As a trim carpenter I was strictly a pneumatic nailer guy until about two years ago. That’s when I was introduced to some battery powered nailers that changed the way I think about lugging a heavy compressor to the job site. They can do just about everything I need, and I’ll swap the extra tool weight for having to lug a twin stack or pancake compressor any day of the week. I don’t drive thousands of nails at a job, so for me it’s well worth the exchange. The Milwaukee M18 15-gauge angled finish nailer (model 2743-21CT) came to me for a review, and I thought it might work better for several trim applications I run into quite a bit.
I’ve typically used a 16-gauge nailer for all sorts of jobs, including hanging interior pre-hung doors. You just tack up the frame and then follow it up with some longer screws through the hinges as well as through the lock plate. It may not work for a frat house, but in a typical residence I’ve had little problems.
A 15-gauge nailer is about as big as you get before you hit the framing category, and this new Milwaukee Fuel brushless nailer looked like something that could supplement my 16- and 18-gauge nailers nicely. My curiosity was certainly piqued by this tool’s unique design—enough to set aside enough time to give it a whirl.
Milwaukee M18 15-gauge Angled Finish Nailer Features
The Milwaukee M18 15-gauge angled finish nailer can handle nail sizes from 1-1/4 to 2-1/2 inches in length. That should get you enough flexibility to tackle any finish job where you need a head on your work to give you some holding strength.
You can put two full clips of nails in the magazine (110 total), and it’s an open design with very clear markings at 100, 75, 50, and 25 to show you how many nails you have left to shoot. From an engineering standpoint Milwaukee did a sort of helix move by running the magazine on an angle up to the center of the head. It’s in the direct center, not offset or even directly below like most angled finish nailers. While it doesn’t curve, it has the effect of giving the nailer a sort of cocked offset look from the front—not unlike the look of the Senco Fusion F-15 finish nailer. The design reduces the footprint by not forcing the bottom of the magazine to extend past the front of the tool handle.
There’s a nice dry fire lockout mechanism, so thus Milwaukee brushless Fuel nailer won’t shoot air when you’ve driven your last nail. This is a finish nailer, so that’s absolutely critical for not unnecessarily marring your surface. Milwaukee says you can get around 700 nails per charge when using a RedLithium 2.0 compact battery. We’re going to believe them as I have no intention of firing 700 nails just to prove them right. If they’re anywhere near that number I’m good—I have spare batteries.
Speaking of firing nails, the Milwaukee 2743-21CT angled finish nailer has a bump fire mode in addition to its default sequential fire. We tried it out, but in our day to day use it just didn’t strike us as a practical feature. In fact, one of the things we noticed about the Milwaukee is that it’s quick. Nails get sent into the workpiece almost as fast as you can pull the trigger. It doesn’t have that wind-up delay inherent with most other battery-powered nailers. Milwaukee calls this their “Ready to Fire” technology. Of course, if you want to use the bump mode, just press the button on the rear of the tool, above the battery. The green light on the right will start to blink obnoxiously at you, letting you know it’s now in contact actuation mode.
Nail Loading and Jam Release
The loading and unloading of nails feels familiar and it won’t take any training for those used to pneumatic tools. As you’d expect, the Milwaukee M18 15-gauge angled finish nailer has a button on the slide to release the slide and allow you to easily swap out nails for another length.
The jam release is also easy to use, and it opens up well past 90 degrees. That means that if you’ve got a mashed nail, you have the clearance to use a needle nose or other tool to remove it.
There’s a belt hook on the back of the Milwaukee 15-gauge FUEL finish nailer that’s handy. It may take some getting used to for anyone who’s accustomed to their nailers or cordless drills hanging upside down. This design is more ergonomic, but the tool has a bit of forward lean as it hangs. The LED work light turns on automatically when you press against the workpiece and gradually fades out after 10 seconds. Finally, this tool is available as the 2743-21CT kit with a Milwaukee RedLithium 2.0 Ah battery, charger, and zippered bag, or as the tool-only 2743-20 model.
Milwaukee M18 FUEL 15-Gauge Finish Nailer Specs
- Model: 2743-21CT (also bare tool as 2743-20)
- Nail Sizes: 1-1/4 to 2-1/2 in.
