One of my first jobs as a part-time framer working after school
was nailing off joist hangers. It wasn't much fun; the work
took forever and I was always smashing my fingers. Now we have
nail guns to perform this task — which is fortunate,
because we use a lot of framing hardware and fastening it all
by hand would be a huge waste of labor.
Our crew has been using hardware guns for several years.
Although we've tried some of the multi-blow models —
which work like palm nailers — we much prefer the
traditional single-blow guns because they're faster.
For this article we tested six single-blow hardware nailers:
Bostitch's MCN150 and MCN250, Grex's PPN65, Hitachi's NR65AK
and NR65AK(S), and Paslode's F250S-PP. Here's what we found
Paslode pioneered this application with its Positive Placement
tool, which uses a hardened metal probe to align the nail with
the hole in the hardware. The other guns we tested allow the
user to place the tip of the nail itself in the hanger before
shooting (see Figure 1). I prefer the latter method; when your
view is obstructed, it's easier to feel your way into the hole
with a nail than with a probe.
Figure 1. Paslode's gun has a probe (left)
that the operator uses to align the nail with the hole in the
hardware; it pivots out of the way when the gun is fired. With
other guns, the nail itself can be placed directly in the hole
It's important to use the correct size and type of nails for
the hardware being fastened. Every gun tested except one drives
1 1/2-inch nails of up to .148 inch in diameter and 2 1/2-inch
nails of up to .162 inch in diameter. Bostitch's MCN150 drives
only the 1 1/2-inch nails.
Weight and Size
Since I frame with a coil gun, you might think I wouldn't care
how much a hardware nailer weighs. But it's one thing to use a
heavy gun while holding it below the waist — which is how
most framing is done — and another to use it for work
overhead. Many of the joist hangers we nail off are up high and
require repetitive nailing, which can get exhausting.
At 8.7 pounds, Paslode's nailer is heavier than many framing
guns. The rest of the tools we tested are close to 6 pounds,
except Bostitch's MCN150; at 4.6 pounds, this tool is so light
it's neither difficult nor tiring to use overhead.
Hardware nailers vary a lot in size (Figure 2). The Paslode
model has roughly the same dimensions as a framing gun.
Bostitch's MCN250 and Hitachi's NR65AK are almost as tall as
the Paslode but narrower and a couple of inches shorter in
length. The rest of the guns are noticeably smaller, in part
because they have short magazines.
Figure 2. Hardware nailers come in a range
of sizes (top). The ones with short magazines are compact and
maneuverable but require frequent reloading. The MCN150 (far
left in bottom photo) was the shortest tested. The Paslode
(second from left) has the widest housing.
All of these guns will fit sideways in 16-inch on-center joist
bays. But the ones that are shorter in height are easier to
maneuver within the bay and elsewhere. The same goes for guns
that are shorter in length. A long magazine is more likely than
a short one to get in the way and force you to change
The Paslode is more powerful than the other guns we tested; in
fact, if the compressor is set too high it can overdrive the
nails. This isn't a problem unless it badly dents the
The Hitachis, too, will dent hangers if the compressor is set
too high. The Grex and the Bostitch MCN250 seem to have
slightly less power (at a given compressor setting) than the
Hitachis, but enough to fully drive nails in sawn lumber. On
occasion, all of the guns leave heads proud in LVLs, a problem
easily fixed with a hammer blow. On my sites, where we did the
testing, this issue was less a reflection of the nailers' power
than it was a result of the compressor's inability to keep up
with all the guns connected to it.
Hardware nailers are designed for specialized use, so they're
relatively light on features. None of these guns will fire when
empty, which is good because you wouldn't want to accidentally
miss any fasteners. They all have sequential trip triggers
— a must for this kind of gun because double-firing
greatly increases the likelihood of nails bouncing back and
hitting the operator. As it is, missing the hole in heavy-gauge
hardware can cause a recoil that sends the gun flying back.
I've been hit in the head and the shins.
Every one of these guns has a comfortable padded grip, but only
two have hooks: The Bostitch MCN250 has a swiveling rafter hook
large enough to fit over lumber joists and rafters and 1
3/4-inch LVLs, and the Grex has a belt hook that lets you hang
the gun from your tool bags — not as useful as a rafter
hook, but much better than no hook at all.
