Until recently, my framing crew used stick nailers to fasten
framing and small coil nailers to fasten sheathing. But about a
year ago, we started using larger coil framing guns for both
tasks. The reason is simple: Coil guns hold more fasteners than
stick guns, so using coil nails boosts our production by
reducing the number of times we have to stop and reload.
Consider the numbers. My old stick gun holds two full strips of
framing nails. Since the nails I buy come 25 to the strip, a
full load (we don't break strips) is 50 10d nails. A coil
framer, by contrast, holds one coil of fasteners — but
the brand we buy contains 225 10d nails per coil (see Figure
1). That amount increases if you use smaller nails.
Unfurling a coil of 10d fasteners
containing 225 nails alongside a stick gun's two-strip load
makes it clear just how many more fasteners a coil gun holds.
The result is fewer reloads and faster work.
I've heard that coil framers are common in Florida and in parts
of the East Coast, but not in other areas of the country. This
is partly a matter of tradition; people tend to use the kind of
tools they learned on, and most of us learned on stick guns.
The other reason more carpenters don't use coil guns is that
they're heavier than stick guns when they're filled with
Testing the Tools
Over the summer, my crew had the opportunity to try out seven
coil guns: the Bostitch N89C-1, Hitachi NV83A2, Makita AN901,
Max CN890II, Paslode F325C, Porter-Cable Coil350, and Senco
SCN65. We had the tools for a little more than three months and
framed every day.
Criteria. In evaluating these guns,
we concentrated mostly on balance and weight, power, and
nail-driving speed. We also looked at the depth-of-drive
mechanism and assessed the usefulness of added features like
hooks and built-in air filters. The one quality we could not
evaluate was long-term durability.
Balance and Weight
Empty, a coil gun weighs about the same as a stick gun. But
load them both with 10d fasteners, and the coil gun is suddenly
2 1/2 pounds heavier. For some carpenters, this will be a
problem. I understand, because in general I too prefer lighter
tools. But when it comes to framing guns, I'm willing to carry
more weight if it means being able to work longer without
having to reload.
A coil gun is more comfortable to use if it's balanced front to
back. Some of the coil guns are very well-balanced, but others
feel nose-heavy. This was not an issue when we nailed subfloor,
but it was when we held the guns in other framing positions
(Figure 2). If we had had only a single coil nailer, we might
not have noticed, but with seven models to choose from, it
became obvious which were the most comfortable to use.
Figure 2.Although balance isn't much of an issue
when you're nailing straight down, it's an important
consideration in all other framing positions. Max's gun is
comfortable to use at any angle, but some of the guns are
The Hitachi is better-balanced than the other tools, and so it
feels lighter than the specs say it is. The Makita, Max, and
Senco are also well-balanced and comfortable to handle —
especially the Makita. The Bostitch, Paslode, and Porter-Cable
all feel nose-heavy; using a nose-heavy gun gives you a sore
Weight specs. Some of the tool
weights shown in this article differ from the numbers cited by
the manufacturers. The manufacturers' weight specs are
frequently wrong. I'm told that this happens because the
companies change something on the tool and then forget to
correct the specs. We got our weights by weighing each tool
(including air fittings) on an electronic postal scale (see
"Coil Gun Specs").
Speed and Power
All of these tools have the power to put 10d nails into the
hardest material we ever use — LVL beams. The catch is in
how fast they can do it. When I say a gun is fast, I mean it
can drive fasteners in rapid succession without leaving any
heads standing proud. Manufacturers sometimes include a spec
for how fast their guns can cycle. For example, Paslode says
its gun will cycle 10 times per second — which is faster
than any carpenter could or would want to drive
I can't vouch for the specs, but in use the Hitachi and Paslode
cycle faster than other models. The Max feels a little slower
than the rest. The only time we noticed this was when we nailed
LVLs or fastened top plates, a task that involves driving a lot
of framing nails in rapid succession. If we slowed down just a
little, the problem went away.
As for power, the Makita and Bostitch feel more powerful than
other models, but not to the extent that our purchase decision
would be strongly affected. All of these guns have enough power
to do the job.
Depth of Drive
An adjustable depth-of-drive mechanism is an important feature
for us. Because we use the same guns for both framing and
sheathing, we change nails and depth settings all the time. Our
building inspectors are picky about shear nailing and will fail
us if we overdrive fasteners. But if the nails stand proud, we
have to go back and hammer them down.
