Seven years ago, I replaced our standard corded drywall screw guns with Senco autofeed guns, which drove plastic-collated screws that come 50 to a strip. Collated screws cost almost twice as much as bulk screws, but I figured that the labor savings would more than compensate.
First my crew and I tried Senco’s 18-volt model DS275-18V. We appreciated the cordless freedom, but the tool generated only 3,000 rpm and started stair-stepping screws as its nickel-cadmium batteries drained. It could sink high screws and back out misplaced ones, but you had to remove the screw strip first. We normally used a separate screwdriver instead. Also, the tool lacked an inline grip, and it needed a firm push to drive each screw, which was tiring. The spring-loaded depth gauge would sometimes stick, requiring us to manually retract it.
We replaced the cordless model with Senco’s corded autofeed model DS200-AC. It was slightly faster and eliminated the stair-stepping, but it had all the other drawbacks of the cordless version. Still, it was much faster than hand-feeding screws, so we stuck with it until late 2011.
That’s when we started field-testing two 18-volt Hilti SD 4500-A18 drywall screw guns equipped with Hilti SMD 50 autofeed magazines for JLC. We reported on their stellar performance in the April 2012 and May 2013 columns and continue to run both of them hard.
For the past year, though, we’ve been intermittently field-testing the new 18-volt Senco DS215-18V autofeed screw gun. It’s powered by a 1.5-amp-hour lithium-ion battery, which has eliminated the stair-stepping of the older cordless Senco while increasing the runtime. By our count, it drives up to about 500 1 1/4-inch screws per charge. The new depth gauge is easy to adjust, locks securely at the desired setting, and has yet to stick after we drive a screw. We also like the new reversible belt hook.
If we were starting from scratch, would we buy the new cordless Senco? If we turned the calendar back three years, the answer would be yes. It’s better than our old Sencos. But we’re spoiled by the cordless autofeed Hilti, which almost always drives screws to the right depth even if we’re holding it with one hand. We can also quickly pull off the magazine and use the tool as a conventional screw gun, which comes in handy. The new Senco still lacks a classic inline grip and now spins at a blazing top speed of 5,000 rpm, which might explain why we often have to hold it with two hands and push hard to fully sink a screw. That’s especially troublesome when we’re reaching to drive screws or holding up our material with one hand while fastening it with the other. As with our old Sencos, we use a separate screwdriver to sink high screws or remove errant ones. Even at $540 for the full kit, we’d buy the Hilti instead.
Josh Overlin owns Chetco Drywall, in Brookings, Ore.