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Lock & load: coil nailers will keep you framing, instead of reaching for nails

Lock & load: coil nailers will keep you framing, instead of reaching for nails – Tool test: coil framing nailers

Mike Guertin

I wouldn’t trade my coil flaming nailer for a strip nailer if you made me. Coil flaming nailers carry so many nails that sometimes it feels like whole days go by before I have to reload. Even in rapid-fire applications like running sheathing, I load once for every three or four times the guy using a strip nailer reaches for a new rack. What’s more, a coil nailer’s loading door makes jam clearing a cinch by totally exposing the firing chamber.

Coil nailers also shine in remodeling applications where there can be lots more toe-nailing and single shots for tying new work to an existing structure. Here, the tools’ good balance and easy-loading designs make them my go-to nailer again.

TEST CRITERIA

I tested seven nailers: the Hitachi NV83A2, Makita AN901, Max CN890II, Paslode F325C, Porter-Cable COIL350, Senco SCN65, and the Stanley-Bostitch N80CB-1. I compared weight, power, recoil, and ergonomics on site and then in my shop driving nails into solid sawn and engineered lumber. I also looked carefully at triggers, nail loading, and extra features.

WEIGHT, FEEL, POWER, & RECOIL

Weight. Nailer weight is important when you’re flaming all day because your hand is steadier and less fatigued with a lighter, well-balanced tool–especially working overhead or in tight quarters. And since coil nailers are heavier than strip nailers when loaded with 150 framing nails or 250 sheathing nails, using a light, well-balanced tool is even more important.

At 6.8 pounds, Makita’s tool is far and away the lightest unit in the group by a full pound. Next, the Max, Porter-Cable, and Senco all come in at right around 8 pounds. The Paslode and the Bostith are the heaviest at 8.4 pounds.

Feel. Makita’s light, slim design provides a nice balance and makes a real difference in how my hands fit after using it all day. The tool, however, is just a little too long to fit straight between 16-inch o.c. flaming. There may be a few occasions where this poses a problem, like nailing between joists and studs. However, when nailing between framing, it’s usually to toe-nail, so I’ve got the nailer at an angle anyway, which makes the extra length no big deal to me.

I also liked the way the Hitachi, Max, Porter-Cable, Senco, and Stanley-Bostitch tools felt, particularly the Porter-Cable, which has nice balance. The Paslode felt OK, too, although it was a bit front-heavy.

Power and Recoil. 1 fired roughly a zillion 3 1/4-inch flaming spikes into doubled up 13/4-inch LVL stock with each nailer to check power and recoil in engineered lumber. The Makita and Max nailers showed the most grunt in the group, Consistently sending nails all the way home. The rest of the tools also performed admirably and won’t let you down, even when making headers or shooting Douglas fir rafters into LVL ridge beams. All of the tools have acceptable recoil, and all pop off the work as you’d expect, but don’t jump so far they feel out of control.

TRIGGERING

While the Hitachi, Paslode, Senco, and Stanley-Bostitch coil nailers feature bump-fire triggers, the Makita, Max, and Porter-Cable models come with select-fire triggers, providing the choice to bump-fire or dispense a single shot. I think a select-fire trigger makes any nailer more versatile and safer to use. (For the latest news on trigger configuration, see the article on page 62.)

Single-Firing. Porter-Cable and Makita use manual switches to change operation from bump-fire to single-fire. Of the two switches, Makita’s is the easiest to use because it’s big and tactile. The Max tool employs a firing sequence: Depress the nosepiece on the work, then pull the trigger. The tool only shoots once until you repeat the sequence. Both designs work equally well and operate effectively.

Bump-Firing. The Porter-Cable and Makita nailers bump-fire with the trigger switch in bump-fire position. The Max bump-fires by following a different triggering sequence: Pull the trigger first, then go to town bounce-nailing as usual. All three keep up with rapid-fire nailing applications and worked consistently without jamming. The four remaining tools with bump-fire triggers all worked fine, as well.

