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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 their 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).

Driving Design

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.

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Pulling the pin at the rear of most fixed-driver tackers, like on this Duo-Fast Slapshot, releases the magazine track.

Credit: Photos by Dot for Dot

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).

Staple Loading

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The top two tackers, the Bostitch PC2K (top) and the Surebonder Max Impact (bottom), feature handy staple-load indicators.

Credit: Photos by Dot for Dot

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.