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.

Toenailing

How well a gun toenails depends on how effectively the teeth on the tip engage the wood and whether you can place nails accurately. We got a sense of this from using the tools and from performing a test in which we marked the ends of some 2x4s and tried to hit those marks while toenailing. All of the tips grab pretty well; the ones where the teeth flare out grab the best. I particularly like toenailing with the Bosch, because the fine teeth really grab and the slimmer-than-normal piston housing provides a good line of sight to the tip (though it takes some practice to place the fastener where you want it). The Paslode is very good at toenailing, but the DeWalt and Senco are less so, because they don't grab as well. The Ridgid gun has poor visibility and tends to leave nails proud when toenailing.

Size and Weight

Other things being equal, small and light is better than big and heavy.

A small gun is more maneuverable in tight quarters and a light gun is easier to handle, especially overhead. The guns we tested average about 8 pounds apiece, but there is a significant spread between the high and low, with the Makita weighing in at 9.3 pounds and the Max at 7.2 pounds.

Lighter guns do tend to have more recoil than heavy ones. It was not a major issue with any of the tools we tested, though we did notice more of it with the Ridgid and Senco.

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To test the nosepieces, the crew marked short studs and then used the nailers to toenail them (left) to a plate. The best guns gripped well and placed the nails close to the original marks.

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Size is as important as weight, though it's harder to define because there are so many dimensions to consider. When I say a gun is compact,

I am referring primarily to its top-to-bottom height, because that dimension determines the ease with which it can be used sideways in narrow framing bays. The Max and Senco are significantly shorter than average. Their short stature makes them look wider in front, but it didn't affect our line of sight.
Features

Certain features can enhance the usability of the framing gun – for example, a board hook, dry-fire lockout, or a depth-of-drive mechanism that is particularly easy to adjust.

Board hook. About half of the guns in this test come with board hooks, a feature that allows the user to hang the tool from a sawhorse or nearby framing member. The better board hooks are fully adjustable (they pivot to different positions) and large enough to fit over thick material like 2-1/4-inch I-joists. I like the Paslode and DeWalt hooks the best because they pivot freely and will fit over thicker framing material. The hooks on the Grip-Rite, Makita, and Ridgid models only fit 2-by material. Makita's hook fits a little too tightly on the board and adjusts to only two positions.

Magazine. Framing guns load from the top or the rear. I have a slight preference for rear-loading models because they seem to have fewer problems with the paper-collated fasteners we normally use. With a rear-loading gun, you put in the nails and pull the follower back until it just catches the back of the clip. With a top-loading gun, you pull the follower all the way back (until it catches), drop in the nails, and then release the follower, causing it to slam into the fasteners from behind. The force of the follower striking the nails is sometimes enough to damage the collation (especially if it's wet) and cause the gun to jam. I like the Bosch magazine because it has a quick-release lever that allows you to remove it without tools when you need to get at jammed nails.

Tool Specifications

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Makers like Max and Senco have shortened some of their guns to make them easier to maneuver in narrow framing cavities; you can see the difference in size in the top photo (the Max gun is on the left). The author lined up all the tools to get a sense of their relative bulk. Viewed from the front (below) from left to right are the Max, Senco, Paslode, Bostitch F33PT, DeWalt, Bosch, Grip-Rite, Ridgid, Porter-Cable, Bostitch F28WW, Hitachi, and Makita. Viewed from the back (very bottom), the order is reversed.

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Firing modes. With most of these tools it's possible to switch between the bump-fire and single-shot modes by flipping a switch on the trigger. With the Bostitch, DeWalt, and Grip-Rite guns, changing modes requires the installation of a different trigger (which usually comes with the gun). Either method of getting to bump-fire is fine by me; there is no advantage to being able to go back to the single-fire mode.

Of greater importance to me is whether or not the gun has a dry-fire lockout mechanism. A dry-fire lockout prevents the gun from firing when empty and usually kicks in when there are three or four nails left in the magazine. Longtime carpenters recognize the sound and feel of a gun firing empty, so this mechanism may not make much difference to them. But it's helpful for less-experienced crewmembers who might not notice that they are firing blanks and continue to nail things up only to have them fall down or end up improperly fastened.

Depth-of-drive mechanism. Tool-less depth-adjustment mechanisms have come to be standard on framing guns. Most rely on a thumbwheel (under the trigger or on the nose) to extend and retract the contact element. The mechanisms on the DeWalt and both Bostitch models are activated by a push-button on the nose. I particularly like this design because it's quick and easy to use. On the Bostitch F33PT, the push-button can also be used to detach the standard tip and replace it with one suitable for attaching metal framing hardware.

The Hitachi gun does not have adjustable depth-of-drive, but it was one of the better guns in terms of its ability to drive nails flush.