Handgrip and Trigger Access. All of the tools have rubber or plastic hand grips. They’re all decent, but I’m looking forward to the next generation of grips that are gel-filled like the seat on my bicycle.

Each tool’s trigger is comfortable to use barehanded and feels fine, but I frame through the winter and wear insulated gloves to keep warm. Triggers that don’t have enough room between the tool body and the trigger to accommodate a thick glove can be dangerous. Hitachi’s trigger just doesn’t have enough room for a gloved hand. The Stanley-Bostitch and Senco are a tight squeeze but passable. The rest have ample room.

MAGAZINES, NAILS, & JAM CLEARING

Magazines. Opening the nail canisters on all of the tools except the Paslode requires two steps: Unlock the nosepiece, then expose the nail canister (just like a roofing nailer). The front-hinged Paslode only requires one step: Release the clasp on the canister and the front-hinged cover swings forward to expose the canister and firing chamber; it’s a smart feature. The Makita, Hitachi, Max, and Stanley-Bostitch have rear-hinged canister covers that lift open and provide good access for reloading. The Senco and Porter-Cable canisters are rear-hinged, too, but they have swing-out canisters. What’s nice about this design is that a spring automatically swings the basket out from the tool body after you release the canister lock so you can quickly drop in a coil of nails.

I think the Hitachi and Makita systems are the most accessible, though. Upon lifting the Hitachi’s canister cover, the nail basket tilts out at about a 15-degree angle to make dropping in a new coil much easier than the other tools. Makita’s clear, rear-hinged magazine cover provides plenty of room to get the nails in and hooked over the palls. And, because it’s clear, you can see when you’re running out of nails.

Switching Nails. You need to adjust the basket depth on coil nailers when switching between framing spikes and sheathing nails. Hitachi, Makita, Max, and Porter-Cable use a twist-and-lift coil-support disk. Paslode uses a button-release disc. The Senco and Stanley-Bostitch magazine bases slide up or down by releasing a locking lever. Each system works easily. Senco’s basket worked, but it took some practice to get good at operating it.

Nail Capacity. The Makita, Max, Porter-Cable, and Senco units accept 3 1/2-inch framing nails. The Hitachi and Paslode only accept up to 3 1/4inch nails, which may be a draw back in some areas of the country where a full 3 1/2-inch framing spike is required to meet seismic or high-wind codes.

Jam Clearing. Occasionally, bent or broken collation wires cause misfires or jams. The fix is simple with coil nailers–open the door and have a look. If you’re going to stick your fingers near the driver, however, disconnect the air supply.

DEPTH-OF-DRIVE

Without a doubt, thumbwheel or button-type depth-of-drive adjustments are the best for switching between spiking and sheathing operations, which require different settings to avoid overdriving 8ds through plywood or leaving proud heads sticking out of’ built-up headers. Nailers that require a tool to perform this function just won’t be used by the average crew.

Makita and Max have the best thumbwheel systems–located right next to the trigger. Next best are the Senco and Hitachi front-mounted thumbwheels. The Senco thumbwheel was stiff, and I needed to use a nail to turn it on a few occasions. The Porter-Cable and Paslode have onboard wrenches for the adjustment bolt, which takes too much time. The Stanley-Bostitch doesn’t have a depth-of-drive adjustment.

COOL FEATURES

Filters. Framing crews are pretty rough on nailers, but no matter how much they beat up the outside of a tool, it’s the internal damage from grit entering the air fitting that really cuts into nailer performance. Dirt wears out O-rings, scratches the cylinders, and mixes with lubricating oil to form a sticky paste that slows the piston and saps power. Makita and Max keep dirt out of their tools with simple, self-cleaning air filters located beneath the end cap of the handle. The filters keep muck from entering the tool. When you take off the hose, the air-charge left in the tool blasts the filter clean. While this isn’t a feature you’ll get warm and fuzzy over, it will keep your tools in your hand longer and in the shop less.

