Nail Placement

When installing hangers with your work on the ground, you can stand over the connectors and see the nose of the tool clearly. But that's the exception, not the rule. Most of the time you'll be standing on a ladder trying to reach around a brace, and once you put the tool in position you won't be able to see the nose at all; you'll have to place the nail by feel. That's why you have to find a tool with a placement system that works so well you can literally use it with your eyes closed. And the speed of nailing is determined by how quickly you can line up with the next hole, so an effective system will also let you move faster.

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Bostitch's F33PT converts from a framing nailer to a connector nailer with this kit.

Credit: Photo by dotfordot.com

For guiding a nail into a metal connector hole, nailers like the Bostitch F33PT, Max, and Paslode use a hardened metal probe that sticks out past the nose of the tool. The rest of the tools simply use the tip of the nail to find the hole. Both techniques worked pretty well, but the probe tools worked a little better for me, especially when I was flying blind.

The Bostitch F33PT and Paslode have good probe designs, but the tools are large, which makes it more difficult to maneuver the probe. The Max nailer has a great probe design, and it's small, slim, and light. I had the best results working by feel with this tool.

Of the tools that rely on a protruding nail as their guide, I liked the Bostitch MCN150 and Hitachi designs the best.

Size & Maneuverability

A hardware nailer should be compact and lightweight. When we started testing in tight spots I knew right away that the big guys were not going to make the cut. The Bostitch F33PT and Paslode are both well-made solid performers, but when space is limited, they're just too bulky. These were the only tools with full-size magazines, which added to their length.

Once we narrowed the field to the remaining tools, this test became more complicated. Some of the tools are lighter than others, but may be a little taller or longer. With height, length, and weight all factored in, here's how they rank from small to large: The smallest and lightest tools in the group are the 1-1/2-inch-only nailers: the Grip-Rite GR150 and Senco HN150 multi-blow tools followed by the Bostitch MCN150 and PneuTools RNS-150. Then we have the dual-length nailers: the Grip-Rite GR250 and Senco HN250 and the Max, which is as light as the smallest tools but whose length, height, and 100-nail coil magazine make it slightly larger. The final two tools jump up slightly in size and weight: The Hitachi and the slightly larger PneuTools RNS-250 come in at the large end of this group, but they're both compact enough to maneuver well.

Power

We tested our tools in both Douglas fir framing lumber and in the hardest wood we have on site: LVL engineered lumber. The multi-blow tools all have the same driving power–they rely on the operator to hold the tool in place until the nail is completely driven. Longer nails or harder wood simply increased the amount of time a fastener took to be driven.

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Probe tips help speed up tricky connector hole locating.

Credit: Photo by dotfordot.com

For the single-fire tools, those that can bring more air to bear on the driver are going to punch the hardest, so for the conventional air pressure tools, it's no surprise that the bigger models drove nails more consistently. For the conventional air pressure tools, the Bostitch F33PT and Paslode drove nails with authority, and while it's not nearly as large a tool, the Hitachi felt about as strong and was my choice of the heavy hitters. It edged out the PneuTools RNS-250 and was head and shoulders above the smaller Bostitch and PneuTools entries, which performed well but would occasionally leave a nail standing when we really got going on the LVL.

Now that's at conventional air pressure. If you show up with a 400-psi compressor, a special high-pressure hose, and the Max HN65J running at 320 psi, it's game over for the other models. The Max has power to spare; you can nail as fast as you like and you'll never get ahead of its air supply. And along with all that power, the Max has finesse. It drove 2-1/2-by-.162-inch nails into LVL like darts into foam board and was smooth and easy to control.