by David Lopez Jr. and Mike
We're professional roofers: The company we work for does all
kinds of roofing, including built-up, wood shake, and clay
tile. But more than anything else, we install composition
shingles. Though roofers used to nail shingles by hand or with
a roofing stapler, these days the tool of choice is a coil
On large projects, we might have as many as a dozen roofers on
the crew, and because we supply our own guns, there are likely
to be many different models on site. Like anyone else in
construction, we're always looking for better tools, so we
thought it was great when JLC delivered 12 of the newest coil
roofing nailers to one of our jobs and asked us to try them
We had the guns throughout the fall of 2005, and shared them
around the crew. In this article, we'll tell you what we
The main qualities we look for in a coil roofing nailer are
light weight, good balance, speed, and ease of loading.
Durability is also important, but we didn't have these guns
long enough to wear them out, so there's no good way to address
Weight and Balance
Each generation of roofing nailer is lighter than the last
— a good thing, because light tools are more comfortable
to use. A few ounces doesn't make much difference, but when one
gun weighs a half pound more than another you can definitely
The published weight specs are frequently incorrect, so we
weighed each tool (including an air fitting) on an electronic
postal scale. Several models were significantly heavier than
the manufacturers claimed (see "Coil Roofing Gun Specs,"
below). We found that the average roofing gun weighs about 5.5
pounds. The lightest models — Bostitch, DeWalt, and
Porter-Cable — all weighed in at 5.0 pounds. The heaviest
guns — 5.8 pounds and up — included the models from
Senco, Spotnails, and Max.
In a couple of cases, the tool's balance (or lack thereof)
fooled us into thinking it was lighter or heavier than it
For example, the Ridgid weighs 5.2 pounds but didn't feel much
heavier than the 5-pound models because it's well-balanced. The
Grip-Rite, on the other hand, felt heavier than its 5.2 pounds
because it's nose-heavy. A nose-heavy gun puts extra strain on
your arm and wrist; it may not be a lot, but you'll notice it
Most of the guns we tested are pretty well-balanced, except for
the Senco, Spotnails, and Grip-Rite models, which all feel
Nailer manufacturers sometimes list a spec related to speed
— the number of times the gun can cycle per second. The
only number we found among the roofing nailers — eight
nails per second — seems impossibly high. There may be
guns that can cycle this quickly, but no coil roofing nailers
we know of can feed fasteners that fast.
We didn't have a good way to measure how fast each gun fired,
but we could tell by using the tools that some were faster than
others. To us, a gun feels slow if it can't keep up with the
speed at which we're working. Most of the guns could keep up,
though the Senco, the Spotnails, and especially the Paslode
seemed slower than the rest.
Power. Most of our jobs involved reroofing over OSB or old wood
sheathing; all of the guns had enough power to drive nails home
in these materials. That said, some felt slightly more powerful
than others — a quality we describe on site by saying the
gun has a good "pop" to it.
We go through a lot of fasteners installing shingles, so we
need a gun that's quick and easy to load. Most coil nailers
require you to open two separately hinged pieces to load nails.
One piece covers the magazine, and the other — the feed
cover — holds the nails against the pawls that pull them
forward to be driven.
On a few models, the magazine cover and feed cover swing open
as a single piece (see Figure 1). We like this design; with
fewer parts to manipulate, it takes less time to load. The time
savings may not be huge, but every little bit helps when you
are working fast in a rhythm.
Figure 1. The Bostitch
gun (right) is easy to load because the magazine and feed cover
are one piece, which pivots downward to open. The Makita
(below) is also easy to load, thanks to a single-piece cover
that swings out from the nose, a design also found on the
The Bostitch is especially easy to load because the cover
assembly pivots down as a single piece. Loading it is a simple
matter of dropping in a coil of nails, laying one end of the
coil across the pawls, and flipping the cover back up. We also
found the Makita and Paslode guns easy to load; they both have
single-piece covers that are hinged at the nose and swing open
from the rear.
Most of the guns load from the side. However, the Spotnails and
one of the Hitachi models load from the bottom. Since we're
accustomed to loading from the side, loading from the bottom
seems slow and awkward to us (Figure 2).
