Launch Slideshow

Framing Nailers

Framing Nailers

  • BOSCH SN350-34C

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    The SN350-34C is one of our favorites, a powerful gun with a slimmer-than-normal piston housing that makes for a good line of sight to the tip. It has a couple of unique and useful features: a metal strike plate on top for tapping studs into position and a quick-release magazine that can be removed to clear jammed fasteners. The ribbed rubber grip is comfortable to hold, and the aggressive tip grabs well when toenailing. Our one complaint is that this tool does not include a rafter hook; the manufacturer sells an optional one, but it’s hard to find and will set you back $25.

  • BOSTITCH F28WW

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    The F28WW stands out less for its performance than for the 28-degree wire-collated fasteners it uses. Popular in parts of New England, these fasteners are far less common than the paper- and plastic-collated nails most carpenters use. We like the pivoting rafter hook and push-button depth-of-drive mechanism of this tool. It has good power, but we had occasional problems with double-firing.

  • BOSTITCH F33PT

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    The F33PT closely resembles Bostitch’s wire-weld nailer but is a half-pound heavier. Features include a pivoting rafter hook, a push-button depth-of-drive mechanism, and an accessory tip that allows you to use it in place of a metal connector nailer. This is a powerful gun, but it feels somewhat bulky and occasionally double-fired on us.

  • MAKITA AN943

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    The AN943 works well and has all of the latest features: a switchable trigger, dry-fire lockout, a built-in air filter, and a three-position metal board hook. Unfortunately, it’s noticeably heavier than other models and weighted too much toward the nose.

  • MAX SN883CH/34

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    Weighing a mere 7.2 pounds and measuring 12 1/4 inches top-to-bottom, the SN883CH/34 is extremely light and compact. This makes for easier handling overhead and in narrow joist bays. For a gun of its weight, it has surprisingly little recoil. It has a switchable trigger and a built-in air filter but lacks a board hook and a dry-fire lockout mechanism.

  • PASLODE PF350S

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    The PF350S is our favorite model because it is light and wellbalanced and has the power to consistently set nails in dense material. The contoured rubber grip is comfortable to grasp and the steeply angled air fitting makes it easy to connect the hose while wearing gloves. With tool-less depth-ofdrive, dry-fire lockout, and a substantial rafter hook, it has all the features we look for in a framing gun.

  • DEWALT D51825

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    Based on the specs, the D51825 does not stand out in any way. Even so, it was a crew favorite. We simply like the way it feels to hold and use this gun, which — while heavier than average — is very well-balanced. Among its better features are an oversized swiveling plastic board hook and a push-button depth-of-drive mechanism that is very easy to adjust.

  • GRIP-RITE GRTFC83

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    Lighter and more compact than the other models, the GRTFC83 is in other respects an average gun. It does the job but there’s nothing very special about it. The nosepiece grips better than most when toenailing, but the small nail slot makes loading the tool slow. The oversized metal rafter hook fits thick material but projects so far forward it can pivot around and hit your wrist.

  • HITACHI NR83AA3

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    This solid, no-frills gun operates smoothly and powerfully. There have been multiple generations of NR83 series tools, so we are confident this gun will be durable. We’re also aware that it’s somewhat dated. It does not have a dryfire lockout or rafter hook, and it’s the only gun we reviewed without adjustable depth-of-drive — and yet it was one of the better tools at setting fasteners to the proper depth. This is a good nail gun, but it is one of the heavier and bulkier models around.

  • PORTER-CABLE FC350A

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    Other than its low price, there is nothing very special about this tool. The FC350A can do the job, but it had a hard time setting nails in dense engineered lumber — it scored third lowest in our nailing test. Although it is light and short front-to-back, the gun does not feel particularly compact.

  • RIDGID R350CHA

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    This lighter-than-average gun has every feature a framer could ask for, including a swivel air fitting, a pivoting rafter hook, and dry-fire lockout. However, the depth-of-drive mechanism and covering housing stick out far enough to obstruct your view during toenailing. Of greater concern is this gun’s tendency to leave nail heads above the surface, especially in dense material.

  • SENCO SN901XP

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    The SN901XP is extremely light and compact, but the tip does not grab very well when toenailing and the gun is unable to consistently set nails in dense engineered lumber. We experienced more recoil with this tool than with most other models.

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.

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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.

Power

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.



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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.



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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.

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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.

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