The pistol-grip-with-side-handle designs worked best. The side handle on the Senco DS300-S2 (left) isn't adjustable like the others.
Credit: Photo: David Sharpe
Collated screws come in brand-specific rigid plastic 30-screw strips, flexible plastic 50-screw strips, or in large coils containing 150 screws. The flexible plastic "floppy tape" strips are all interchangeable between brands–a real plus.
The plastic strip loads are lightweight and easy to handle, but they run out of screws pretty quickly. The big coils allow you to keep working without having to stop and reload, but they add weight to the tool.
Typical prices for these manufacturers' collated screws run from $26.50 to $31 per thousand for a 2-inch subfloor screw. The interchangeability of the flexible strips makes them generally cheaper than the proprietary rigid strip and coil types.
The tools in the group that use 30-screw rigid strips are the Muro CH and Simpson Quik Drive, while the Muro FD was the only tool requiring coils. All the rest accept the universal 50-screw flexible plastic strips.
Removing a Fastener
Autofeed screwguns for decking come in three basic designs that use three distinct types of fasteners: 30-shot rigid-strip, 50-shot flexible collated-strip, and 150-shot coil-fed.
Credit: Photo: David Sharpe
All of the tools we tested have a reverse switch and many of them provide detailed instructions on how to back out an errant screw. Don't bother. The problem is that you have to remove the remaining screws from the tool, switch the motor to reverse, bend over, and (somehow) align the tiny little screw tip of the 3-foot-long autofeed screw system into the top of the screw, and then climb back up and carefully actuate the motor. If you don't get everything lined up just perfectly, you're out of luck. I tried a few times and finally just resolved to have a cordless drill/driver handy in case I had to back out any screws. In reality, if a screw wasn't too far into the deck, I'd just yank it out with my claw hammer.
When you're shopping for an autofeed system, don't spend too much time worrying about how well it runs in reverse. Chances are you'll never use it.
In the end, choosing the right tool for you comes down to personal choice. The tool we liked best may not be the one you're most comfortable with, so do what you can to test-drive any tool before you buy.
If you want a lightweight tool that can switch from drywall to subflooring and back again, consider one of the versatile crossover models–the Grabber/Hitachi SuperDrive, Muro CH7390, PAM P13KUE, Senco DS300-S2, or Simpson Quik Drive PROCCSM35K.
Though the Makita 6834 also allows you to switch between standup and one-handed applications, it seems like it is really designed for one-handed use, as evidenced by the fact that it is the only tool in the group that doesn't ship with an extension. While it performed well enough in our subfloor test, it can't shoot fasteners larger than 21/4 inches and therefore had to be excluded from our decking test.
If you need a dedicated heavy-duty production subflooring tool–one you'll always use standing up–then you'll want to check out the Senco DS300-AC or especially the Muro FDVL41, the real workhorse of the bunch.
Overall, my favorite was the Senco DS300-S2. It's a versatile, high-quality screwgun, small enough to use one-handed running wall sheathing, but with extension in place has the power to be a dependable standup subflooring tool. It feeds a full range of screw sizes, converts easily, felt great in my hands, and shot screws quickly and accurately. This is a tool that I could happily work with day-in and day-out.
–Michael Davis owns Framing Square, Inc. in Albuquerque, N.M., and is a contributing editor for Tools of the Trade.