Air Nailers - Canadian Woodworking Magazine

Tool Review: Air tools are becoming much more common in woodworking shops. 

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Air Nailers



Even factoring in the initial cost of an air compressor, the cost of ownership is highly competitive with electric tools: air tools typically cost less and they last longer. For a variety of repetitive tasks, such as assembling cabinet carcasses and trim work, one handed nailing saves you considerable time.

Because the brads are thinner than conventional nails and they are shot with such force, you’ll find that they rarely split your stock. I tested nailers that you’ll likely find at, or can be ordered through, building supply centres and big box stores (such as Home Depot, Canadian Tire and House of Tools).
 
Along with the air nailers, I tested a cordless and an electric nailer. Two of the air nailers (Accuset and Airy) are dual function: they shoot both brads and staples.

Nailers suitable for use in a cabinet shop, for finish carpenters or for the home Handyman come in 15, 16 and 18 gauge sizes. Gauge size refers to the size of nail (or “brad”) they shoot. A brad is just a thin nail with a small head, or headless, that comes in different thicknesses. “Finish” nailers shoot 15 and 16 gauge brads from 1" to 2 1/2", and are used for assembling cabinet carcases, installing face frames, door and window casings, baseboards and mouldings. “Brad” nailers shoot a thinner, smaller brad 18 gauge nail (3/8" to 1 3/8"), and are used in assembling furniture and for finer trim work.

Cordless nailers are somewhat new on the market. The Paslode uses a combination of battery and fuel cell. The battery powers a fan that pushes the fuel mixture into the piston, and it provides the spark that ignites the fuel. You can expect up to 4,000 shots per battery charge (about two hours to recharge) and 1,200 shots per fuel cell.

I carried out the tests using a Porter Cable side stack oil-less compressor (model CPF23400S). I made the same number and type of shots with each tool, first using the longest then the shortest brads it could handle. In the first test I shot brads using the tools minimum and maximum depth settings. I repeated this test at the minimum and maximum recommended air pressure levels. To test for jamming I shot three clips (300 brads) from each tool into the end and face of 2" ash. I also shot one clip from each tool into pine crown molding.

Finally, I tested each tool for accuracy of nailing, surface marring, handle and trigger comfort and overall tool balance.

All the air nailers operate within a 60 to 120 air pressure range, have a 100 brad magazine capacity (Accuset holds 110), come with an instruction booklet, a carry case (except the Makita and Max NF352ST) and a one-year warranty (Airy comes with 90 days, Campbell Hausfeld with a generous three years).

There is a blast of air that comes from the air nailer each time you pull the trigger. If your compressor uses oil, this air gets contaminated. An adjustable exhaust vent enables you to direct this oil contaminated air away from your work. Only the Makita, Accuset and Airy models lacked this feature. The Accuset thoughtfully vents out the rear; the other two vent straight into your work. The Bostitch BT35B requires you to loosen a screw each time you adjust the exhaust vent.

A driving depth adjustment dial enables you to set nail depth; otherwise you’ll have to do this by adjusting the air pressure level on your compressor.

All the nailers had a tool free depth adjustor except the Max NF352ST, Bostitch BT35B and Accuset. To adjust the Airy you have to unscrew the main bit guide, a somewhat awkward and ineffective procedure.

I liked the Makita’s depth adjustor, which is a stepped nut with nine increments of approximately 1/32". A no mar tip helps prevent the nosepiece from leaving dents in finished work. The Max NF352ST, Bostitch BT35B, Accuset and Airy lack such a tip.

If a nail gets jammed in the tool you want to remove it quickly and easily. All the nailers except the Max NF352ST, Bostitch BT35B, Accuset and Airy use a hinged quick release nose. For the Bostitch N52FN you release a latch and slide the magazine forward. I found this method a bit cumbersome to use.

Most nailers come in a sequential fire mode. Push the nosepiece against the work, press the trigger, and it fires. Some nailers offer bottom or bump mode firing: hold in the trigger and each time you press the nosepiece against the work it fires a nail. Bottom fire mode is useful for repetitive nailing. The Makita, Max NF550 and Campbell Hausfeld provide both modes on the tool. The two Bostitch nailers and the Accuset can be ordered in sequential or bump fire modes, and you can order an optional bottom fire trigger free of charge for the Porter Cable. Changing from sequential to bump fire mode is very quick on the Makita; you simply push a button on the trigger.

 All together I shot over 5,000 brads and none of the tools jammed. All the nailers performed well in softwood, plys and hardwood. At the lowest recommended air pressure setting (and nail depth gauge set to maximum) the Bostitch N52FN, Porter Cable, Makita, Max NF550 and Campbell Hausfeld easily drove the longest nails into solid ash. I did notice that the contact arm for the Bostitch BT35B and Accuset left slight impressions on the work. With the Max NF352ST I had to keep the psi up to its maximum setting to drive the longest nails. For the Arrow I found it necessary to exert pressure forcibly when nailing into hardwood, particularly with the longest brads.

