Maintenance

Air-free does not mean carefree. Heat buildup slows down gas-powered tools, so keeping the air filter clean is important. The manuals for the Max, Paslode (both framing and finish), and Powers prescribe blowing it out every two days; their filters feature tool-free access. Hitachi doesn't mention this as a maintenance item, but it might be wise to do so anyway.

For optimum performance with these tools, regular comprehensive internal cleanings are also necessary as often as every nine fuel canisters or 10,000 nails. The Paslode models (both framing and finish) come with detailed instructions and a pictorial reference guide. Hitachi and Max make you seek out instructions on their Web sites, curiously not even mentioning this procedure in their owner's manuals. Powers does not offer information about this procedure.

Finish and Brad Nailers

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DeWalt's depth adjustment has six numbered positions, which made it easy to set and re-set.

Credit: Photos by Dot for Dot

I'm not sure that I will ever use a compressor-driven trim gun again due to the big leap forward of the DeWalt 18-volt nailer and Senco 14.4-volt finish nailers. I found that these battery-powered tools worked just as well as the gas-powered Paslodes, and from a cost standpoint, it is hard to justify paying for fuel to get equal performance.

While I didn't nail extensively into dense hardwoods, all five tools in the finish group had the power to get the job done when I did. In fact, I didn't find one application where any of these tools couldn't do the job.

Balance & Ergonomics

Unlike the framers, the hoseless trim nailers are heavier than their pneumatic equivalents, and there is a wider weight range in this category. The gas-powered Paslode trim nailers have the advantage here, weighing in at 4.9 pounds each, versus the battery-powered Senco 18-gauge and 15-gauge nailers, which weigh 6.3 and 7.7 pounds, respectively, and the DeWalt 16-gauge nailer, which is a hefty 8.5 pounds. Being much heavier and physically larger is a side effect of the battery size and larger drive mechanisms.

Though all the tools feature a rubber-topped handle, the lighter Paslode tools were much easier to hold and maneuver, and they feature a rubber-tipped trigger that was easy to grip. The Senco and DeWalt tools resemble a dumbbell in both appearance and feel.

Ease of Use

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Senco's unique dial/button sets depth adjustment and firing mode.

Credit: Photos by Dot for Dot

All of these tools have a tool-free depth-of-drive adjustment. The DeWalt has a depth adjustment wheel with six numbered settings on the side of the tool, the Paslodes have an adjustment knob by the nose, and the Sencos have a dial located above the handle and trigger.

The battery-powered DeWalt and Senco nailers can switch between two firing modes, a handy trick that gas-driven nailers can't do. Switching to bump-fire brings the performance of these tools ever closer to that of their pneumatic relatives. The DeWalt was a standout performer in this mode during a rapid-fire test. With Paslode, the gas drive couldn't recover quickly enough and with Senco, the battery didn't seem to have enough power; perhaps it was the difference between a 14.4-volt and an 18-volt tool.

Quick-release nose latches, found on all the finish nailer models except the Senco 18-gauge, made short work of jammed nails; the Senco 18-gauge requires a tool. All of the nailers have belt hooks, but I found the larger Senco and DeWalt tools too heavy on the toolbelt.

The DeWalt model has two additional perks: LED lights on each side that turn on when the trigger is pulled to light up the work surface and a manual lockout switch to prevent accidental nail firing. I appreciated both of these features.