By Mike Guertin
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If you're still using hammer-tacker staples alone to attach housewrap and synthetic roof underlayments, you haven't read the instructions lately. Major manufacturers of these products have required capped fasteners spaced in specific patterns for the past several years. I know what you're thinking: "Why go through the extra effort? Nobody else does it that way. I've been using hammer tackers for decades and never had a problem." I've heard all the reasons installers give for not using capped fasteners, and 10 years ago, I was singing the same tune. After attempting to hand-nail caps on a few jobs in accordance with manufacturers' instructions, I quickly looked for a better way. Back then I found a limited selection. Today there are more than a dozen staplers and nailers that deliver plastic caps with each bounce and at a rate that is almost as fast as hammer-tacker stapling.

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There's a good reason housewrap and underlayment manufacturers often require capped fasteners. The plastic cap greatly increases a fastener's surface area and, thus, its holding power, so building fabrics are much less likely to tear out from under the fasteners, even after exposure to windy conditions for more than a few days. Even light breezes can puff up lightweight building fabrics and cause tears around medium-wire staples, leaving holes that will leak. Hammer tackers themselves can cause damage, too; the rim of the nose that you whack against the building often tears into the membrane.

The case for capped fasteners will grow in years to come as building codes recognize problems with inferior installation practices. For several years now, Florida has required ring-shank cap nails–not just staples–to be used in high-wind areas, and with a nailing pattern spaced 12 inches on center for roofing underlayments. And as more field inspectors check to see that products are installed according to manufacturers' instructions, which often go beyond prescriptive code requirements, the less we'll use hammer tackers on these weather-resisting barriers.

These tools don't just fasten roofing underlayments and housewraps. Some of them can drive 1 1/2-inch staples or even longer nails so you can secure thick, soft materials such as rigid foam board and fiberboard with confidence. Over the past few years, I've also used cap tools to hang radiant barrier wraps on the underside of roof rafters for energy-saving retrofits, fan-fold foam over old siding, carpet padding, roof vent chutes, attic sealing membranes, and even jobsite signs.

I tested seven cap staplers and three cap nailers. The staplers are the Bostitch SB150SLBC-1, Grip-Rite GRC58A, Pneu-Tools RC-58 II and Rap-A-Cap RC-150 II, Senco BC58, Spotnails TCS6832, and the X-Cell XL376. The nailers are the Bostitch N66BC, Hitachi NV50AP3, and the Pneu-Tools RC-200.

Three of the staplers, the Grip-Rite GRC58A, Senco BC58, and Pneu-Tools RC-58 II, are clones, identical in features and performance and different only in color. Because of this and the fact that they all use "58" in their model numbers, I'll call them the "58 staplers" collectively throughout this article.

Features. All of the tools tested feature toolfree exhaust positioning except for the Spotnails, which is not adjustable at all. The 58s, Spotnails, X-Cell, and Pneu-Tools 150 and 200 all have belt hooks. All the top-loading staplers have a toolfree latch for clearing jammed staples, and the bottom-loading staplers are openable from below. You can adjust the depth of drive on the Pneu-Tools 150, Spotnails, and X-Cell staplers by using a tool near the nose, but the Bostitch stapler and all three nailers have a convenient dial by their triggers for this purpose. Also, using a built-in switch, you can change the Spotnails stapler and Hitachi and Pneu-Tools nailers to single-fire mode.