Deflectors and Fittings. All of the nailers have an adjustable air deflector except the Hitachi. I used to think this feature was useful in framing applications for keeping piles of sawdust from blasting into my face. But after years of framing with these tools I find that I just don’t use it like I do on my finish guns. Still, each adjustment works fine, if you choose to use it.

Max is the only manufacturer to ship its tool with a swiveling air fitting. I like it, but I found that it doesn’t swivel to every angle perfectly; although it’s still better than a straight fitting for keeping tangles out of the hose.

WINNERS

Yikes! All of these tools are great, and this is a tough choice. While the Stanley-Bostitch has the fewest frills, it’s also the least expensive tool in the group and seems as tough as the nails I shot with it. I really like Hitachis tilt-out nail canister as well as Paslode’s one-step nail-loading. The Porter-Cable and Senco are solid performers with most of the new tool-free features and adjustments. The Max is a topflight tool with all the features and power you can ask for. But the Makita takes top score by about a pound: It has every feature you could want, it’s powerful, and it’s the lightest tool in the group.

Hitachi

NV83A2

WEIGHT (EMPTY) 8.2 pounds

FASTENER CAPACITY 200 to 300

FASTENER RANGE 2 to 3 1/4 inches

.099 to .131 inch

OPERATING PRESSURE 70-120 psi

TOOL-FREE Yes

DEPTH-OF-DRIVE

TOOL-FREE No

EXHAUST DEFLECTOR

COLLATION ANGLE 16 degrees

STREET PRICE $380

COMMENTS This is a dependable

performer. The tilt-out

basket loads quickly

and the thumbscrew

depth-of-drive

adjustment is very

nice. It has good power

and nice balance. The

tool is limited to

3 1/4-inch nails. It

has a fixed exhaust.

Circle #224

Hitachi Power Tools

800-829-4752

www.hitachi.us/powertools

Makita

AN901

WEIGHT (EMPTY) 6.8 pounds

FASTENER CAPACITY 200 to 300

FASTENER RANGE 1 3/4 to 3 1/2 inches

.099 to .150 inch

OPERATING PRESSURE 65 to 120 psi

TOOL-FREE Yes

DEPTH-OF-DRIVE

TOOL-FREE Yes

EXHAUST DEFLECTOR

COLLATION ANGLE 15 degrees

STREET PRICE $430

COMMENTS More than a pound

lighter than any other

in the group, this tool

still has great power

and comfortable recoil.

The depth-of-drive

thumbwheel and

three-function trigger

switch are excellent.

The only (small)

drawback is that it’s

too long to fit

between 16-inch o.c

framing. I like the

clear platic

basket cover and the

built-in air filter.

Circle #225

Makita USA

800-462-5482

www.makitatools.com

Max

CN89011

WEIGHT (EMPTY) 7.9 pounds

FASTENER CAPACITY 150 to 300

FASTENER RANGE 2 to 3 1/2 incjes

.099 to .131 inch

OPERATING PRESSURE 70 to 100 psi

TOOL-FREE Yes

DEPTH-OF-DRIVE

TOOL-FREE Yes

EXHAUST DEFLECTOR

COLLATION ANGLE 15 degrees

STREET PRICE $429

COMMENTS This is a top-flight

tool, with automatic

single-shot operation

that overrides bump-fire

without a manual

switch, and it works

everytime. The tool

is light, feels

good, and has tons

of power. The

internal filter is

a smart idea. This

is a well-designed

and solidly built

tool. If I had to

nitpick, I’d say I

wish the swiveling

air filter articulated

easier, but it is

a nice add-on.

Circle #226

Max USA Corp.

800-223-4293

www.maxusacorp.com

Paslode

F325C COILMASTER

WEIGHT (EMPTY) 8.4 pounds

FASTENER CAPACITY 275

FASTENER RANGE 1 1/2 to 3 1/4 inches

.099 to .131 inch

OPERATING PRESSURE 80 to 120 psi

TOOL-FREE No

DEPTH-OF-DRIVE

TOOL-FREE No

EXHAUST DEFLECTOR

COLLATION ANGLE 15 degrees

STREET PRICE $379

COMMENTS I like this

tool’s nail canister,

which opens in a

single motion.

