In my work as a finish carpenter, I use a variety of nails: 18-gauge brads for molding and trim, 15-gauge nails for door jambs, and 16-gauge nails for everything else. I prefer to work without hoses, and for the last 10 years have been using 16- and 18-gauge fuel-powered nailers from Paslode. They work very well, but I dislike having to buy gas cylinders, breathe exhaust fumes, and oil and clean the guns.
About a year and a half ago I tested the first Senco Fusion nailer, a 15-gauge angled finish gun (F-15) powered entirely by an 18-volt lithium-ion battery. Although I liked it, I would have preferred a 16-gauge model, which would leave smaller holes and work better on MDF and delicate trim. Recently I got my wish: Senco has introduced a pair of guns that use 16-gauge fasteners — one for angled collation (F-16A) and the other for straight (F-16S). For the last few months I have been using the F-16A. Here's what I have to report.
The Fusion is not the first battery-powered finish nailer. DeWalt and other companies have been making battery-powered guns for years, and Bosch just introduced one. But those guns rely on flywheel technology, so it takes a second for them to wind up when you first turn them on — plus they're relatively bulky and heavy.
Though battery-powered, the Fusion drives nails pneumatically, with compressed nitrogen gas. The gas is not released after the shot; it's recompressed by a motor-driven gear mechanism and used over and over again. (Nitrogen is used because its large molecules are less likely to leak past the seals in the cylinder.) The gear mechanism raises the piston to the "cocked" position, so when you squeeze the trigger the gun fires instantly, with the power and feel of a pneumatic.
Performance does not tail off at the end of the battery's charge: If the driver can be reset, you'll get a full-power shot. If it can't, the gun stops working.
Nail type: 16-gauge; 20-degree angled
Using the Gun
At first I had trouble getting the F-16A to fully set nails. I figured the Paslode fasteners I was using were to blame and switched to Senco nails. When that didn't help, I returned the gun to the manufacturer and got a replacement. The next gun had the same problem, but this time I didn't give up so quickly — I fired about 100 test shots, and after that the problem went away. The manual doesn't say anything about a break-in period, but apparently there is one. The gun I have now works just fine, and the only time it doesn't set nails is when I fail to hold the tip firmly against the material.
In terms of driving power, the Fusion feels the same as any gas or pneumatic nailer. I have used it in plywood, poplar, cherry, pine, and MDF — and it does the job in all of them. It is, however, bigger and heavier than the pneumatic and gas-powered guns that shoot 16-gauge fasteners. Normally, I prefer a smaller, lighter gun, but this one is quite comfortable to handle. For me, the added size and weight are reasonable trade-offs for being able to work without an air hose or fuel cylinders.
A three-position switch near the battery turns the tool off (so it won't fire) and sets it to sequential (single-fire) or contact-actuation (bounce-fire). According to the manufacturer, the gun is capable of firing up to three nails per second — plenty fast for the kind of work I do. The Fusion consumes a small amount of power whenever it's on, so it's best to turn it off when you're not using it.
According to Senco, you can get up to 500 shots per charge. I can't confirm that number, but I know I almost never run out of power during the course of a day. This may be because I do custom work (so I'm not firing nail after nail) and always throw the battery on the charger during my lunch break. If the tool came with a second battery, I can't imagine ever running out of power — unless I was doing production work.
It takes about 45 minutes to fully charge a depleted battery and about 15 minutes to charge it 80 percent. In a pinch, you can put it on the charger for five minutes or so and get enough of a charge to make the 20 or 30 shots needed to finish a job. I appreciate the built-in battery gauge because it lets me see how much charge is left.
Compared with the average pneumatic, the Fusion is packed with features. Squeezing the trigger or depressing the contact element turns on an LED light that illuminates the point of contact. Though not as bright as the light on a cordless drill, it's helpful when you're working in dimly lit areas like closets.
If a nail jams in the gun, you can get to it easily by flipping a latch and removing the magazine. This is a quick operation and requires no tools.
Depth-of-drive is controlled by a knurled adjustment wheel on the nose of the gun. The wheel is tucked well into the housing, and there's a scale below it so you can tell at a glance how deep the nail is set to go.
The heavily rubberized grip is comfortable to grasp and easy on any finished surface the tool might be placed on. My only complaint about the shape of the F-16A is that it won't stand upright like the 15-gauge model; you have to rest it on its side.
The tool has a belt hook that can be positioned for left- or right-hand use. Unlike the 15-gauge model — which comes with a hard plastic case — this gun comes in a fabric carry bag. I prefer the bag because it's easier to pack, takes up less space, and doesn't slide around in the back of my truck.
The Bottom Line
I would recommend the 16-gauge Senco Fusion to any finish carpenter who wants to cut the hose. I like it better than competing models because it's lighter than a flywheel gun, costs less to operate than a fuel-powered model, and performs very much like a pneumatic.
Jesse Wright is a finish carpenter for Architectural Molding in Concord, Calif.