If you do much work that requires nailing, you know the importance of pneumatic technology. I cannot imagine going back to the days of nailing up crown or other running trim with a hammer. Changing with the times and tools can increase your productivity and the quality of your work, so it is wise to pay attention to the direction new products are moving in.
This was readily proven to me after I bought my first pneumatic nailer. The time it saved me quickly outweighed the initial investment, and the only downside was lugging around a compressor and dealing with a sometimes uncooperative hose. That first 18-gauge brad nailer is still going strong after more than 20 years of regular use–a wise investment indeed.
To free up the nailing experience, gas cartridge tools were developed, offering a viable option that wasn't tied to a compressor. Taking the same step in a slightly different direction are the newer battery-powered nailers, such as the brand-new DeWalt DC608 18-volt, 18-gauge brad nailer.
My company specializes in custom woodwork, and the most used nailer in my shop is the brad nailer. Although often supplemented with screws or glue, it is the most versatile nail size: small enough not to leave craters in the wood, available in lengths up to 2 inches, and strong enough to hold wood in a variety of applications. So, when the chance arose, the prospect of testing a battery version of my pet nailer piqued my interest.
The DC608 uses a standard DeWalt XRP 18-volt battery to power its flywheel driver. It comes in a kit with a case, charger, and one battery. And being battery powered, it requires no internal lubrication. It has a fastener range of 5/8-inch through 2-inch brads, just like many pneumatics. It comes equipped with a mode selection switch on the tool body that toggles between sequential-fire and bump-fire action. Sequential firing lets you drive one nail at a time, which is useful when you want careful and accurate placement of the fastener. Bump firing is the setting for long trim runs and quick tacking. You can control the depth-of-drive by turning a dial on the side of the tool to one of 12 adjustment settings.
One cool feature I wasn't expecting is the headlight. When the user pulls the trigger, a small headlight turns on, illuminating the surface where the nail is going. Another cool feature is the handy lock-off switch, which reduces the likelihood of accidental firing. The tool also comes with a belt hook.
Flipping a latch on the nose of the nailer allows easy, tool-free access to the driver assembly for clearing jams.
Using the Tool
Testing the tool for the first time was exciting; I welcomed not having to lug an air compressor onto the jobsite. The body of the DC608 is much larger than a pneumatic 18-gauge nailer. Also, its weight–7.4 pounds with an nicad battery or 6.5 pounds with a lithium-ion battery–is notably heavier. Both of these differences take some getting used to. Another thing I noticed was how the flywheel technology works to drive a nail. Instead of a familiar, sudden burst of the driver on the nail head, I heard the sound of a motor kick on once the trigger was pulled (in bump-fire mode) or when the safety on the nailer tip was pressed against the wood (bump- and sequential-fire modes). This is the sound of the rotating flywheel motor that provides the energy to drive the nails. Other than that, it drove nails just like any other bradder.
I tested the tool in various moldings using different length nails, and had no problem with countersinking. I also shot 2-inch brads into hardwoods, and found that the tool was up to the toughest task a brad nailer faces.
When I used the DC608 to finish up some miscellaneous trim on the exterior of an addition we were working on, this tool saved me a lot of time, but it was hard to get used to its size. It is much heavier than pneumatic 18-gauge nailers, making it more fatiguing to use, especially when up on a ladder installing crown molding overhead. In addition, the head of the tool is quite large, about two-thirds the size of my framing nailer. This made it somewhat cumbersome for trimwork, because it is not as well balanced as its pneumatic counterpart. Small jobs were fine, but using it regularly, I noticed it did not maneuver as easily as a small gun.
Nicad cells are heavy, especially in large, 18-volt batteries. High power usually meant high weight, but now there's another option. DeWalt introduced its new 18-volt LI battery, and like its LI batteries of other voltages, it's called a Nano battery.
The Nano is noticeably smaller, almost 1 pound lighter, and can be used in any 18-volt DeWalt tool dating back to 1996. However, you will need a new charger, as the Nano is not compatible with any other DeWalt charger. You can charge standard XR and XRP batteries in the LI charger, though.
Before testing the Nano in the nailer, I used it in the DeWalt drill/driver that I've used for several years. Because I am more familiar with how it felt in my hand, I thought this would give me a better sense of the weight benefit. Although I didn't perform any quantitative tests, my conclusion is that the weight difference alone is significant enough to make the Nano my next replacement battery purchase.
I did perform side-by-side testing of the Nano and standard 18-volt XRP batteries in the brad nailer. There is a clear difference in the feel of the DC608 using the Nano instead of an XRP battery, but in power and driving performance, I noticed no difference. Both batteries drove hundreds of nails below the surface in hardwoods, and operated identically in sequential- and bump-fire settings.
For a battery endurance test, I pushed the batteries to see how long each would last. This is where a difference came up between the two chemistries; the standard nicad battery lasted longer. In my test, I consecutively shot 1-inch brads into a hemlock 2x4. After averaging several trials using freshly charged batteries, the standard XRP battery lasted approximately 1,300 shots. The Nano quit after about 800. Rarely would you shoot this many nails one right after another. In fact, after about 700 consecutive cycles, the nailer overheated and shut down. Overall, my testing revealed that the Nano battery would have to be recharged more often. In addition, as both batteries got tired, there was a slight decrease in performance, but I was still able to shoot nails up until they died altogether.
I think the DeWalt DC608 has a place in the market. You can't overlook the convenience of this battery technology for trim nailers, especially if you own additional 18-volt DeWalt batteries. Would I purchase the gun? Yes, but only for dedicated tasks like punch-list items and small jobs where staging takes as long as the work itself. I would highly recommend the new Nano batteries if you plan on using the nailer a lot. Shaving anything off the overall weight would be worth it.
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