Cap Loading. As mentioned, we tested three cap nailers: the Bostitch N66BC, Hitachi NV50AP3, and the Pneu-Tools RC-200. I was apprehensive when I saw the size of the Hitachi cap magazine, which holds 350 caps on one reel, but it turned out to be easy to load. The side hinges along the bottom of the cap-feeding channel open up not just the round reel holder, but the entire channel. The cap reels are housed in sturdy paperboard, so there's little chance of spilling and tangling. You just pull out 8 inches or so of the caps off the reel and feed them right into the channel. It takes about 8 seconds to reload and lasts longer than three times the loads of the other nailers. The Bostitch has the same side-mounted, 100-cap barrel system as it uses on the stapler, which only took 3 seconds to load. And the Pneu-Tools nailer shares the same inline, 110-cap horizontal barrel as its staplers and is another 3-second reloader.
Nail Loading. All three nailers have standard swing-out coil nailer magazines. The Bostitch has the longest nail capacity at up to 2 1/2 inches, while the Hitachi and Pneu-Tools models shoot up to 2-inch nails. The Hitachi coils have 350 nails to match their cap reels. The Bostitch and Pneu-Tools coils have 300 nails and, therefore, require you to reload caps three times for each coil of nails.
Balance and Weight. The Bostitch nailer feels much heavier than the Pneu-Tools or the Hitachi because of its very head-heavy balance. The balance wasn't an issue when capping off roofing felt when our arms were below our shoulders, but when installing housewrap, fatigue set in after a couple walls worth of wrapping. The Pneu-Tools also was head-heavy, but not as noticeably as the Bostitch.
Driving Performance. The Bostitch had no trouble sinking 2 1/2-inch nails into dense sheathing. The Hitachi did OK but left a few heads proud driving 2-inch ring-shank nails. The Pneu-Tools had trouble driving consistently, even with the depth-of-drive adjustment at the deepest setting. However, the only time you'd need to use such long nails is when installing foam or fiberboard, so the power shouldn't be an issue. We needed to back off the depth adjustments on all three nailers when shooting 1- or 1 1/4-inch nails.
Cap Delivery. The Pneu-Tools nailer is tricky to use for consistent cap fastening. When the tool is in forward motion and bounce-fired, the cap folds in half. The tool has to contact the sheathing either straight down or with a slight rearward motion. The Bostitch cap nailer delivered great placement with every nose plant, regardless of its motion. The same goes for the Hitachi; even at high speed, it spit out caps with perfect results. Durability. All three nailers performed well, and the mechanical parts appear designed and built to last. The Bostitch and Hitachi cap magazines seem to be their weakest link, but we really didn't have any problems with either tool.
Maneuverability. The Hitachi and Pneu-Tools nosed into corners without wrist-wrenching bends, but the Bostitch nailer had the same side-mounted cap magazine awkwardness that we had to get used to with its stapler.
Overall, I was amazed. There wasn't a real loser in the lot. But through our evaluations, the tools I preferred for the work I typically do rose to the top.
Staplers. Everyone on the crew agreed that the best tools for housewrap and underlayment attachment are the 58 tools: the Grip-Rite GRC58A, Pneu-Tools RC-58 II, and Senco BC58. They're compact, lightweight, well-balanced, load quickly, and fire caps and staples consistently and well. The only meaningful drawback is the 5/8-inch maximum staple length, making the tools useless for thicker products.
The Bostitch stapler came in second, and would have been first if up to 1-inch foam board installation was common for me. The Spotnails came in third with good capacity and good balance, and the less-powerful Pneu-Tools 150 and X-Cell staplers rounded out the group.
Nailers. When it comes to cap nailers, the Hitachi is hard to beat. Augmenting its standout feature of great balance is the combination of easy loading, high capacity cap reels and nail coils, and a 2-inch capacity. The Bostitch nailer is the second choice with the longest capacity of 2 1/2-inch nails for thicker products, followed by the Pneu-Tools nailer.
–Mike Guertin is a Rhode Island-based builder and remodeler, frequent contributor to Tools of the Trade, and member of Hanley Wood's JLC Live construction demonstration team.
National Nail CH38 Stinger
When I first saw National Nail's unique new cap-stapling hammer tacker, I knew I had to have one. The biggest complaint I hear from installers who use cap tools is that they're tethered to a compressor. The Stinger changes that. It's like a basic, stick-style hammer-tacker stapler but features a rear-mounted coil magazine and an underbody cap-delivery channel. You just squeeze a lever with your index finger to advance a cap, then whack as normal. It can take a new user a dozen or so tries to get the rhythm down–squeeze-whack, squeeze-whack–but it soon becomes automatic.
The angle of attack needs to be consistently flat enough to sink the staple through the cap and into the sheathing without it bending over. Loading the caps takes practice, too. I typically use the tip of a nail to coax the leading cap through the channel; still, it takes less than 30 seconds to reload staples and caps, so I can't complain. The short, 3/8-inch staple legs don't penetrate as deep as the pneumatic tools' fasteners, so they don't have a lot of holding power. In high-wind conditions, the caps and staples can pop right off, so don't be stingy with the staples if your housewrap or roofing underlayment will be left exposed for an extended period. I often use the Stinger to tack down housewrap and roofing felt at 3- to 4-foot intervals instead of a risking damage with a hammer tacker. Then I go back with a pneumatic cap tool and fasten off the material to the manufacturer's specs.
The Stinger holds 168 caps and 168 staples and weighs 2.6 pounds.