As a framing contractor, I rely on nail guns more than almost any other tool. When I buy a framing gun I look for a model that is comfortable to handle, able to toenail well, and powerful enough to drive nails flush every time. For this article, my crew tested 12 stick nailers: the Bosch SN350-34C, the Bostitch F28WW and F33PT, the DeWalt D51825, the Grip-Rite GRTFC83, the Hitachi NR83AA3, the Makita AN943, the Max SN883CH/34, the Paslode PF350S, the Porter-Cable FC350A, the Ridgid R350CHA, and the Senco SN901XP.
Most manufacturers produce two versions of every gun – one for 30- to 34-degree nails (usually clipped-head) and another for 20- to 22-degree nails (usually full round-head). Here in western New York, 30- to 34-degree paper-collated nails are the norm, so that's the kind of gun we tested. (The one exception is the Bostitch F28WW, which takes 28-degree wire-collated nails.) The equivalent models for 20- to 22-degree plastic-collated fasteners are listed in the spec chart (magazine page 22).
The tools arrived early last summer, and my crew and I used them for several months, trading guns around so we all had experience with each of them. Since we framed several large houses during that period, we were able to evaluate the performance of these tools under real-world conditions. Although we used the guns hard, we did not have them long enough to determine their long-term durability.
All of the guns are powerful enough to be used on sawn lumber, sheathing, and I-joists, but some are better than others at nailing into dense engineered wood beams – especially when fired rapidly. We had a pretty good sense of which guns those were, just from using them on site, but we decided to verify our observations by performing a nailing test. We wanted to gauge the ability of the tools to drive fasteners all the way home in hard material, so our test involved shooting multiple rounds of nails into Parallam, TimberStrand, and laminated veneer lumber (LVL). It was a tough but not unrealistic test; we frequently gang engineered beams, and when we do, we drive many fasteners in a short period of time.
Nailing test. We drove 30 nails per round at a rapid rate and timed how long it took – not to see which guns were faster but to ensure that the carpenter fired each gun at roughly the same speed. What we were after was the number of nails per round driven flush, because it's a problem when nails aren't driven all the way home. Each gun shot two rounds of 10d spikes (3 inches by .131 inch) and one round of 8d ring-shank nails into LVLs; one round of 10d spikes into Parallam; and one round of 10d spikes into TimberStrand. At the end of the test we counted the number of nails driven flush or below the surface, totaled the amount of time needed to drive them, and then averaged the results (see the table).
I wouldn't draw too many conclusions from this test or make fine distinctions based on a difference of two or three nails per round; we tested the tools on the job site, which is different from testing them in a lab under carefully controlled conditions. What I can say, however, is that the finishing order was not a surprise. Based on having used the guns in the field, we thought the Paslode and Bosch would come in near the top and the Senco and Ridgid near the bottom – which is exactly what happened. In fairness to Senco, we tested the company's lightest gun; the results might have been different had we tested the heavier and more powerful SN951XP.
Most of the guns in this test take 30- to 34-degree paper-collated fasteners (far left), though one takes 28-degree wire-weld fasteners (center left). Slightly different versions of the guns are available for use with 20- to 22-degree plastic collated fasteners (left), which are common in areas where wind and seismic codes mandate the use of full round-head nails.
After using the guns for normal framing tasks, the crew tested their power. They did this by nailing rapidly into dense engineered material (left) and then counting the nails each gun was able to drive flush or below the surface (right). The fewer nails left standing proud, the better.
This table shows the average number of fasteners driven flush or below the surface for each clip of 30 nails, and the average time required to drive them. The tests were performed in LVL, Parallam, and TimberStrand material.