The Rundown

The easiest way to report findings for these tools is to compare models of similar operation and, within that, similar size and nail capacity.

Multi-blow nailers are among the smallest and lightest hardware nailers, making them easy to fit into tight spaces, and they are some of the most affordable in the group. However, some drawbacks of their operation, such as their low speed and scarcity of safety features, keep me from recommending their use over single-fire designs. The lack of a trigger or safety switch means that a push or bump can result in an unwanted nail discharge, so I wouldn't advise using the belt clip to hold the nailer against your body. Sometimes just plugging in the air hose would send a nail flying unexpectedly. Another drawback I found with this type of nailer is that whenever the tool was withdrawn from the work before the nail was fully set, in order to drive the last bit of nail without grabbing a hammer I had to release the nail-follower pressure, slide the remaining fasteners to the rear of the magazine, and then center the nose of the nailer on the protruding fastener while pushing to drive it home.

If you feel that a multi-blow tool is right for you, I would recommend one of the dual-length models. The only apparent variable between the two brands is price, with the dual-length Senco coming in around $30 more.

Single-fire nailers dedicated to 1-1/2-inch nails were the Bostitch MCN150 and the PneuTools RNS-150. Both of these tools worked well. They're small and easy to handle, and they placed fasteners quickly and efficiently. I have reservations about the limited utility of the 1-1/2-inch-only tools, but if one will work for you, then I'd go with the Bostitch. I liked the way it felt in my hand. It has a nicer design, and it's even a little cheaper.

My next pairing is the dual-length Hitachi and PneuTools RNS-250. These are both quality tools: reasonably compact and light as well as fast and accurate. The PneuTools model is about $120 less than the Hitachi, which provides a great budget alternative. But personally, I'd go with the Hitachi. It's a standout performer that's fast, powerful, and smooth running, so you can forgive some of its extra cost.

Next we have the full-sized dual-length nailers: the Bostitch F33PT convertible framing gun and the Paslode F250S-PP. For hardware on my jobsites, I need a tool that can get into tight spots; both of these tools are just too darn big for me. They are excellent tools in their own right, however. The Bostitch F33PT is the only tool in the group that is dual-purpose. You can frame walls with it and then switch the nose out and shoot off hangers and straps. It will handle a full range of hardware nails. The Paslode is a very capable hardware nailer; its probe system works like a charm, and it's fast. And despite being the heaviest tool in the group, it feels pretty nimble in your hand. It's a tough choice between these two top-quality tools. If the test was about overall utility, the Bostitch dual-purpose tool, with its ability to frame, nail decking, and set hardware, would take the day. But this test is specifically about hardware nailing, and of these two, the Paslode is the better hanger banger.

This leaves only the Max. This tool is in a class by itself–the 320-psi class, that is; it's almost not fair to put it into the same test group. Effortless is the word that comes to mind; it's really an amazing tool. It's blazing fast, ultra-compact, handles dual-length fasteners, and holds coils of 100 nails so you rarely have to stop and reload. Plus, it has an innovative swivel hose connection that keeps the air supply from getting tangled and a handy on/off switch for safety. Just more Max tool innovations that seem so logical, you'd think everyone would be doing them. Unfortunately, due to the cost of buying into the high-pressure system, it's a tool that I know most of us will only ever know by reading about it. It's a tool guy's "if money were no object" tool. It has every feature you've ever dreamed of in a nail gun and a few you never even thought of.

The Bottom Line

If you can afford it, buy the whole Max system. Heck, while you're at it, get the framing nailer, too. If you can't afford the Max nailing system, then buy yourself a Hitachi NR65AKS. After the Max, the Hitachi is the best all-around hardware nailer in the group. It's compact, maneuverable, and powerful, it shoots the full range of fasteners, and, in comparison, it's a bargain.

–Contributing editor Michael Davis owns Framing Square, a production framing company in Albuquerque, N.M.