- Magazine Capacity: 110 nails
- Runtime: 700 nails per charge on a RedLithium 2.0 Ah compact battery
- Modes: Sequential and contact actuation (bump)
- Dry-fire lockout
- Adjustable belt hook
- LED work light
- Includes: Brushless 15ga finish nailer, M18 RedLithium 2.0 battery, charger, carrying case
Handling and Ergonomics
Balance is good on the Milwaukee M18 15-gauge angled finish nailer. It’s not cumbersome or heavy even though it’s a lot larger than a smaller pneumatic trim gun. It’s something I’d use to tack up more structural pieces before screwing them in. I’d also use it for putting together 1x lumber or thicker HardieTrim.
When we tested it on pieces of 3/4-inch HardieTrim boards, the nails went in nicely—and consistently. It would be very easy to use this tool and then go back over with a little bit of putty to prep for final priming and painting. This is actually a perfect application for this tool, though it would work just as easily on any 3/4-inch material or thicker trim.
Features Meet Ergonomics
The depth gauge is a tad on the dainty side and doesn’t seem to be designed for carpenter hands. It’s a rather thin dial that you turn with just the tips of your fingers or your thumb.
One of the keys to getting good, consistent nailing is making sure you don’t lose energy on “bounce back” with your workpiece. Basically, make sure not to set your depth gauge based on poor positioning or stabilization of the tool or material you’re nailing. If you get movement, you’re more likely to leave nails proud than get an accurate drive.
I already mentioned the automatic time-out of the LED at the base of the tool, but it does a decent job of lighting up your work area, and that’s worth noting. Since it shines up from in front of the battery, there are no obstructions.
Ergonomically, the Milwaukee M18 15-gauge angled finish nailer feels much better than either the Milwaukee 18 gauge finish nailer or similarly sized Ryobi or Ridgid finish nailers. It sits nicely in the hand and doesn’t have a forward tilt like many nailers. A lot of this is due to the innovative magazine and head design that keeps the weight back. The same design doesn’t let you stand the tool up on its battery—but that’s a small price to pay for a size/weight reduction.
Milwaukee M18 15-gauge Angled Finish Nailer Use
For our testing we used Grip Rite 2-1/2″ angled finish nails. After passing our cement board test (it drove nails flush with ease on a piece of 3/4 HardieTrim), we moved onto a triple stack of 5/4 oak stair treads. The nails sunk just below the surface once we dialed in the depth to maximum and ensured a perpendicular angle to the workpiece. Again, having a firm hold on the tool was critical to driving the nails below the surface.
We went ahead and tested it some more with base moulding, more oak, poplar, and pine. With a little adjustment to the depth setting, and appropriate pressure to the workpiece, everything countersunk as expected.
Getting Consistent Nail Depth
After using the Milwaukee M18 15-gauge angled finish nailer for a while we found there was a potential for the tool to push off the surface and not drive a nail as deeply as it could. If you just sit the tool on the surface and allow it to drive itself back—you may end up with the occasional proud nail. Keep firm pressure against the workpiece and you get consistent results.
I’d absolutely use this tool to nail down stair treads after applying a product like Loctite PL 400 adhesive. You could always come back around with a trim head screw if you had to draw anything down before it sets up.
After testing the Milwaukee 15-gauge on a variety of materials, we found it to be a consistent tool with lots of positives and not many negatives.
The Milwaukee M18 15-gauge angled finish nailer is a solid tool. Its brushless motor and solid construction lends it to be something you’ll be using for years to come. It doesn’t feel like it needs to be babied. Visibility on the 15-gauge is about what you’d expect, and the no-mar nosepiece gives you plenty of room to see where your nail is being placed.
Like the other Milwaukee finish nailers we’ve seen and used, there’s a lot of nice thick pieces of steel that guide your nails and make up the key components. It’s every bit as heavy-duty as the drive system on any pneumatic tool we’ve used. The difference is—you can lose the cord and the compressor.
If you’re used to driving hundreds of nails in a day or working overhead, you may want to look at a lighter weight pneumatic tool. If, however, you’re a trim carpenter who needs a tool to drive in trim and other materials in between fabrication, then the Milwaukee FUEL M18 15-gauge angled finish nailer is definitely a tool to check out for yourself. It’s easy to recommend—and even more so if you’re already on the M18 RedLithium battery platform. Right now, pricing favors getting a full kit, but in either case, the Milwaukee 2743-21CT is a tool kit meant for serious and long-term use by Pros who can tell the difference.
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