I'm a small custom home builder and remodeler in northern
Vermont. I install enough strip flooring every year that I
found it necessary to buy a Bostitch flooring stapler seven
years ago. The tool has always been dependable, so I wasn't
really in the market for a flooring nailer, but when JLC
asked me to test five pneumatic flooring nailers on a recent
job, I thought it would be interesting to compare. My helper,
Kyle Darling, and I laid around 2,200 square feet of 3/4-inch
oak and ash flooring using the five guns and kept notes on how
the guns performed.
We looked for the same features in these nailers that you
would look for in any pneumatic nailer: power, ease of use,
ease of loading, weight, and balance. Because flooring nailers
are specialized, we also looked for features that might make
one gun more useful than another, when nailing close to a wall,
Pneumatic floor nailers, from back to
front: Porter-Cable FCN200, Bostitch MIIIFN, Senco SHF50,
Powernailer 445, Portamatic Hammerhead 2 (set up for face
This tool was very familiar to me -- it's essentially the same
tool as my stapler, only set up for floor cleats. Like other
Bostitch tools I've used over the years, this one is ruggedly
built. It was easy to load and had plenty of power. It took
only a light strike with the mallet to actuate the driving pin,
which enabled us to nail fairly close to a wall, where there
wasn't room for a full mallet swing. However, with a more
energetic swing, the nailer had the power to drive the flooring
The nailer was well balanced and easy to grip and position on
the flooring. At first, the gun would hang up on the tongue
when we set it in place, but we found that a thin cardboard
shim placed under the plastic shoe took care of that. (This may
well have had to do with the milling of the particular lot of
flooring we were working with.) The gun was not excessively
heavy or loud. Unlike the other tools we tested, this one has
no safety to prevent misfires. Of course, the nature of
flooring installation means that the gun is always pointed
down; plus, it takes a hammer strike to actuate the driver. So
we never missed the safety.
Portamatic Hammerhead 2
The Portamatic Hammerhead is the pneumatic version of the
Porta-Nailer. It's a well-built tool, clearly designed with the
professional in mind. The tool was easy to load and use. It
comes with a convenient conversion kit that allows you to
change the tool over to face nailing (see photo at top of
article). This is a matter of removing and replacing three
screws to swap shoes and takes only a couple of minutes. A
professional floor contractor might prefer to avoid even that
minimal setup time by having separate guns for blind nailing
and face nailing, but it's a useful feature for someone who
installs flooring only occasionally.
Portamatic Hammerhead 2
The Portamatic had plenty of power to drive the flooring
together and set the fasteners in blind-nailing mode, but it
didn't always completely set the fasteners in face-nailing
mode. We actually found that a lighter hammer strike was more
effective than a heavy one in setting the nails when face
The nailer aligned well on the flooring in blind-nailing mode.
It was well balanced and not excessively noisy or heavy (though
it is slightly heavier than most of the other guns tested). The
safety trigger is automatically squeezed when you grasp the
handle and not an inconvenience in any way.
The Hammerhead 2 kit comes in a case and
includes an adaptor plate for face nailing. The adaptor plates
for different flooring thicknesses are options.
In several days of nailing, this was the only tool that jammed
(only once), but it was fairly easy to clear the jam.
Alone among the nailers, the Portamatic uses proprietary
T-shaped cleats. Though they are priced in line with the
L-shaped cleats the other tools use -- around $10 to $14 per
thousand -- you might want to check local availability if you
consider buying this tool. Nails are available directly from
This was the only tool that came with a case, which is
convenient because floor nailers are so oddly shaped.
Alone among floor nailers, the
Portamatic tool uses a proprietary T-shaped cleat rather than
The Porter-Cable FCN200 is similar to the Bostitch nailer. In
fact, the foot of the tool is an identical casting, though the
upper parts are slightly different. One difference is that the
Porter-Cable has a small safety trigger on the handle -- too
small, we thought. Sometimes we had to make a conscious effort
to find the trigger as we worked.
The tool seemed to have plenty of power and drove the flooring
together well. Though built like the Bostitch nailer, the
Porter-Cable's center of balance was a little far forward,
toward the user. This meant that aligning the shoe on the
flooring took a little more attention. The Porter-Cable was
perhaps the quietest of all the guns.
Powernailer Model 445
The Powernailer 445 is a tool clearly intended for
professional-duty use. It had plenty of power to sink the
cleats and drive the flooring together well. It took only a
moderate blow to actuate the driver, which was useful when
nailing near walls. The tool was well balanced and light; noise
was average. It's easy to load. Also, the magazine has handy
marks on the side that indicate that it's time to reload when
the nail follower reaches a certain point.
Powernailer Model 445
The handle of the tool we tested seemed a little short, but I
understand that the tool can be set up with an extra-long
handle, as well as a long (200-cleat) magazine.
The hose attachment was awkwardly placed on this gun,
directing the hose out to one side, where it was often in the
way (when we were nailing next to a wall, for instance). We
turned the angled fitting so that it pointed straight back,
which improved the situation.
An indicator on the Powernailer's
magazine tells when it's time to reload, helping to avoid
end-of-collation nail jams that can happen with any pneumatic