If you are using a tool for an extended period of time, tool weight and balance become important considerations. The Bostitch N52FN at 3.7 pounds is one of the lightest 15 gauge nailers on the market, and has excellent balance. The Porter Cable is the heaviest, although it feels much lighter due to its exceptional balance. The same is true of the Paslode, which feels much lighter than its 4.9 lbs. I found the Makita overly top heavy, putting a lot of strain on my wrist.

In general, these tools are well constructed. The Porter Cable is likely the most rugged, with its anodized aluminum magazine, hardened steel nail guide rail and hardened driver blade. The Makita and Max NF550 are also impressive tools that should give years of reliable service under the most rugged of conditions. The Bostitch N52FN has a slotted magazine that makes it easy to check nail supply, although it might be susceptible to collecting debris. The magazine housing is made of a hard plastic; I thought aluminum might have been a better choice here. Most of the nailers have a reload indicator or small window on the magazine that allows you to see when its time to refill.
 
Several of the tools have unique features. The Bostitch N52FN is the only oil-less nailer in the group (one less maintenance task to remember). The Max NF550 has an anti double fire mechanism. The Makita has a very convenient lock button at the end of the magazine that holds the nail pusher while you load or unload. It also won’t fire when the magazine is empty. The Airy has a safety trigger that you have to hold down before pressing the firing trigger, a nice feature. The Paslode has a lock out at 10 nails, a blinking light on the handle to let you know when to recharge the battery, and a convenient belt hook.

These are all very capable tools. Among the 15 gauge nailers, the Porter Cable DA250A or Max NF550 are excellent choices for continuous heavy-duty nailing.

For light-duty or intermittent use, the Bostitch N52FN is a good choice. Although the Makita AF631 provides a lot of nice features it is rather top heavy and lacks an adjustable exhaust vent.

In a 16 gauge shop nailer the Campbell Hausfeld NB0050 stands out because of the full range of features it offers. Although the Max NF352ST performed very well in all the tests, its steep price, in relation to the set of features it offers, makes it a less viable choice.

The Paslode IM250A is the tool that I’d love to own. It offers the ultimate in convenience, performs as well as any pneumatic tool, but unfortunately comes at a very hefty price. Excellent quality, dual function (nailer and stapler) and competitive price give the Accuset A2N125 top marks for an 18 gauge nailer.

If you don’t need the stapler, then you can’t go wrong with the Bostitch BT35B. It’s a great tool at a good price. The Airy EZ2 is a competent dual function nailer, operating at a lower air pressure range than the Accuset, but is not as well constructed even though it costs the same. The Arrow ET125 is a viable alternative for those who want the benefits of a nailer but don’t want to invest in a compressor.



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Porter Cable DA250A

Price ($ Cdn): $349
Nail Guage: 15 
Format: Angled
Size (of nails - inches): 1 1/4 - 2 1/2
PSI (recommended range): 70 - 120
Weight (lbs): 6
Length (inches): 15
Tool-Free Adjustable Exhaust Vent: Yes
Tool-Free Adjustable Nail Depth Control: Yes
Replaceable, No-Mar Tip: Yes
Hinged, Quick-Release Nail Door: Yes 
Operation Mode: E - Sequential or Bottom
Comes With: Carry case, 1/4" quick-coupler, oil, allen keys, box of brads, safety glasses, 1 yr warranty 


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Bostitch N52FN

Price ($ Cdn): $493
Nail Guage: 15 
Format: Angled
Size (of nails - inches): 1 - 2 1/2
PSI (recommended range): 70 - 120
Weight (lbs): 3.7
Length (inches): 15 1/2
Tool-Free Adjustable Exhaust Vent: Yes
Tool-Free Adjustable Nail Depth Control: Yes
Replaceable, No-Mar Tip: Yes
Hinged, Quick-Release Nail Door: N/A 
Operation Mode: E - Sequential or Bottom
Comes With: Carry case, box of brads, 1 yr warranty


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Makita AF631

Price ($ Cdn): $601
Nail Guage: 15 
Format: Angled
Size (of nails - inches): 1 1/4 - 2 1/2
PSI (recommended range): 60 - 120
Weight (lbs): 5.5
Length (inches): 14 1/2
Tool-Free Adjustable Exhaust Vent: No
Tool-Free Adjustable Nail Depth Control: Yes
Replaceable, No-Mar Tip: Yes
Hinged, Quick-Release Nail Door: Yes 
Operation Mode: Bottom
Comes With: Oil, safety glasses


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Max NF550

Price ($ Cdn): $599
Nail Guage: 15 
Format: Angled
Size (of nails - inches): 1 - 2 1/2
PSI (recommended range): 70 - 100
Weight (lbs): 4.6
Length (inches): 13 5/8
Tool-Free Adjustable Exhaust Vent: Yes
Tool-Free Adjustable Nail Depth Control: Yes
Replaceable, No-Mar Tip: Yes
Hinged, Quick-Release Nail Door: N/A 
Operation Mode: E - Sequential or Bottom
Comes With: Carry case, 1 yr warranty


