Tool Talk: Cordless framing nailers

Wouldn’t life be great if you and the crew could take care of all of your framing without an air compressor constantly running in the background? Additionally, the day would be easier without having to drag around the umbilical cord-like air hose. Enter into the picture cordless framing nailers and your prayers may have been answered — at least partially.
We have been testing three of the current crop of cordless nailers on a variety of nailing tasks and have to admit that for pick-up type work, where rapid nail driving is not required, cordless framing nailers are extremely handy. However, if you require speed — as in bump nailing — don’t get rid of your pneumatic framing nailer and air compressor just yet.Paslode in use.jpg
All of the cordless framing nailers we tested operate like small internal combustion engines. As the work contacting element is pressed into the work, a small amount of fuel is injected into the piston chamber and is mixed with air by a fan. When the trigger is pulled a spark ignites the fuel, moving a piston that drives the fastener. When the nailer is lifted from the work, the fan exhausts hot gases from the combustion chamber and cools internal components. Nails can be driven at a rate of about two or three per second. As you can imagine, this operation also produces heat and over time, or in extremely hot weather, the nailer may not operate properly.
Cold weather may also reduce or stop performance altogether as the fuel (a mixture of butane and propane) loses its potency at lower temperatures. We have heard stories about workers using Paslode framing nailers on the Alaskan Pipeline project who carried both fuel and battery in an inside, warm pocket until needed. Twenty to 120 degrees Fahrenheit is the recommended temperature range for cordless nailers but they really run best between 40 to 100 degrees.
Cordless framing nailers should not be used in rainy weather or where excessive moisture is present. These conditions could result in tool damage or cause tool malfunction.
Cordless framing nailers are more expensive to operate than conventional pneumatic framing nailers in that fuel cells must be purchased. Approximately 1,000 to 1,200 nails can be driven with one fuel cell — about $6 per fuel cell.Paslode.jpg
One last consideration is that cordless framing nailers will work with decreasing performance at higher altitudes. While any of these nailers work well at sea level, you will not generally be happy with performance at 9,000 feet. Paslode is the only manufacturer to offer a special metering valve for use at higher altitudes.
All cordless framing nailers require more periodic maintenance than pneumatic nailers. Each has an air filter in the top of the unit that must be cleaned at least every other day and more often when working in a dusty environment. Over time, the piston, combustion chamber, and driver blade will need cleaning with solvent. While Paslode provides an informative cleaning reference sheet with their nailer, other manufacturers do not. As a result, the Hitachi and Powers nailers will probably have to go in for service at an authorized repair shop.
Since a spark is generated by the battery it must be kept charged. A fully charged battery should be good for at least 4,000 shots. Some contractors wisely keep a spare battery handy to reduce down time. Both the Paslode and Hitachi cordless framing nailers we tested have a flashing LED light on the handle of the unit to indicate if the nailer is ready to fire or if the battery requires charging — green for go, red for recharge. Hitachi.jpg
Paslode has been a pioneer in cordless nailers for many years and currently offers the 30-degree clipped head nailer with some significant improvements over earlier models. The new nailer features a unique and innovative tool-free adjustment depth of drive mechanism that makes nail depth adjustments much easier than before. Simply pull up on the metal tabs above the nosepiece with thumb and forefinger and move the nose into position. The nosepiece can be adjusted at 1/10-inch increments with a total range of 1/2-inch. Sight lines on the nosepiece help the user adjust to desired nail set depth.
Two other new features include a non-slip, over molded handgrip to provide greater comfort and help prevent hand fatigue during use. Another first-time feature is a dual position utility hook that can be used either as a belt hook or, when folded out, a rafter hook. The rafter hook position allows the tool to be hung on rafters, studs, ladders, and scaffolds or any area up to 2 inches wide. The Paslode Cordless engineering group developed all three new features based on extensive end-user feedback.
The new Paslode 30-degree weighs 7.6 pounds — the lightest and most compact unit we tested — and will drive nails from 2 to 3-1/4 inches. It will fire both clipped and round head nails available from Paslode. When the number of nails in the magazine reaches six, the unit will not fire until reloaded. This feature prevents an accidental dry fire that wastes fuel and could damage tool components. The top of this nailer provides for easy, tool-free access to the filter for cleaning. Street price is around $379 (the lowest price of the units we tested), which includes nailer, battery, one-hour charger, two fuel cells, safety glasses, very helpful owners manual, and plastic carrying case.Powers Fasteners.jpg
Hitachi recently introduced two Gas Strip Nailers (round head and clipped head nails) and both are well balanced and comfortable to use. These nailers weigh 7.7 and 7.9 pounds respectively and are capable of driving 2 to 3-1/2 inch nails — the longest nail length available at this time. A tool is required for adjusting the depth of drive and for removing the cover on the air cleaner. A sturdy belt and rafter hanger folds out of the way when not needed. A six-nail lockout feature prevents an accidental dry fire — in fact, the unit will not operate until it is reloaded. Street price is around $399, which includes nailer, battery, one-hour charger, two fuel cells, safety glasses, owners manual, and plastic carrying case.
Powers is a fairly new manufacturer of cordless nailers and it currently has both round head and clipped head models in its Trak-It tool line. These nailers weigh 7.9 pounds and can drive fasteners from 2 to 3-1/4 inches long. The manufacturer claims up to 1,200 shots per fuel cell and up to 5,700 shots per fully charged battery. These units have the easiest to use tool-free depth of drive adjustment of any of the units we tested. Access to the air filter on top of the unit is easy without tools. A belt clipTrak-It.jpg can be moved from left to right but a tool is also required for this and for clearing nail jams. Street price is around $499, which includes nailer, battery, 150-minute charger, two fuel cells, safety glasses, owners manual, and plastic carrying case.
Even with the limitations noted above, cordless framing nailers are extremely handy for a variety of nailing tasks and any one of these nailers would be a good investment. These tools will not replace pneumatic framing nailers but would be a good addition to your arsenal.

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