Must-Haves

Depth Adjustment. As most manufacturers thankfully figured out, a good depth-of-drive adjustment is a key feature for a finish nailer. All of the tools in the group, except for the Max, have depth adjustment. They've almost universally settled on a thumbwheel design usually located beneath the trigger (Hitachi's thumbwheel adjustment is to the side of the nose while Bostitch's is on the front of the nose). The depth adjustments on all of the tools worked well except for the Spotnails, which was difficult to adjust and took two fingers to turn.

Lockout. High on my list of important features is dry-fire lockout. I really hate when I put two or three extra holes in stain-grade trim before I realize I'm out of nails. Bostitch is the only tool in the pneumatic group that refuses to let the tool fire when the magazine is empty.

No-Mar Tips. All but two nailers have removable rubber or plastic tips to keep the metal parts of the nose from marring delicate trim. Spotnails and Max only have a metal tip, so you have to be extremely careful when pushing against softwood, especially when you really have to get the nose of the tool in there, like an inside corner.

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The Bostitch tool exhausts from the bottom of the handle, which eliminates the need to adjust the exhaust.

Credit: Photo: David Sharpe

This is an area where all of the manufacturers could improve. The first one to come up with an unobtrusive safety with a good work protector and a clear line of sight will jump a notch above the others.

Jam Clearing. Although I had practically no problems with jamming during the test, nails do jam on the jobsite so you need a good way to get them out. All but two of the nailers had a pop-up nosepiece held in place by a tool-free latch. The Ridgid latch was a little tough to pop by hand, but nothing that leverage from a hammer claw couldn't take care of. Since Max and Bostitch have side-loading magazines, the inside of their nosepieces is exposed when the magazine is opened, which negates the need for an opening nose and makes it easier to clear jams.

Ergonomics

Given that most of these nailers weigh less than 4 pounds (only the Paslode and Spotnails are 4 pounds-plus), weight isn't as important to me as it used to be. However, balance and the overall feel of the grip are. For straight-up comfort during use, I found myself reaching for the Hitachi, Max, Ridgid, and Bostitch the most. And because of its small body, Max was particularly adept at getting into enclosed places and small inside corners. The Spotnails, Senco, and Porter-Cable have handle/trigger arrangements that don't leave much room for your knuckles, especially if you have large hands.

Triggers. Even though I've never needed a bump-firing finish nailer, some of these nailers can bump-fire. The Craftsman, Hitachi, and Ridgid nailers have onboard tool-free switches that allow the trigger to operate in sequential or bump-fire mode. The rest come with sequential triggers, except for the Senco, which can be fired in either mode depending on operator trigger/safety sequence. The Paslode, Porter-Cable, Spotnails, and Bostitch allow the sequential triggers to be exchanged for bump-fire triggers.

Standout Features

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For working on ladders or wherever you need a third hand, a belt hook like Senco's is very helpful.

Credit: Photo: David Sharpe

There are some nice ancillary features on a few of the nailers that should be included on all nailers, just to make life a little easier. Ridgid has an adjustable belt hook that can be clicked into nearly any position around the handle. It also has a quick-connect swivel connector that helps to keep the hoses straight. Paslode and Senco also come with a nice belt hook.

Hitachi's exhaust doubles as an air gun by pressing a button just above the handle–a smart feature.

The Bostitch exhausts out of the back of the handle so you don't have to remember to turn an exhaust port. This is cool. The Craftsman and Bostitch also have nice tight clips on board to firmly hold their Allen wrenches in place. And, the Bostitch is oil-free. This should prevent the work from getting sprayed with a spattering of dirty oil, which is sometimes the case with my very old nailer. You'll never have to remember to oil it, either.