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Campbell Hausfeld NB0050

Price ($ Cdn): $321
Nail Guage: 16 
Format: Straight
Size (of nails - inches): 3/4 - 2
PSI (recommended range): 70 - 110
Weight (lbs): 4.8
Length (inches): 11 1/2
Tool-Free Adjustable Exhaust Vent: Yes
Tool-Free Adjustable Nail Depth Control: Yes
Replaceable, No-Mar Tip: Yes
Hinged, Quick-Release Nail Door: Yes 
Operation Mode: Bottom
Comes With: Carry case, 1/4" quick coupler, oil, allen keys, box of brads, safety glasses, 3 yr warranty


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Max NF352ST

Price ($ Cdn): $599
Nail Guage: 16 
Format: Straight
Size (of nails - inches): 1 - 2 
PSI (recommended range): 60 - 100
Weight (lbs): 3.6
Length (inches): 11 3/4
Tool-Free Adjustable Exhaust Vent: Yes
Tool-Free Adjustable Nail Depth Control: No
Replaceable, No-Mar Tip: No
Hinged, Quick-Release Nail Door: No
Operation Mode: Sequential
Comes With: 1 yr warranty


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Bostitch BT35B

Price ($ Cdn): $232
Nail Guage: 18 
Format: Straight
Size (of nails - inches): 5/8 - 1 3/8
PSI (recommended range): 70 - 120
Weight (lbs): 2.4
Length (inches): 10 3/8
Tool-Free Adjustable Exhaust Vent: No
Tool-Free Adjustable Nail Depth Control: No
Replaceable, No-Mar Tip: No
Hinged, Quick-Release Nail Door: No 
Operation Mode: E - Sequential or Bottom
Comes With: Carry case, box of brads, oil, 1 yr warranty


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Paslode IM250A

Price ($ Cdn): $725
Nail Guage: 16
Format: Angled
Size (of nails - inches): 1 1/4 - 2 1/2
PSI (recommended range): N/A
Weight (lbs): 4.9
Length (inches): 10 1/2
Tool-Free Adjustable Exhaust Vent: N/A
Tool-Free Adjustable Nail Depth Control: Yes
Replaceable, No-Mar Tip: Yes
Hinged, Quick-Release Nail Door: Yes 
Operation Mode: Sequential
Comes With: Carry case, box of brads, safety glasses, 1 yr warranty


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Accuset A2N125

Price ($ Cdn): $199
Nail Guage: 18 
Format: Straight
Size (of nails - inches): 5/8 - 1 14 (nails), 1/2 - 1 (staples)
PSI (recommended range): 70 - 120
Weight (lbs): 2.9
Length (inches): 10
Tool-Free Adjustable Exhaust Vent: No
Tool-Free Adjustable Nail Depth Control: No
Replaceable, No-Mar Tip: No
Hinged, Quick-Release Nail Door: No 
Operation Mode: E - Sequential or Bottom
Comes With: Carry case, 1/4" quick coupler, oil, allen keys, box of brads, safety glasses, 2 yr warranty


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Airy EZ2

Price ($ Cdn): $189
Nail Guage: 18
Format: Straight
Size (of nails - inches): 3/8 - 1 1/4 (nails), 3/8 - 1 1/8 (staples)
PSI (recommended range): 55 - 95
Weight (lbs): 3.1
Length (inches): 9 3/4
Tool-Free Adjustable Exhaust Vent: No
Tool-Free Adjustable Nail Depth Control: No
Replaceable, No-Mar Tip: No
Hinged, Quick-Release Nail Door: No 
Operation Mode: Sequential
Comes With: Carry case, oil, box of brads, 90 day warranty


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Arrow ET125

Price ($ Cdn): $200
Nail Guage: 18 
Format: Straight
Size (of nails - inches): 5/8 - 1 1/4
PSI (recommended range): N/A
Weight (lbs): 4.5
Length (inches): 9 1/2
Tool-Free Adjustable Exhaust Vent: N/A
Tool-Free Adjustable Nail Depth Control: Yes
Replaceable, No-Mar Tip: Yes
Hinged, Quick-Release Nail Door: Yes 
Operation Mode: N/A
Comes With: Carry case, 10 foot cord, 1 yr warranty

Contacts:
Stanley Works - www.stanleyworks.com  860-225-5111
Max USA Corp - maxusacorp.com  800-223-4293
Porter Cable Canada - portercable.com  519-836-2840
Makita Canada - makita.com  905-571-2200
Campbell Hausfeld - chpower.com  866-247-6937
Paslode - paslode.ca  800-387-6472




CARL DUGUAY is the web editor at Canadian Woodworking
Carl Duguay 2