Cordless Brad Nailers Buying Guide
Cordless Brad Nailers
With all the advances in battery and motor technology, have cordless nail guns had finally improved enough to replace tried-and-true pneumatic tools? To find out, we rounded up ten 18-gauge brad nailers and put them to the test. Here are the results.
How Do They Work?
Paslode pioneered cordless nail guns with its fuel-powered nailers. Paslode nailers contain a canister of fuel that provides the driving force when a small amount of fuel is ignited in a cylinder. The advantage of this design is that the battery can be small and light, because its main function is to provide ignition for the fuel. These nailers are very powerful but they have some drawbacks. Mainly, exhaust fumes smell bad and you have to buy replacement fuel canisters.
Most of the nailers we tested use the motor to compress air in a cylinder. The compressed air pushes a piston that drives the brads.
DeWalt, Bostitch and Porter-Cable have taken a different approach from the two methods above. In their nailers, a spinning flywheel provides the driving force. To ensure rapid firing, a few of these nailers rev up as soon as you press the nose to the workpiece.
Other than the significantly lighter weight of the Paslode, we didn’t find any advantage of one technology over the other. There’s a split-second delay with the flywheel models, but it’s not bothersome. Every model, regardless of the tech behind them, drove brads well enough to install standard trim.
Tool weight matters
If you’re installing crown molding overhead, a few extra pounds could make the difference between aching shoulders and a pain-free job. Out of the nailers we tested, the Paslode nailer weighs in at a slight 4.7 lbs. At the other end of the spectrum is the 7.65-lb. Hitachi.
Look at the tip
When you’re installing trim, it is important to place nails accurately. To do this with a brad nailer, it helps to have a clear view of the gun tip. The Porter-Cable and Bostitch nailers are examples of guns with sight-lines that allow for a clear view of the tip. The tip on the Milwaukee tool is harder to see.
Dry-fire lockout is a nice feature
Many of these nailers have a dry-fire lockout feature that prevents the gun from firing when there are no brads. Without this feature, you could keep on nailing without realizing that the gun had run out of fasteners, wasting time and energy. Also, most of the guns have a small window in the nail cover with some means of signaling that the brads are running low. We like Ridgid’s transparent cover that shows at a glance how many brads are left, as well as what length they are.
Two good questions:
Do you need sequential firing?
All but two of these brad nailers include the option to switch from single-fire to sequential firing. In single-fire mode, the trigger needs to be released between shots. Switching to sequential firing allows the trigger to be held down to “bump-fire” brads by just pressing the nose of the nailer against the workpiece. Be aware of this feature, but don’t let it drive an entire buying decision. Bump firing isn’t critical to most trim carpentry or woodworking.
Do you need maximum power?
You’ll probably never have to drive a 2-in. brad into solid oak. Even some conventional nailers can’t do that. But hey, we thought it would be an interesting test. The Makita and Ryobi nailers were the only ones that struggled in this test. But every model we tried is capable of driving 1-1/2-in. brads through 3/4-in. oak into a pine jamb, which is (probably) the most difficult nailing job you’ll encounter in normal circumstances.
Clear jams easily
In our testing, we had very few brads get jammed in the tip of the tool. But when this does happen, it’s nice to be able to clear the tip without tools. All but one of the brad nailers have tool-free jam clearing. On most tools, you release a latch on the front to access the jammed brad. To access a jam on the Milwaukee tool, you just release the nail clip cover.
Occasionally the driver in these brad nailers will get stuck. A few tools have a “stall release” lever to reset the driver. Other tools instruct you to remove and then replace the battery. Then you press the nose against a scrap of wood and pull the trigger to reset the driver. Be sure to read this section of your instruction manual to see how your tool works.
Is a battery-powered brad nailer right for you?
If you’re a pro, the answer is probably yes. For the small odd job, or to take care of punch-list items, it’s hard to beat the convenience of a battery-powered brad nailer. But there are some caveats. Compressor-powered brad nailers have the advantage of being smaller and lighter, and you don’t have to worry about keeping a battery charged. And you can buy a kit containing a brad nailer, small compressor and hose for about the same price as one of these battery-powered nailers. On the other hand, it’s convenient to be able to grab a battery-powered brad nailer and start working without setting up the compressor and having to drag a hose around behind you.
Models We Tested
To see how the 18-gauge battery-powered brad nailers performed under adverse conditions, we drove hundreds of 2-in. brads into
2-1/4-in. solid oak. Then we tested in real-world conditions by nailing oak casing to an oak jamb. Go to the next page to see what we discovered:
Model Number: R09890K
This is a ruggedly built tool with the advantage of Ridgid’s lifetime warranty. We like the transparent magazine cover and the two styles of no-mar tips that Ridgid supplies so you can choose your favorite.
Model Number: DCN680D1
This nailer appears to be nearly identical to the Bostitch. Both nailers drove 2-in. brads consistently into solid oak and worked perfectly in our testing.
Model Number: NT1850DE
Weighing in at 7.65 lbs., this is the heaviest tool of the lot. The nailer performed well in our testing and would be a good choice if you have other Hitachi tools to share batteries with. Our only complaint is the depth adjustment, which is hard to turn and disconnects from the safety tip if you turn the adjuster too far.
Model Number: Fusion F-18 6E0001N
Senco uses a sealed cylinder in conjunction with a motor to drive the brads. This results in good power and almost instantaneous response. We like the balance and feel of this tool.
Model Number: IM200Li
This brad nailer is in a class of its own. The gas-fuel technology is sort of old-school, but it’s tried and true. In our test, this tool was the lightest (4.7 lbs.) and felt the most comfortable. If you’re willing to shoulder the additional cost of fuel canisters and put up with the faint smell of exhaust, put this gun at the top of your list.
Model Number: 2741-21CT
From the sleek, compact body to the precision brad-depth adjuster, this tool has a high-quality feel. Our only gripe is that the view of the tip is obscured by the jam-release lever. The nailer responds instantly and performed well in our testing.
Model Number: BCN680D1
This nailer has a flywheel-type drive system that revs up as soon as you press down on the tip, ensuring a quick response when you pull the trigger to drive the brad. The nailer has every feature you could want and performed flawlessly in our shop.
Model Number: PCC790LA
We like the weight and balance of this nailer. And it drives brads consistently without problems. The only downside is the lack of a dry-fire lockout to prevent firing when there are no nails in the magazine.
Model Number: XNB01Z
We like how easy it is to see the tip, aiding in accurate brad placement. But the shape of this nailer gives it a back-heavy feel that we found uncomfortable. This is the only gun that requires a tool to take apart the nose to clear jams.
Model Number: P320-P128
This model performed well and has all the features of more expensive nailers. The unique adjustable air pressure could be handy for fine-tuning brad depth. It uses Ryobi’s One+ battery—great if you own other tools using the same battery platform.