Lowly-but-essential tools that we count on unconsciously and curse when we can't find them buried in the toolbox, hammer tackers simplify the tedious task of driving wire staples into all sorts of building products. Whether you're tacking down carpet pad, hanging faced fiberglass batts, felting a roof, wrapping a house, applying fan-fold siding backer, or posting "Keep Out" signs, you'd be lost without these fast staple-driving tools.
The two basic types of hammer tackers are differentiated by ther designs: fixed drivers and mechanical drivers. Of the 18 we tested, fixed-driver tackers made up the largest group: the Bostitch PC2K and H30-8, Desa Powerfast 10401-B, Duo-Fast Slapshot, FPC Corp. Surebonder Max Impact 5800, Isaberg Rapid R11E and R54, Prebena HHPF 09, Senco PC0700, and Stanley PHT150. Most of these are slim and fit easily in a tool bag or belt holster. Aside from the Bostitch models, at a glance most of them look punched out of the same factory. But while they are similar looking, there are some differences.
The same goes for the less clone-prone mechanical-driver tackers. These models have large heads and look bulkier than fixed-driver types yet weigh about the same. The mechanical-driver models we tested are the Arrow HT50P; Duo-Fast HT-550, HT-755, and HT-755M; FPC Corp. Surebonder Max Impact Pro 5850; Porta-Nails 60818; and Stanley PHT250. I also tested the Arrow HT65, which, while still a mechanical-driver tool, is an entirely different animal (see "Specialty Staplers," below).
The driving mechanism of the fixed-driver staplers is simple: a hardened steel driver is mounted inside the end of the body channel, just like in a desk stapler. The magazine track fits within this body and has a pivot point at the rear of the tool. A spring between the magazine and body controls the action. Swat a fixed-driver tacker at the target surface and the inertia of the body (with attached driver) punches a staple into it. The spring rebounds the magazine to the neutral position while bouncing the tool off the surface, ready to drive another staple. It takes very little effort to operate most fixed-driver tackers; just the flick of the wrist sinks a staple.
All of the fixed-driver tackers in the test group felt well balanced. The bodies on these tools, except the cast-aluminum Bostitch models, are stamped and chromed steel "C" channels with an extra-thick piece of steel wrapped around the top and sides. This reinforces the business end and adds mass to sink the staples. The two bolts atop most models secure a weight inside the head. The rear of the handles are covered in molded plastic, rubber, or a combination of the two.
The mechanical-driver models have actuator nosepieces linked to the drivers. The nosepieces wrap around the front and a part of the sides of the tool and act as a trigger. When the stapler is whacked against a surface, the actuator goes up and the driver punches down, driving the staple home. A spring returns the actuator and driver to the neutral position. The mechanical-driver tackers generally have a dead-blow feel compared to the rebound of the fixed-driver tools.
The mechanisms housed in the head of the mechanical-driver tools make them look larger than fixed-driver tackers, but while more mass is shifted to the head, the overall weight of mechanical-driver tools is similar to fixed-driver models. However, these tools aren't as evenly balanced as the fixed-driver models and felt head-heavy, more like a hammer; on the other hand, the extra head mass along with the mechanical-drive mechanism enables some of these tools to drive longer staples (up to 9/16 inch).
Most of the models are rear-loading and hold two standard sticks of staples (approximately 170). A spring-loaded pusher slides on a rod that hooks onto the rear of the tool body. Staple sticks must be carefully inserted onto two rails that form the loading track within the handle. Rear-loading these tools can be frustrating if your box of staples has dozens of short, broken staple sticks.
Of the rear-loaders, the Rapid R54 was easiest; its pusher rod retainer at the end of the magazine exposes the staple rails a little more than the others, and it has an angled metal guide on the top of the track so even crumbled sticks of staples can be loaded.
The pusher rods on these typical rear-loaders are easy-to-lose parts. You can occasionally knock the pusher rod hook from its retainer slot on the body when stapling. This happens more frequently when staples run low and there's less compression on the staple-advancing spring. Pusher rods are $3 to $4 parts; I keep an extra one on hand just in case.
The mechanical-driver Duo-Fast models have a modified rear-loading system that I actually found a little simpler to load after a few tries. The top of the handle hinges open, exposing the end of the staple rail and a spring, which must be manually disconnected and then reconnected to its removable pusher bar once the staples are slid in. Although the spring holds it securely when engaged, it is easy to drop the separate pusher bar during reloads. Also, the handle hatch can open accidentally, though the mechanism won't allow any staples to fall out.
The Bostitch H30-8 has a cast body rather than a formed "C" channel and features a mid-body hinged magazine with no loose parts; the pusher is an integral part of the magazine. Pulling the retaining pin at the nose of the tool allows you to hinge the magazine open. Even though the track only holds one stick of 84 staples, the reload process is fast so there's really no extra downtime with loading just a single stick.
