Ease of Use
Streamlined Design: We don't use our staplers every day, but when we use them we use them hard. They have to survive life in the shop, perform in cold temperatures, and work way up on scaffolding. They must fire fasteners perfectly every time we touch their safeties to the work and pull the triggers. They also must survive life in storage, and that's no walk in the park either.
Tools with small, exposed parts or parts that come off easily set off my durability alarms. I'm always going to bet that tools with sleek designs to protect their moving parts will last the longest.
After close examination and use, the Airy, Grizzly, ISM, Makita, Porter-Cable, Stanley Bostitch, and UNI staplers didn't set off any alarms. They're all sleek and nicely designed. The little plastic handles on the Craftsman, Interchange, and Jamerco tools' cocking handles could come off relatively easily. I have visions of the plastic cracking or otherwise wearing away over time and becoming a real pain at a bad time.
The Fasco and Paslode nosepieces have little springs on the front to help recoil the safeties. They work, but I can see the springs getting snagged on my tool belt when I'm three stories up–and disappearing forever. Senco's foam grip, a piece of adhesive-backed foam fabric wrapped around the handle, also concerned me. It's the most comfortable grip I tested, but I wondered how long it would stay on the tool.
The nose safety is an important design element. The slimmer it is, the easier it is to get a fastener into a corner. The Fasco, Grizzly, Makita, Paslode, Stanley Bostitch, and UNI staplers have front-mounted safeties; the rest are rear-mounted. Because they're out of the way, rear-mounted safeties work better for fastening applications in tight spaces like cabinet interiors. Porter-Cable's safety is the best of the bunch.
Exhaust: If you have to use an air-powered tool in a three-sided corner, you'd better make sure it's darn clean in there or you'll have more dust in your eyes than a nerd at the beach. The Airy, Craftsman, Grizzly, Interchange, ISM, Jamerco, Makita, Porter-Cable, Stanley Bostitch, and UNI tools all have 180-degree swiveling exhausts that don't require tools to adjust. The others have the old front discharges you need an allen wrench to move.
Paslode does something completely different--and cool. The tool exhausts at the bottom of the handle near where your little finger rests. We liked this feature because it splits the exhaust on the handle and blows it out both sides so you never have to worry about adjusting it.
Depth adjustments: This may not seem like an important feature on a stapler, but I find it especially useful on soft materials like 1/4-inch cabinet backs or luan underlayment. Just like nailing house sheathing, if you puncture the material's surface, you compromise some holding power. The last thing I want is a kitchen floor assembly moving around after we've completed the job and getting a call back from the homeowner because the tile grout is cracking.
Only six of the tools I tested have depth adjustments: Airy, Craftsman, ISM, Jamerco, Porter-Cable, and Stanley Bostitch. Porter-Cable's is the easiest to use. On the Jamerco stapler, you adjust depth by loosening and retightening the set screw. The other staplers all have thumbscrews that you simply turn. Porter-Cable's adjustment is big and easy to grab and turn. It's comfortable and the clicking detents let you know the depth of drive is changing.
Case: Staplers are pricey little trim tools that should be protected in storage so you can save them for punishment in the field. Good tool cases are tough and hold other items like safety glasses, lubricating oil, wrenches, and a small box of fasteners. All the tools except for the Craftsman, Fasco, Paslode, and Senco staplers come with nice plastic carrying cases. A case is such a convenient item that it should not be overlooked.
After rolling up the hoses, we found it tough to decide on a winner. These are all solid tools with nearly equal power in hard materials. Each tool has unique qualities that make it stand out from the others, but the Porter-Cable stapler rises to the top. It's comfortable, has superior jam clearing, is easy to load, and has a nice, rear-mounted safety. Senco comes in second for its similar qualities and good, solid feel. Paslode takes third followed by Craftsman, Jamerco, Makita, Bostitch, Grizzly, Airy, ISM, UNI, Interchange, and Fasco.
Jeff Stanley is vice president of Prestige Homes, a custom home building company in Elburn, Ill.