF325Li takes 30-degree paper-collated fasteners. Paper-collated nails have traditionally had clipped heads, which cannot be used in our seismic zone. Paslode's paper-collated nails have full-round offset heads, however, and comply with wind and seismic codes. Paper-collated fasteners require more care than plastic- or wire-collated nails; if you leave them out in the rain, the paper may soften to the point where clips will jam in the magazine.
The manufacturer has shown some creativity in the way it markets the consumables for this tool: The nails and fuel cells are packaged together, so if you have one you have the other. (And since there is more than enough fuel for the number of nails in the pack, you'll have an extra cylinder left over after using several packs.) The gun accepts other brands of fasteners, but according to Paslode it works best with the company's PowerBoost Black Tip Coated nails, which are designed to be easier to drive in hard material. We noticed the difference — the PowerBoost nails were less prone to breaking in hard material (like LVL) than the offbrand fasteners we normally use.
The GF28WW is Bostitch's first fuel-powered gun, and it reminds me of earlier Paslode models. For instance, you have to manually engage the tip of the cylinder before you close the cover. Though not hard to do, this is less convenient than simply dropping the cylinder in. The Bostitch gun takes a nicad battery and requires the use of an Allen wrench to change the depth-of-drive. I prefer not to use the GF28WW on sheathing because the inspectors in our area will fail us for overdriving shear nailing; the tool can be adjusted to drive perfectly flush, but it annoys me to have to use an Allen wrench to do it. Features include a rubberized grip and an adjustable belt hook that is large enough to fit over 2-by material.
The gun takes 28-degree wire-weld nails, which are available with clipped or full-round offset heads. I like the way the wire collation stands up to our wet Northwest weather; it doesn't matter if the nails get wet. Unfortunately, no one stocks these fasteners in my area, so I had to order them online.
No one stocks Bostitch fuel cylinders, either — but that's less of a problem, because you can put a tip on a Paslode cylinder to adapt it to the tool.
As I was completing this article, Bostitch announced the GF33PT, a new version of the gun designed for use with 33-degree paper-collated nails, which should be a plus in areas where that type of fastener is the norm.
The Paslode CF325Li and the Bostitch GF28WW both work better than the fuel-powered guns I've used in the past. Earlier models had a reputation for being finicky — sometimes they worked great and other times they misfired or refused to fire at all. Toenailing could be tricky because you had to search for just the right angle to get the gun to fire. I experienced very few instances of misfiring with either one of these guns, and toenailing was easier. Both guns have the power to drive nails in engineered lumber such as LVL, though you can't nail as fast as you would with a pneumatic.
The Bottom Line
Since I'm a production framer, I don't use fuel-powered framing guns that often, and frankly it wouldn't bother me not to have one. However, I'm sure I would feel differently if I were a remodeler or if I did small framing jobs where the convenience of working without a hose or compressor made up for the slower nailing speed. Both of these guns are good for that kind of work. Of the two models, I prefer the Paslode. The Bostitch feels like a bug-free version of an older design; the Paslode is more refined, and I can buy nails for it at local lumberyards and big-box stores.
Tim Uhler is a lead framer for Pioneer Builders in Port Orchard, Wash., and a Tools of the Trade contributing editor.