Figure 2. Most coil roofing nailers open from
the side, the preferred configuration for the authors and their
crew. On the Porter-Cable (top), the plastic piece that covers
the nails is held in place by the feed cover, the metal piece
that hinges out from the nose. A couple of models, including
this Hitachi (bottom), have bottom-loading
Nail size. The guns we tested drive 15-degree wire-collated
fasteners of up to 13/4 inches in length, the size used to
reroof without stripping an existing layer of shingles. We
typically use 11/4-inch fasteners, except at overhangs, where
we don't want nails to poke through the bottom side of the
sheathing. In those areas, we use 3/4-inch or 7/8-inch
Roofing guns are simple tools, but that does not stop
manufacturers from trying to distinguish their models by
including different features.
Trigger. The size and shape of the trigger may seem like a
minor design detail, but when you nail as much as we do, your
trigger finger can get tired or sore. This is less likely to
happen if the trigger is large and has a smooth, contoured
The Paslode has the best trigger — it's wide, smooth, and
long enough that you can get two fingers on it. We also like
the triggers on the DeWalt, Makita, and Ridgid guns; thanks to
their curved shape and, in Ridgid's case, a rubberized pad
(Figure 3), they're very comfortable.
Figure 3. A
well-designed trigger can make a difference. The trigger on the
Paslode tool (top left) is especially comfortable because it's
contoured and long enough to fit two fingers. Ridgid's trigger
(top right) curves down and has a soft rubber pad. The
bare-bones trigger on the Spotnails gun (bottom) is identical
to the trigger on the Hitachi tools.
The triggers on the Hitachi and Spotnails guns are less
comfortable than the others: They're thin and not as heavily
Depth-of-drive mechanism. All of these guns have mechanisms
that allow you to set the depth-of-drive — a handy
feature when a bunch of roofers are sharing the same
compressor, because a pressure setting that works for one gun
might cause another to over- or underdrive the nails. With
these guns, that problem can be remedied by adjusting the
depth-of-drive on each — usually by turning a thumb-wheel
on the nose or near the trigger.
Most of these mechanisms are very similar. The Bostitch version
is especially intuitive and easy to use because it's controlled
by a large knob on the gun's nose (Figure 4). We didn't like
the mechan-isms on the Paslode and Spotnails guns, because you
can't adjust them without using an Allen key or wrench.
Figure 4. On most
roofing nailers, depth-of-drive is adjusted by turning a
thumb-wheel on the nose or near the trigger, as on the Senco
gun (left). The depth-of-drive on the Bostitch (right) is
especially easy to adjust because the mechanism is controlled
by a large knob on the nose.
Shape of driver. The drivers in most of these nailers are
asymmetrical in cross section — with two exceptions: The
Bostitch and Max tools have full round drivers.
In most cases, either shape is fine, though sometimes an
asymmetrical driver will cause the head to curl up at one edge
(Figure 5). This reduces holding power and may cause the nail
to cut into the shingle above. With a full round driver, this
won't happen, because the driver makes contact with more of the
Figure 5. Until they get
worn, round drivers like the one on the left make full contact
with the nail, so the head is always driven flat. However, most
roofing guns have asymmetrical drivers like the one on the
right. Because these drivers do not make full contact with the
nail, in some circumstances the head may deform so that one
edge sticks up above the plane of the shingle.
Shingle gauge. All of these guns have shingle gauges on the
bottom of the magazine. You can set the gauge to the exposure
of the shingle and use it to locate the edge of the next course
up. This comes in handy if you install three-tab
We never use gauges, however, because the dimensional
(laminated) shingles we use come with layout marks on
With most of these guns, it takes an Allen key to adjust the
gauge; the Bostitch, Ridgid, and Makita have gauges that can be
adjusted without tools.
Other features. The Bostitch is equipped with an
anti-dry-firing device. We like this feature because it
prevents you from thinking you put in a nail when you actually
just fired an empty gun.
The Max comes with a swivel fitting to prevent the hose from
getting kinked and a self-cleaning air filter to keep dirt out
of the tool. Some of the guns come with adjustable exhaust
vents. While this perk might be handy for a carpenter, for a
roofer it's not a problem if a gun exhausts forward only.
Some models have trigger locks and special firing modes —
neither of which we would ever use. All we want to do is
bump-fire — fast.
We don't know where every gun comes from, but most were made in
Taiwan. Some competing models look like they came out of the
same factory, or at least share some of the same parts.
For example, the nose and the magazine of the Grip-Rite are
nearly identical to those of the Senco. And while the Spotnails
tool has a uniquely shaped housing, if you look closely you'll
see that it has the same magazine and trigger mechanism as the
These two models have very similar nose assemblies, too, the
main difference being that Hitachi's depth-of-drive mechanism
adjusts without tools while Spotnails' requires a wrench.
