New Considerations

Temperature, humidity, and altitude–conditions that won't faze pneumatic nailers–can affect the performance of hoseless tools. With regard to temperature, the performance of hoseless tools is reduced when the temperature is below freezing or much above 100 degrees F. These extreme temperatures affect both battery life and fuel cell performance. While thermal problems might be a nuisance you are already used to with batteries, they can prove more serious with fuel canisters. The gas compresses in the extreme cold, rendering it insufficient to power the tool; more dangerously, in the extreme heat the cylinder can expand and possibly rupture. The latter point is of real concern when storing fuel canisters; a closed vehicle or job box in the back of a truck can quickly reach temperatures that exceed the 120 degrees F maximum temperature that these fuel canisters are rated to withstand.

Moisture is another consideration with the gas-powered tools, as wet conditions can affect their operation. You should not use these tools in the rain, and even use in extreme humidity is cautioned against.

High altitude also can affect the gas nailers. As with extreme heat or cold, altitudes above 5,000 feet affect the delivery of gas to the tool, so using these framing tools at high elevations is not recommended. The Paslode gas-powered finish tools, however, have an optional fuel metering valve that makes them effective for use between 4,000 and 9,000 feet.

Framing Nailers

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The Max (shown) and Powers framers feature the best tool-free depth-of-drive adjustment.

Credit: Photos by Dot for Dot

I used all seven of the framers over several months building a deck, punching out a newly framed house, building a fence, and in other general framing tasks. Unlike a pneumatic nailer, which can be bump-fired until your compressor can't keep up, the gas tools all rely on full sequential-firing; for each shot, you have to press the nose onto the workpiece and then pull the trigger. All of the framers feature compact (one-stick) magazines with dry-fire lockout to prevent driver damage and have battery-monitoring indicator lights.

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The Paslode (left) and Hitachi (right) framers' rafter hooks store away when not in use. Paslode's also can be used in belt-hook position.

Credit: Photos by Dot for Dot

The gas-powered framers available now are greatly improved over the first generation tool put out 20 years ago by category pioneer Paslode. I found that all these nailers worked well; as a punch-list tool, any one of these would be a great investment. This would allow you to send one person from your crew to do punch list or repairs without tying up the compressor that is keeping your full crew productive at another site.

Keep in mind, however, that these tools lack some of the power of pneumatics, and I found that none of them performed well in engineered lumber.

Balance & Ergonomics

There is little difference in the working weights of the framers, which range from 7.6 pounds to 7.9 pounds–a little lighter than most pneumatic framers. The Hitachi models had the lightest feel, followed closely by the Paslode.

When I grab a tool, feel is of paramount importance to me. The Hitachi tools had the best feel; their soft-grip handle was comfortable and is a little smaller than on the other tools, which for me made for a much better feel on the trigger. The Max and Powers tools are a little larger to grasp than the Hitachis or Paslode, and their plastic handles are harder and therefore were not as comfortable. (Incidentally, the Max and Powers nailers are manufactured by the same company, have virtually the same features, and performed exactly the same in all test categories.)

Ease of Use

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The rubber grips on the Hitachi (left) and Paslode (right) framers were the most comfortable.

Credit: Photos by Dot for Dot

When I try a new tool, I want to figure out if it is easy to use and how convenient its features are. In essence, what would make me start picking up one tool instead of another? For instance, with these nailers, how easy are they to load, adjust, and maintain?

Installing the batteries and the fuel canisters was the first thing I looked at. I preferred the tools with the battery on the rear (all but the Paslode) because I found them easier to install and visually check; I'm not as likely to forget to snap them back in prior to use after I release the battery when the tool will sit idle for a spell. (This battery-saving procedure is important to follow because leaving the batteries in some of the gas-powered tools as long as overnight can fatally discharge–i.e., permanently ruin–the battery.)

As for the fuel canisters, all of the tools were evenly matched. They all engage in the same way, and the replacement process took about 10 seconds.

For nail loading, I preferred the metal nail-follower mechanisms on the Hitachi, Max, and Powers tools. In the past, I have had problems with my Paslode's follower and the plastic button that holds it open breaking, and although I didn't have the same problem with the test tool, I believe the component could be improved.

All of the nailers have depth-of-drive adjustment. My favorites were the Max and Powers models because of their easy dial adjustment. Paslode's tool-free stop was difficult to work, and the Hitachi design required a hex wrench.