While there are some variations in magazine capacity, the big difference is between pneumatic and cordless nailers. All of our pneumatics can fit two strips of nails while the cordless models fit just one. Of the models that have dry fire lockout, you can fit the same number of strips in the magazine as you can when it’s empty. So aside from the difference between the two power sources, there aren’t any major issues to worry about.
Depth adjustment for even the best framing nailer can be tricky to get right. It should be simple, but there are top wheels, side wheels, a bottom wheel, and the dreaded grab-the-hex-wrench adjustment. Even within similar styles, there are varying degrees of quality and ease of turning.
On the positive side, Hitachi’s 18V adjustment is the best combination of quality and ease. Closely behind are Estwing, Bostitch 20V Max, and DeWalt 20V Max.
There are some that present a challenge. Bostitch and Paslode’s gas model require you to push in on the side of the nose and pull/push the nose to set your depth. Finally, you need to grab the onboard hex wrench on the Paslode F-350S to loosen the bolt and slide the nose when you want it. Worst of the bunch, the detent on DeWalt’s pneumatic nailer is so difficult to overcome, that I finally grabbed a set of pliers give my fingers a break.
Update: Hitachi’s NR90AE(S1) earns 80 points for its depth adjustment.
There’s a pretty big swing in weight in our group of 13. If you’ve used a cordless nailer before, you know that they’re heavier by nature – at least most of the time. There’s also a pretty large range among the pneumatics.
The lightest model in our testing is the Hitachi NR90AE(S1) at 7.28 pounds. Next up is the Paslode Cordless XP gas nailer at 7.36 pounds, including the battery and gas cartridge. Ridgid (7.39 pounds) is very close behind while Milwaukee (7.66 pounds) and Estwing (7.79 pounds) round out the sub-8-pound group.
On the heavy side are the rest of the cordless models with DeWalt 20V Max (9.34 pounds), Bostitch 20V Max (9.43 pounds), and Hitachi 18V tipping the scales at 10.14 pounds – all with their batteries. The pneumatic heavyweights are Hitachi at 9.08 pounds and Makita at 9.26 pounds.
Update: The Hitachi NR90AE(S1) is the lightest at 7.28 pounds.
The overall size of a nailer makes a big difference when you’re trying to fire a nail in a tight spot. The nose to exhaust measurement (most manufacturers call this the height) is the most obvious player, but the head width can also impede your ability to fire where you want.
The shortest framing nailer in our test is Senco at just 12-1/4″. On the other end is Bostitch at 14-1/2″ and Paslode’s Cordless XP at 14-7/8″ – both too long to fit between two studs. Good thing you’re almost always firing at an angle!
For head width, Hitachi’s NR83A5 and DeWalt’s 20V Max are the only ones inside 4″. Hitachi’s NR90 is the widest at 4-15/16″ followed by Paslode’s F-350S (4-7/8″) with the DeWalt DWF83PL and Hitachi’s 18V just a 1/4″ less.
Grip is somewhat subjective, but after some intense debate a few bruised egos, we finally settled it. There are different handle designs, overmold coverages, and even overmold densities to consider. The Bostitch and DeWalt 20V Max models top our list with Milwaukee solidly in 3rd. The only disappointing grip is the Paslode Cordless XP. Its shape is okay, but both the plastic front and overmold texture irritate our hands.
Balance doesn’t vary as much from the best framing nailer to the worst on the pneumatic side. All of them are a bit forward leaning. Cordless gets into murkier waters, though. Most of our nailers score 90 points or more in balance with Milwaukee leading the pack and Hitachi, Makita, Senco, Bostitch 20V Max, and DeWalt 20V Max in a big pileup for 2nd.
The only 2 to break away on the negative side are Hitachi’s 18V and Paslode’s XP. Both are extremely weight-forward.
Update: the Hitachi NR90AE(S1) earns 90 points to take over 1st place for its ergonomics
Visibility and Accuracy
Accuracy isn’t always a necessity for the best framing nailer. After all, you can get a positive placement nailer when you need to be as close to perfect as you can get. Still, having a nose that gives you enough visibility to be accurate when you need it counts for something. To test this, we made X’s on the wood to see how close to center the nose would allow us to nail. This wasn’t a speed test – it’s all about taking your time when the shot is right. Remember that scene from The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen?
Estwing, Makita, and Milwaukee all have visibility that gives us near-perfect accuracy while 4 other models were just slightly off. None of our models give us sub-Pro level accuracy, but both Paslode models were tougher to get an accurate bead on than the others.
Update: the Hitachi NR90AE(S1) earns a perfect score for visibilty and accuracy.
Ever watch an apprentice on his first day with a nailer that has a lot of kick? He or she spends more time using a framing hammer than the nailer. For those of us that have a bit more experience, fighting recoil just means greater fatigue. Regardless of where you sit, less recoil is welcome, especially when you’re bump firing. To see how much recoil each nailer has, we did some nailing with a weak grip to let the nailer exert its will and then with a firm grip to see how difficult it is to muscle in some control.
Paslode has recoil control figured out. Compared to the rest of the field, there’s very little kick in both their F-350S and Cordless XP. There’s a group of 6 that settles in with excellent recoil control. Senco is the only one that noticeably separated from the group with more kick than the rest, but it’s still controllable.