The tool has great

power and a rugged

design; however,

it feels a

bit front-heavy,

doesn’t have the

new tool-free

adjustments, and

nail lengths is

limited to 3 1/4

inches. Circle

#227

Paslode

800-682-3428

www.paslode.com

Porter-Cable

COIL350

WEIGHT (EMPTY) 8 pounds

FASTENER CAPACITY 225 to 300

FASTENER RANGE 1 1/2 to 3 1/2 inches

.099 to .131 inch

OPERATING PRESSURE 70 to 120 psi

TOOL-FREE No

DEPTH-OF-DRIVE

TOOL-FREE Yes

EXHAUST DEFLECTOR

COLLATION ANGLE 15 degrees

STREET PRICE $29

COMMENTS This unit feels lighter

than it is, due to good

balance. It has nice power

and the swing-out nail

canister is easy to

load. The small single-

shot/bump-fire switch

on the trigger is a

nice feature, but its

push-and-twist design

is a little difficult

to manipulate. Depth-

of-drive adjustment

requires a tool. Circle

#228

Porter-Cable Corp.

800-487-8665

ww.porter-cable.com

Senco

SCN65

WEIGHT (EMPTY) 8 pounds

FASTENER CAPACITY 225 to 275

FASTENER RANGE 2 to 3 1/2 inches

.99 to .131 inch

OPERATING PRESSURE 70 to 120 psi

TOOL-FREE Yes

DEPTH-OF-DRIVE

TOOL-FREE Yes

EXHAUST DEFLECTOR

COLLATION ANGLE 15 degrees

STREET PRICE $299

COMMENTS Here’s a solid

performer. It has

good features and

nice balance, and

comes in a compact

package. It could

use some refinement,

however. Adjusting

the basket when

changing nail

lengths takes

practice; the

thumbwheel depth-

of-drive is nicely

located at the tool’s

nose but is a bit

hard to twist.

Circle #229

Senco Products

800-543-4596

www.senco.com

Stanley-Bostitch

N8OCB-1

WEIGHT (EMPTY) 8.4 pounds

FASTENER CAPACITY 225 to 300

FASTENER RANGE 1 1/2 to 3 1/4 inches

.99 to .148 inch

OPERATING PRESSURE 70 to 100 psi

TOOL-FREE No

DEPTH-OF-DRIVE

TOOL-FREE No

EXHAUST DEFLECTOR

COLLATION ANGLE 15 degrees

STREET PRICE 250

COMMENTS This a good, no

frills nailer for

a good price. It

has nice balance

and good power,

the nail change is

easy, and the tool

feels plenty durable

for the jobsite.

It has no tool-free

adjustments. Circle

#230

Stanley Fastening Systems

800-556-6696

www.bostich.com

TOO NEW TO TEST

Max

POWERLITE HN90

* WEIGHT (EMPTY] 5.2 pounds

* FASTENER CAPACITY 300

* FASTENER RANGE (LENGTH AND GAUGE) 2 to 3 1/2 inches; .099 to .148 inch

* OPERATING PRESSURE 400 psi

* TOOL-FREE DEPTH-OF-DRIVE Yes

* TOOL-FREE EXHAUST DEFLECTOR Yes

* COLLATION ANGLE 15 degrees

* STREET PRICE $650

* COMMENTS In use on jobsites in Japan since 1994, Max’s high-pressure nailing system has finally arrived stateside. Powered by 400-psi technology, the HN90 PowerLite coil flaming nailer is 40 percent lighter and 20 percent smaller than most standard coil framing nailers, according to Max; and, there’s no sacrifice in nail-driving power. The unit ships with a select-fire trigger, dial-adjustable depth control, swivel air-fitting, and end cap air filter. Circle #240

Max USA Corp 800-223-4293 www.maxusacorp.com

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Mike Guertin is a builder and remodeler from East Greenwich, R.I. He is a member of Hanley Woods’s JLC Live! construction demonstration team.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Hanley-Wood, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group