A finish gun is at the heart of any trim carpenter’s tool
kit. Production carpenters may favor 16-gauge tools because the
fasteners are cheaper. But as a custom finish carpenter,
I’ve always preferred 15-gauge guns because the thicker
nails hold better and are less likely to bend. And because
15-gauge fasteners are collated at an angle, the guns work
better in tight spaces. For this article I tried out nine
different 15-gauge angle nailers. Some of them have been around
for years, but a few are brand new.
Most guns have adequate driving power, but some are better than
others. According to Senco, its gun generates 380 inch-pounds
of force. And Bostitch says its gun packs a 400-inch-pound
wallop. But most companies don’t release this data, and
the only test that counts is how well the tool drives
I tested power by shooting 2 1/2-inch nails into 3-inch fir and
mahogany. Most guns had no trouble setting fasteners in either,
so I tried them on hard maple. It was asking a lot, but I
figured any gun that sets nails in maple will have no trouble
with standard trim items.
Most of the guns set nails in everything I put in front of
them. But a few had trouble. Makita’s gun set nails in
maple but just barely. The Campbell Hausfeld would not set
nails in maple and barely handled mahogany, which is similar in
density to poplar. Unless I removed the rubber tip protector,
the Duo-Fast wouldn’t set nails in much of
A light gun is easier to handle than a heavy one and produces
less fatigue over the course of a workday. Until recently,
Hitachi’s 4.2-pound nailer was the lightest tool around.
But that was before Bostitch and DeWalt broke the 4-pound
barrier by substituting magnesium for aluminum in the castings.
The Max and Senco guns fall in the middle range with guns that
weigh just over 4.5 pounds. I would consider the rest of the
guns heavy, with weights between 5.4 and 6 pounds.
Except for Max, the companies that make high-end nailers have
all gone with in-line magazines. In-line guns are symmetrical
so they work equally well in either hand. The magazines of some
tools are set to the left, which makes it easier to keep the
hose out of the way when you work right-handed.
In a few years, most finish nailers will come with sequential
trip. That is, you won’t be able to bump-fire them in
their factory configuration. Most guns come ready to bump-fire,
but others have to be converted from single-shot. Campbell
Hausfeld’s gun is easy to change over; all you do is
remove a set pin. The Bostitch and Porter-Cable tools are
sequential trip but can be converted to bump-fire by changing
triggers. Duo-Fast’s gun is sequential trip only.
Max and DeWalt both bump-fire but come with user-activated
trigger locks. In addition, the Max gun has an anti-double-fire
mode that prevents accidental second shots.
Max’s NF550 features both a trigger
lock and an anti-double-fire mechanism.
At one time, carpenters controlled depth-of-drive by changing
compressor settings. These days, though, finish nailers have
depth-of-drive mechanisms that work by changing the length of
the contact element. On most tools, you make the adjustment by
turning a thumb-wheel on the safety linkage. The DeWalt gizmo
is different; you operate it by sliding a lock button near the
trigger. I particularly like the mechanisms on the DeWalt and
Hitachi guns because settings are indexed to a scale, which
lessens the need for test shots.
It’s easy to gauge depth-of-drive
on the Hitachi nailer because the adjuster wheel is indexed to
DeWalt’s depth-of-drive is easily
adjusted by sliding a button under the trigger.
Metal contact elements can scratch the work, so finish guns
come with protective plastic tips. Big button-shaped tips
prevent scratches, but they also block your view. Senco and
Porter-Cable make it easier to see what you’re doing by
covering their elements with thin plastic sheathes. DeWalt took
the idea further by bonding strips of padding onto the parts
that touch the work. Short of working with a bare metal tip,
this design gives you as good a view as you’re going to
Tips work pretty much the same when you nail straight into the
stock. But curved tips are better for nailing at an angle
because they maintain a constant distance between the driver
and the work. This decreases the likelihood of under-driven
fasteners. The Senco, DeWalt, and Porter-Cable guns have
heavily contoured tips. Bostitch, Makita, and Max achieve
similar results by chamfering the edges of their buttons.
DeWalt’s tip protector is bonded to
the contact element and doesn’t block your view of the
The contoured tip on the Porter-Cable gun
makes it easier to nail from an angle.
Finish nailers used to have fixed exhaust ports, which meant
you were bound to catch an occasional face full of drywall dust
while nailing baseboard. But those days are gone —
adjustable ports have become standard equipment on finish
nailers. Most guns have ports that rotate 360 degrees, but
Senco uses a dated design that allows you to aim the blast in
only one of four directions.
A few of these guns are so light that if you aim the port
sideways, the recoil from the air blast will kick the gun to
the side. It’s especially noticeable with the DeWalt
nailer, and you can feel it slightly on the Bostitch. However,
the problem is easily solved by aiming the port slightly
forward or back from 90 degrees.
Some magazines lock and load, while others load and lock.
It’s a three-step process to put nails in a lock-and-load
gun, retract the pusher, load the fasteners, then release the
pusher. I prefer load-and-lock because you can skip the last
step — just slide in the nails and pull back on the
Big magazines are better because they’re easier to top
off and you don’t have to load them as often. The average
gun holds 100 fasteners, but some take more. Senco and DeWalt
hold 110, Makita 125, and Bostitch 130.
Manufacturers save weight by substituting composition materials
for metal in magazines. The composition magazines often have an
open web design, which saves more weight and makes it easier to
see what size fasteners are inside.
It wasn’t long ago that you had to disassemble the front
of the gun to remove bent fasteners. But these days you can
clear jams without tools. In most cases you do this by popping
a latch on the nose of the gun. On the Bostitch, you do it by
releasing a catch on the magazine and popping it back from the
tip. Every tool I tested comes in a plastic case and has some
kind of padded or molded grip surface.
The front of the Bostitch gun is
particularly sleek because jams are cleared by popping the
magazine back from the nose.
Oil vs. no oil. The problem
with oil is that if you forget to use it, the gun wears out
quicker. Plus, oil will blast by worn seals and spray the work.
Senco invented the oil-less nailer and for a long time was the
only company that made one. But the latest version of the
Bostitch gun is also oil-less.
A built-in air gun on the Hitachi nailer
makes it possible to clear dust from the work without using a
separate air nozzle.
There are two types of 15-gauge angle nails: the DA type that
was invented by Senco and the FN type from Bostitch. The only
two guns that take FN nails are the Bostitch and the Makita.
Most guns take DA nails. There are only minor differences
between the DA and the Bostitch-type fasteners. DA fasteners
are collated at a slightly steeper angle and have rounder heads
than the Bostitch nails. Both types are available in a variety
of finishes and materials. Senco recently introduced a hardened
DA nail designed to fasten trim to steel framing.
Favorite 15-Gauge Nailers
It’s hard to choose a favorite 15-gauge nailer because
there are so many good ones out there. If I had to buy one
tomorrow, I’d probably go for DeWalt or Hitachi. But you
wouldn’t have to twist my arm to get me to consider
Bostitch or Max. All four guns have power to spare.
DeWalt’s D51275 is one of my favorites because it’s
powerful, extremely light, and equipped with well-conceived
features like a belt hook, indexed depth-of-drive, and a tip
that doesn’t block your view. I like the Hitachi NT65MA
because it’s a lighter-than-average gun with a
comfortable padded grip and a very cool built-in blow gun. The
Bostitch N62FN is extremely powerful and is the lightest
15-gauge nailer you can buy. It’s sleek and uncluttered
and is one of only two guns that doesn’t need oil.
Max’s NF550 is a well-made tool with superior features
like a trigger lock, a large depth-of-drive wheel, and an