We can adjust most of these guns by pushing a button or by
turning a dial, but the Paslode and the Porter-Cable require
the use of an Allen key (Figure 3). Since it's inconvenient to
use a key, I won't buy a nailer that requires one.
Figure 3.Depth-of-drive mechanisms are standard on
every framing nailer. The button on the tip of the Bostitch
(above left) makes for quick and intuitive depth changes. Dial
mechanisms like the one on the Hitachi (above) are fairly
common and work quite well. The old-fashioned depth mechanism
on the Porter-Cable gun (left), similar to that on the Paslode,
requires the use of an Allen key.
Some guns have added features: adjustable exhaust vents, swivel
fittings, oversize triggers, built-in air filters. Like the cup
holders in a car, they are convenient but not reason enough to
buy a particular model. The one added feature that would affect
my buying decision is a hook (Figure 4).
Figure 4.Makita's gun (right) comes with a
built-in hook that allows you to hang up the tool. This
carpenter (below) frees his hands by hanging the tool from his
Whereas a number of stick nailers come with hooks, only one
coil gun — the Makita — has one. A hook allows you
to quickly free up one of your hands by hanging the tool on
something. To me this is an incredibly convenient feature and
one of the main reasons why I really like the Makita
This is a brand-new coil nailer — so new we had to test a
preproduction model. It has excellent driving power and feels
solidly made. It features a tool-free depth of drive that
adjusts with a nose-mounted push button. I like the tip because
it's exceptionally aggressive.
The gun comes with a "smart" trigger, which works a lot like
the trigger on the Max: If you squeeze the trigger first, the
tool bounce-fires, but if you compress the tip first, the gun
fires single shots. According to Bostitch, you can convert the
tool to full-time bounce-firing by knocking out a pin.
Although the N89C-1 is in many ways a very nice tool, it felt
nose-heavy and bulky to the carpenters on my crew.
The NV83A2 is the coil version of a Hitachi stick nailer I've
used and liked in the past. In use, the Hitachi drives nails
faster than every model except the Paslode, which is equally
fast. This tool weighs 8.2 pounds, about average for a coil
framer, but it's so well-balanced it feels lighter. As a
result, it's very comfortable to use.
The tip is less aggressive than that of the Bostitch, but it
still grabs well enough to toenail engineered lumber. The
depth-of-drive mechanism is controlled by a dial and works very
well. This is an excellent nailer, and the only reason it's not
my favorite is that it doesn't come with a hook.
Three things stand out about the AN901. First, it's extremely
light, a pound lighter than the next-lightest gun. Second, it's
unusually tall. The height takes some getting used to, but does
not make the tool any harder to use. Third, it comes with a
hook for hanging the tool.
The Makita is very powerful, and although it's not as fast as
the Paslode and the Hitachi, it's fast enough for our needs.
It's light and well-balanced, so it's comfortable to use. The
only problem we had with it was its tendency to overdrive
fasteners when we ran it off the same compressor as the other
guns. We normally run our compressor at 100 psi, but we had to
turn it lower to nail shear with the Makita.
This gun has a number of added features, including a
translucent magazine cover that allows you to see how many
fasteners are left, and a built-in air filter to keep dirt and
grit from getting inside. My favorite feature is the hook,
which — despite the manufacturer's admonitions not to do
so — I use for hanging the tool on my belt. The AN901
would be a nice gun even without the hook; with it, the tool
goes to the very top of my list.
Max CN890II Super Framer
The CN890II is powerful and seems to be very well-made. I like
it because it's one of the better-balanced guns. Its numerous
added features include a swivel connector at the air inlet
(Figure 5) that prevents hose kinks, and a built-in air filter
that cleans itself every time you unplug the hose.
Figure 5.Max's gun has a swivel air fitting that
prevents kinking and reduces wear on the hose.
The gun has two firing modes: the usual bounce-firing and a
single-shot mode activated by compressing the contact element
and squeezing the trigger in a particular order. If you
compress the element before squeezing the trigger, the gun will
not fire again on that squeeze. Bounce-firing is simply a
matter of squeezing first and then hitting the contact
The downside to the Max is that it's one of the heavier models
and seems to cycle slower than other guns. Although we usually
didn't notice the slower speed, that changed when we drove a
lot of large fasteners at once, as you might do when nailing
off top plates. Fortunately, this task is only one small part
of framing a house, and in my mind the tool's other qualities
make up for the shortcoming.
As with other models, I'd rate this one higher if it had a
The F325C is as fast and powerful as any coil framer we tried.