It wasn't until after we decided that the Ridgid and
Porter-Cable models were among our favorites that we noticed
how alike they were. The cast housings are very similar, as are
most of the parts in the nose and trigger assemblies.
David Lopez Jr. and Mike
Ryan are foremen for Advanced Roofing Services in Alameda,
Coil Roofing Nailers
The RN46 was just about everyone's favorite roofing gun. It's
light, fast, and will not fire when empty. The one-piece
flip-down cover assembly makes it especially easy to load.
After using this tool, a couple of guys on the crew replaced
their old guns with this model. We did have one problem with
it: After a few roofs it stopped working because air was
leaking from the head. It turned out that a seal had popped
loose; we were able to fix it by removing the cap and snapping
the seal back into place.
Light, with a comfortable grip and trigger, the D51321 is one
of our favorites. It seems to nail a little faster than most
other models. We have one minor complaint about this tool: The
latch is on the magazine instead of on the feed cover. You
can't simply flip the cover closed, because it's necessary to
pinch the latch to make it catch.
The GRTCR175 works well and hits the fastener with a pretty
good pop. But it's more nose-heavy than most other models and
the particular gun we tested made a subtle but annoying ringing
sound every time it struck the nail.
A simple, reliable roofing gun with a two-piece cover assembly
that opens from the side, the NV45AB2S is of average weight and
feels a little bit slower than our favorite models. A
bottom-loading version of this tool is also available.
Except for the bottom-loading magazine, this gun is identical
to the NV45AB2S. It's a pretty good tool, but if we were going
to buy an Hitachi we'd get the side-loading model.
Because its single-piece cover assembly is held shut by a
"friction-fit" catch, the Paslode 3175/44RCU is fast and easy
to load. Plus it has a very comfortable two-finger trigger. On
the downside, it's heavier than average and has an
old-fashioned depth-of-drive mechanism that requires a wrench.
The tool we tested fed very slowly. This may be because we use
generic nails, though the generics worked fine in the other
The AN451 is a nice gun. The single-piece cover assembly swings
forward, making it fast and easy to load. It has a comfortable
grip and strikes fasteners with a pretty good pop. The only
thing we don't like about this gun is that it's of average
weight; it would rank higher if it were half a pound
Light, compact, and well-balanced, the Porter-Cable RN175A is
one of our favorites. It seems to nail a little faster than
most other models. Even with a two-piece cover assembly, it's
easy to load, because it takes very little pressure to snap the
feed cover over the magazine cover.
The CN450R has added features, including a swivel air fitting
and a self-cleaning air filter. It's fast, very powerful, and
drives nails reliably without jamming. Overall, this is an
excellent nail gun. The problem is that it's heavy — a
half pound heavier than average and a full pound heavier than
the lightest models. Max has since come out with a new, lighter
model, the CN445R (see facing page).
The Ridgid R175RNA ranks among our favorites. It's fast and
light and has a good pop. It's also one of the more comfortable
roofing nailers to use, because it's well-balanced and has a
curved trigger with a rubberized surface. The two-piece cover
assembly is easy to open and close, so it doesn't take much
time to load fasteners.
The Spotnails VRN45 is one of two bottom-loading models in this
test — a strike against it, because we much prefer to
load nails from the side. Most of the crew also said it was
slow, and we all found it nose-heavy. With its bare-bones
trigger and basic depth-of-drive mechanism — which
requires the use of tools — this is definitely a
Senco RoofPro 455XP
Although the Senco 455XP works well and is easy to load, it
feels a little slower than average. It's not very comfortable
to use; it's nose-heavy and at 5.8 pounds it's one of the
heavier roofing guns around.
Too Late to Test
This new model from Max came out after we had completed our
testing, so we weren't able to try it out. It has many of the
same features as the CN450R that we tested for this article
— a swivel air fitting, a self-cleaning air filter, and a
full round driver. According to the manufacturer, the new gun
is faster and more powerful than the previous model, and has a
new type of nosepiece that resists tar buildup. We liked
everything about Max's previous model except the weight. Max's
Web site says the CN445R weighs 5.2 pounds, but we weighed it
(with an air fitting) and it's actually 5.7 pounds —
about a third pound lighter than the old gun but still heavier