The Surebonder Max Impact and Max Impact Pro and the Bostitch PC2K all share the best loading system. The pusher and staple rail assembly slide out the rear as one unit and a stop at the end keeps the assembly from ever falling out of the tool. With the tacker inverted, retracting this captive pusher assembly exposes the full length of the magazine track, so it is even easy to load staple stick fragments. With the tacker right side up, however, it will dump any remaining staples. A great feature on the PC2K and Max Impact is the staple load indicator: With a quick glance at the bottom, you know just how many whacks are left before it's shooting blanks. You can estimate the number of staples left in the Max Impact Pro by looking at its visible pusher, although it lacks a numerical scale.
All but two of the fixed-driver tackers handle 1/4- to 3/8-inch staples; the Rapid R54 drives 3/8- to 9/16-inch staples and the Bostitch PC2K handles 1/4- to 1/2-inch. Mechanical-driver tackers typically shoot longer staples, except the Duo-Fast HT-550, which maxes out at 5/16 inch. The Arrow HT50P and Stanley PHT250 drive up to 1/2-inch staples handily, and the Porta-Nails, Surebonder Max Impact Pro, and both Duo-Fast HT-755 models handle up to 9/16 inch.
Most models take a standard 7/16-inch crown staple most commonly known as the Arrow T50 or Duo-Fast A-11 style. Bostitch tools use its unique PowerCrown staples, and the Duo-Fast HT-550 takes its own 1/2-inch crown 5000 series staples while the HT-755 models take their 15/32-inch crown 7500 series staples.
Of course, the ability to load a long-legged staple and sink it are two different things. To see which models could handle their longest-length staples, I tried an informal test, driving staples into a fixed OSB panel. All of the short-staple-driving models (5/16 to 3/8 inch) did fine except the Powerfast 10401-B, which needed an extra-long swing to counteract its overly stiff action and sink staples consistently.
The Surebonder Max Impact Pro and Porta-Nails tools were both rated to drive up to 9/16-inch staples but had trouble sinking shorter 1/2-inch staples. Where the Surebonder left the staple heads proud, the Porta-Nails mashed the excess staple leg over. To be fair, long staples are usually only used for attaching thick materials, which effectively reduce the substrate penetration depth. It would be overkill (and overwork) to drive 1/2-inch or longer staples through housewrap of negligible thickness into sheathing all day.
At some point, all of the tackers left proud staples due to variations in material density or technique. Often this was due to a weak or off-angle strike. Partially-driven staples don't have the same holding power in housewrap or roof underlayment and will tear out in windy conditions–plus, their raised crowns can interfere with subsequent siding and roofing installation–so I like to set the standing staples. The first impulse most users have is to flip the tacker over and give the staple a smack, but this can send a staple flying toward your face. Tap gingerly, or better yet, use the side of a fixed-driver tool as your setting device. While such unwanted projectiles occur more easily with the fixed-driver types, mechanical-driver models can still spit out staples if whacked hard enough, so go a little easy or grab a hammer.
None of the mechanical-driver tackers jammed during testing. Of the fixed-driver models, the two Bostitch tools did not jam, but most of the other models did. In the case of a driver jam, when the magazine stays stuck up in the tool body, pry it down at the nose or knock the magazine down by placing a 2-inch or longer nail up into the corner of the head and tapping the nail downward against a hard surface. The Bostitch PC2K has a "trigger" on the back that can be pushed to clear a staple.
I avoid magazine-feed jams by using quality staples and not loading small staple stick fragments into the tools. But if they do bunch up inside, it helps to be able to open the tool up as much as possible. This is another instance where open-magazine loading types are preferred. Common fixed-driver tools have a rear hinge pin that connects the magazine to the body that is removable once the pusher is extracted. Most pins have a knurled head to pull on, but the Stanley and Rapid R11 have pins recessed below the molded grips for comfort. A push on the opposite side of the handle extends the broad head of the pin and a tug extracts it. Squeezing the magazine up into the body takes the pressure off of the pin and makes it easy to slide out. Once the pin is out, the magazine track slides out the front of the tool. Only the Powerfast tool pin requires a wrench and screwdriver to remove. When replacing the pin, remember that it will fit in either side–whichever is easier on your driving hand.
Though they didn't jam, the mechanical-driver Duo-Fast tools have a unique removable driver cover that allows jammed staples to be pushed right out the front. A bail spring retains the separate metal piece and wraps from the bottom around the back of the head. The spring is easy to disengage with the push of a thumb, but relocking it requires a bit more care to avoid a nasty pinch.