It has an aggressive tip and is comfortable to use despite the
fact that it's somewhat nose-heavy. The trigger is longer than
most and extremely sensitive (Figure 6); its size makes it easy
and comfortable to use, even with gloves on. (A sensitive
trigger is good ergonomics but means you have to be careful not
to fire the gun accidentally.) I like the speed and power of
this tool and would consider buying one if it weren't for one
problem: The depth-of-drive mechanism requires the use of an
Figure 6.The Paslode's smooth, oversize trigger is
more comfortable to use than the triggers on the other
The Coil350 is a powerful gun with an aggressive tip that's
good for toenailing. I also like the tool's magazine, because
it has openings in it so you can see how many nails are left
Unfortunately, the things I don't like about this gun outnumber
the ones I do. It is noticeably nose-heavy and uncomfortable to
use. According to the manufacturer, it weighs 7.4 pounds
— but it actually tips the scales at 8.3 pounds. And the
depth-of-drive mechanism requires the use of an Allen key,
which in my book automatically disqualifies the tool.
The SCN65 is of average weight for a coil framer but is so
well-balanced it feels lighter and smaller than it really is.
In terms of speed and power, it's about average for this group
of guns. The depth of drive adjusts very easily, but the tip is
not quite as aggressive as I would like. An opening in the
magazine makes it easy to look inside and see how many nails
are left. In addition to framing with this gun, we used it for
siding; it performed both tasks very well.
Overall, I'd say this is an average coil gun. My major gripe is
that it does not seem to be that well-made. After only a week
of use, the foam grip on the handle tore. While I realize this
doesn't necessarily say anything about the gun's insides, it
certainly does not inspire confidence.
Here's how I'd rank the top three guns in this category.
Makita gets my vote for first place. Well-balanced, extremely
light, and very powerful, my favorite nailer is the only one
with a hook, a feature every gun should have. Its one negative
— the tendency to overdrive nails when sharing an air
compressor with other guns — can be fixed by lowering the
compressor setting or by using an inline pressure
Hitachi snags second place. If this well-balanced and extremely
fast tool came with a hook, I'd probably rate it No. 1.
And coming in third? The Max. Well-balanced and solidly made,
with added features like a swivel fitting and an
antidouble-fire mechanism, this tool might rank higher if it
were faster and lighter and included a hook.
Tim Uhleris lead framer for Pioneer Builders Inc.
in Port Orchard, Wash.
The Straight Shtick on
Coil framing nails have full round heads
collated at 15 degrees by a pair of steel
wires. I prefer wire collation because the
leftover wire doesn't fly up and hit you in the
face the way bits of plastic can when you use
full round-head plastic collated stick nails.
In our area, coil nails cost a little bit more
than stick nails, but I'm told that the two
types of nails cost the same in areas where
coil nails are more common.
Most of the guns we tested are designed to
accept fasteners from 11/2 to 31/2 inches long,
and from .099 to .131 inch in diameter.
Fasteners this size work just fine in most of
the country, though there are some areas where
thicker fasteners are required by code or by an
engineer's design. For example, in California,
shear-wall sheathing is often fastened with
.148-inch nails, and I have been on jobs where
an engineer specified .148-inch fasteners for
It's worth noting that a few guns are rated to
accept .148-inch nails. At first this didn't
make sense to me, because I had never heard of
a coil nail this size. But as it turns out,
Bostitch makes a 21/4-inch-by-.148-inch coil
A delicate issue. Because coil framing nails
are collated with a pair of steel wires, they
are a lot more delicate than strips. If you
drop a box of coil nails, the collation can
bend and distort the shape of the coils.
Best-case, the distorted coil won't feed
properly through the gun. Worst-case, you'll
have to throw out the nails because they won't
feed at all.
To load a coil gun,
you open the magazine and a cover on the nose,
and then put in a coil, laying the end on the
feed pawls. Close the magazine and cover, and
you're ready to go. If a nail jams, you simply
pop open the cover on the nose to clear
I've heard people say that coil guns are
finicky and tend to jam. In my experience,
unless you do something really bad to the coil,
they jam less often than stick guns. If a nail
does jam, clearing it is simply a matter of
opening the same hinged feed cover you open to
load fasteners (see photo, above).
When I frame with a stick gun, I fill my nail
pouch with extra strips of fasteners. The gun
may be lighter, but I'm still carrying a heavy
load. When I frame with a coil gun, I leave a
couple of coils sitting somewhere nearby.