The NailOut is an air-powered cat's-paw designed to work just like a manual cat's-paw but without the hammer swing.
Essentially, this tool is an adaptation of a pneumatic tool called a scaler that's used in the metal fabrication industry. A scaler's simple reciprocating action–or stroke–is similar to an air chisel's except that its square-shank bit stays in a fixed position relative to the inline handle and does not rotate in use. Since the NailOut has a scaler's body, you can buy chiseling and scraping bits other than those supplied with the tool to make it do double duty.
We tested the NailOut while dismantling boards from an old farmhouse, tearing apart sections of fencing, and disassembling newer framing materials. The version of the tool we got–the Pro Pack 3–has a cat's-paw, a cold chisel, and an offset chisel, but we really got it for the cat's-paw. You could use the chisels to pry up the gang nail plates found on truss assemblies or for popping up floor tiles, but we stuck to lifting nails for our testing.
Contrary to what we had expected, the tool really can't be used with only one hand: Squeezing the long trigger lever while pushing and prying requires both hands for control. So even though its shape will help the tool get into places where you can't easily swing a hammer, don't expect to use it at arm's length or on a ladder.
We found the NailOut best suited for use on standing structures; having the board we were working on firmly attached made it easier to push the end of the bit into the wood and pry. Boards on the ground or on a sawhorse will move too easily and make you try to use the tool one-handed, which is clumsy at best. Surgically removing a wall section during a remodel or carefully stripping boards from a structure for reuse are great tasks for the tool's finesse and reach.
It's often best to strip off 2-bys and larger boards with brute force and de-nail them later, but thinner, more fragile wood like old 1-by sheathing should have its nails removed in place to keep it intact. The NailOut can save some effort in digging out a houseful of these sheathing, roof deck, and subfloor nails.
Early on we discovered that the NailOut can't actually remove nails altogether; it only digs out and lifts up their heads. With a manual cat's-paw, you can usually pull a nail all the way out by rolling the head through 90 degrees of motion, but the head angle of the NailOut's bit limits you to lifting the nail head only about 1/2- inch above the surface of the wood. That means you have to come back with a manual pry bar to finish pulling the nail. Although the tool saves effort while digging out the nail, its two-step process doesn't always save time.
During the testing we tried the NailOut in many situations with different fasteners to see what worked. Typical construction nails lifted easily enough, but I found a strict limit to the nail size the tool can handle. I broke three cat's-paw bits in three tries on some large nails in fencing: The 3/16-inch-diameter spikes instantly split apart the prying ends. So stick to standard-size nails that fit further down in the cat's-paw groove.
Bent or stripped-out screws can be removed in some cases. In soft old fence and deck wood, screws pulled all the way out easily. Thicker screws like specialty decking and tile underlayment types also yielded pretty easily, even in new wood. The NailOut's intense vibration ripped out the wood fibers surrounding the threads, and the screws popped right out. However, thinner drywall screws snapped and sent the heads flying. If you encounter screws, try a few, but be sure to protect your face. And don't forget to protect your knuckles, too. Since the tool leaves a forest of nailheads sticking up above the wood, move from top to bottom or left to right on your work to keep from slamming your fingers into the steel stubs. (Don't ask how I know.)
The NailOut is an air-hungry little tool, so be sure you have a large compressor if you're working at production speed. At 90 psi, a standard framing-crew 8-gallon wheelbarrow compressor had to cycle on after prying only three nails.
If we had any improvements to suggest, a tougher cat's-paw bit would be number one. Users are likely to try the bit on large nails–as we did–and end up disappointed when it breaks. Our second complaint is that the tool will not fit in its case once the supplied air fittings are attached. This makes the case useless for transporting and storing
The NailOut is a tool for dismantling rather than de-nailing. It's handy if you remove a lot of nails from builder hardware or from tight spots where you can't easily swing a hammer, but because you have to follow up with a manual pry bar to pull the nails, the tool doesn't save much time overall. Between its nail-lifting and possible chiseling and scraping uses, the NailOut serves as a nice go-to specialty tool–but stay away from the biggest nails.
Kurt Buss of the nonprofit group The Reuse People of America contributed to this test.
Price: Three-bit kit, $150;
one-bit kit, $130