Jam Clearing. All the tools in the test group offer a tool-less system for removing a jammed staple. The Hitachi, ISM, Max, Porter-Cable, Senco, and Spotnails each use a hinged lever to hold the top half of the nosepiece closed during operation. If the tool jams, you just flip the lever, which releases the hinged upper portion of the nosepiece, allowing clear access to the jammed staple. The hinged systems on all of these tools worked well.
The Fasco uses a different approach, a bar-type lever on the side of the nose. You rotate it and a pin is drawn back, releasing the hinged top half of the nosepiece. It's effortless to use and allows great access for removing jams.
Stanley-Bostitch has a unique system for removing jams from their 650S5. While the other tools in the group have nosepieces that open, the Stanley-Bostitch's magazine separates from the bottom of the nosepiece. This allows the magazine to slide down about 5/8 inch and usually requires you to get needle nose pliers to grab the jammed staple.
The system I liked best is on both the Paslode and Duo-Fast. In this system, the upper nosepiece is held in position by twin hooks. The hooks are part of a spring-loaded lever; just depress the lever and the hooks retract. The top then falls open, and you pull out the staple, click the nose back into position, and go.
It's a good thing that, almost without exception, all of the tools tested appeared tough in every regard, because these tools–without exception–take serious abuse on site. During our eight weeks of testing, however, we noticed a few areas of concern.
The ISM unit's magazine is fairly slim and it extends 4-1/2 inches below the support arm. Unsupported like that, I can see it bending if the tool were dropped from staging or packed wrong in the bottom of a gang box. Also, the ISM's nose safety bent easily. It's a thick wire that slides through grooves on either side of the nosepiece and it bent after a day of overhead use so that the safety wouldn't slide properly, actually sticking in the firing position. The Fasco magazine extends a full 4-3/4 inches below the handle support. While the magazine seems more substantial than the ISM's, it could still be a weak point under jobsite conditions.
Wish List. One improvement I'd like to see in this category is a dry-fire lockout. All the best new framing nailers won't fire when out of fasteners. Staples are hard to see when you're nailing off sheeting at Mach-1 and often the driver blade indentation makes it appear a staple has been driven. I can't count how many times I've seen guys just going to town with a tool that ran out of staples two or three minutes earlier. A dry-fire lockout would ensure that the operator didn't waste his or her time firing an empty tool and would also avoid unnecessary wear and tear.