Although an adjustable exhaust port is not important on a
framing gun, it is helpful on a hardware nailer. If you're
nailing in tight quarters — joist bays, for example
— you don't want dust blowing into the cavity and then
back at you. Every gun we reviewed has an adjustable exhaust
port, so it won't be the tool's fault if dust gets in your
Because it takes only 1 1/2-inch nails, the MCN150 is
considerably smaller and lighter than the others (which, as
mentioned, shoot 2 1/2-inch fasteners as well). At just 4.6
pounds, it's more than a pound lighter than the next lightest
gun; at 10 1/2 inches high, it will fit between 12-inch
As with most hardware guns, you align the nail by placing its
tip in the hole in the hardware. My one complaint about the
MCN150 is that the magazine holds only one strip of fasteners,
so it requires frequent reloading. Still, even though I
normally don't like having to reload so often, in this case
it's a reasonable tradeoff given the gun's small size and
The big question for tool buyers is whether they can get by
with a gun that shoots only 1 1/2-inch fasteners. If they can,
then this is the nailer to get. Much of the hardware we install
requires 2 1/2-inch fasteners, so the MCN150 could never be our
Larger and more powerful than the MCN150, the MCN250 shoots
both lengths of fasteners. Like the other guns we tested, it
has sufficient power to drive fasteners in most materials but
occasionally leaves heads proud when putting long nails into
Its rear-loading magazine holds 53 nails and has two nail
slots: a high one for long nails and a lower one for short
nails. To prevent jamming, the gun is designed in such a way
that it won't fire if you accidentally put fasteners in the
wrong slot. It feels well-balanced and is the only hardware
nailer with a true rafter hook.
Bostitch recently introduced a second version of this gun, the
MCN250(S), which came out too late for us to test. According to
the company, it's identical to the MCN250 except it has a
shorter magazine and holds fewer nails. It's a half-pound
lighter than the MCN250 and the same length as the
Available for several years now, the NR65AK works well and is
comfortable to use. Based on its ability to drive fasteners
home in LVLs, the tool struck me as slightly more powerful than
the MCN250. My only complaint is that it doesn't have a rafter
The NR65AK(S) is an NR65AK with a shorter magazine. This
modification makes it much easier to use, because at 11.8
inches long it will fit in hard-to-reach places. The gun holds
only one strip of fasteners — again, a reasonable
tradeoff given the tool's maneuverability.
The PPN65 weighs about the same as the other guns that shoot
both sizes of fasteners, but it's slightly smaller. Although
brand new to the market, its design looks somehow old — a
bit generic, with a featureless housing and a thin metal
trigger. The gun does have side bumpers to keep it from sliding
when placed on a slope, as well as a belt-hook.
At 8.7 pounds, the F250S-PP is almost half a pound lighter than
its predecessor, the original Positive Placement nailer —
but it's still significantly heavier than the other guns we
Its magazine can be removed without tools to clear jammed
nails. The other guns don't have this feature; if one of them
jams, the nail has to be pounded back through the nosepiece.
Luckily, jamming is rare with hardware nailers; it happens
primarily with heavier-gauge hangers, when the fastener misses
the hole and bends.
Although the F250S-PP is a reliable gun and more powerful than
the other hardware nailers, it's so heavy I find myself holding
it with two hands — one on the grip and the other on the
bottom of the magazine.
All of these guns will do the job and are better than nailing
by hand, but I definitely prefer some over others. If I could
have only one, I'd choose the Bostitch MCN250: It shoots short
and long nails, it's well-balanced, and it has a built-in
I also like the NR65AK(S) — the Hitachi with the short
magazine. This tool is compact and comfortable to use and it
works very well. I rate it below the MCN250 because it doesn't
have a rafter hook.
The Bostitch MCN150's small size and light weight make it the
perfect gun for a framer who only needs to drive 1 1/2-inch
hanger nails. If I had money in the budget for a second gun,
I'd consider buying it just for driving shorter
fasteners.Tim Uhler is a lead framer for Pioneer
Builders in Port Orchard, Wash., and a JLC contributing