Update: the Hitachi NR90AE(S1) earns a score of 90 for its recoil control.
When you can’t build the wall frame and studs before lifting it in place, you’ll have to toenail – something you end up doing a lot with remodeling. Effective toenailing comes from the ability to stick the nose on the wood at an angle and fire without changing the angle of the nail or with so much recoil that it shifts the board on the first nail. For the most part, the best framing nailer will give the nose a couple of barbs sharp enough to dig into SPF – not a difficult task. Those points just need to be in a place where they will stick whether you’re using your right or left hand and at an angle.
To test this, we simply set up untreated pine to nail in at 90°. I first tested the ability of the nose to grab and hold at an angle then fired three nails to see how the recoil affects my accuracy and stability.
Most of our framing nailers toenail well. The best are Makita and Paslode’s F-350S with 7 other models right behind them. Hitachi’s A5 has a blunt tip that sticks out too far to get the side points to stick into the wood, so there’s some slippage. Hitachi’s 18V model is similar, but a barb on either side of the top allows it to grab effectively. It’s a little different because the rest of the nailers grab best from the side of the nose and this cordless model needs to use the top.
Update: the Hitachi NR90AE(S1) earns 90 points for toenailing.
The best framing nailer for the job has to get through whatever material you’re going to use it with. Most of its work is going to be in soft framing lumber, but there are some applications you’re working with tougher material – pressure-treated lumber, maybe a little LVL, etc. To give our nailers a bit more of a workout, we set up 5 layers of 3/4″ plywood with a nice, thick layer of wood glue between each one.
The test is more than just firing a single nail flush. I bump fired ten 3-1/4″ smooth shank nails (0.131″) at roughly 1/2-second intervals with the compressor set to 100 PSI to determine what these nailers are capable of. Well, I bump fired all of them except the Paslode Cordless XP, which can only do single fire shots.
Bostitch, the Hitachi NR90, Milwaukee, and the Paslode Cordless XP were all able to fully drive the nails – and still had 3/8″ of depth adjustment left. Paslode’s F-350S left 1 nail just above flush with 1/4″ of depth still available while Ridgid and the Hitachi 18V seated all 10 flush at a full depth of drive.
On the weaker side is Hitachi’s NR83A5, DeWalt’s DWF83PL, and Senco’s 325FRHXP. All of these are able to sink nails in pine without a problem, they’re just not as strong as the others. Recoil has an effect here. With bump firing, slowing down with Senco helps reduce the inconsistency in driving depth and moving into single fire mode shows that it has real strength. In facr, slowing down with any of these three at the bottom helps considerably.
For cordless, both Bostitch and DeWalt have trouble no matter at what speed we fired.
We also tested all of these nailers on a remodel that Tom Gaige is working on. When it comes to adding new pine lumber to the existing studs that have had 60 years to harden, the Bostitch 20V Max and DeWalt 20V Max just can’t sink them further than 1/2″ proud. On the other hand, Paslode’s Cordless XP and Hitachi’s 18V are able to get the job done.
For the pneumatics, all of them were able to sink nails in this application.
Update: the Hitachi NR90AE(S1) earns a perfect score for driving strength.
When it comes to framing, hopefully, you’re using a compressor that gives you all the air you need. Our go-to is the Makita MAC5501G air compressor. This 5.5 HP workhorse delivers 12.5 CFM at 100 PSI and has a 10-gallon capacity to make it awfully tough to outwork – even with multiple nailers. It has the endurance to match its performance thanks to the use of a Honda GX160 4-cycle engine and V-twin pump that runs quieter and cooler than most other options out there. If you’re ready for an upgrade in the compressor department, you can pick one up or have it delivered from Acme Tools for $999.
If you’re the kind of Pro that wants to use the smallest compressor possible, how much air your nailers use is important. To settle the argument, we set out to determine how much pressure each nailer requires to seat a 3-1/4″ nail in untreated pine. It’s simple, the lower the minimum PSI, the more nails you can fire as your pressure drops and your compressor tries to keep up.
Obviously, this isn’t a concern for any of the cordless nailers. For the pneumatics, we started at 60 PSI and worked our way up 5 PSI at a time until we discovered the minimum each nailer needs. Bostitch, Milwaukee, and Paslode all get the job done at 80 PSI. The rest settle in at 85 and 90 PSI, while Senoc needs 95 PSI with this size nail.
Update: the Hitachi NR90AE(S1) needs 85 PSI to complete this test.
The beauty of using pneumatic nailers is that you have no firing delay – something we didn’t talk about until cordless nailers hit the scene. The Bostitch 20V Max and DeWalt 20V Max suffer pretty significantly with a delay of a 1/2-second or so. Paslode is almost instantaneous, but we ran into several times where we had to wait on the nailer to catch up.
Price and Value
Online, pricing on this group of nailers runs from $140 (Estwing) to $399 (all three battery-powered options). As always, it’s not just the price, it’s what you get for your money. In terms of value, Estwing gives you the best bang for your buck. Hitachi’s NR90 comes in second. Bostitch and Ridgid tie for third with Senco right behind them. On the low end of the value scale are our three battery-powered options.
Update: the Hitachi NR90AE(S1) earns 94 points for its value rating.