Anyone who's ever had to reinstall felt or housewrap after a
windstorm knows that cap nails — because of their greater
surface area — hold felt and housewrap much better than
staples or roofing nails do. Nevertheless, many contractors
hate using them. You can never fit enough in your nail apron,
and driving them by hand is painfully slow. Fastening with a
roofing nailer or a hammer-type stapler is much faster.
With all of that in mind, our remodeling company bought a
Hitachi pneumatic cap nailer a few years ago. Originally dubbed
the Plasti-Tacker, the tool is now in its third generation. It
allows us to fasten felt and housewrap with hammer-tacker speed
— without wondering whether the material will still be on
the building the next morning.
For years, Hitachi's was the only cap nailer on the market, but
more recently similar tools from Bostitch, Spotnails, and
Grip-Rite have shown up. Like the Hitachi, these nailers
combine separately collated caps and fasteners at the driver,
but instead of the more expensive collated nails, the newer
tools use medium-crown staples (see Figure 1). The four tools
in our test all use proprietary caps; the Hitachi and Spotnails
use coils, and the Bostitch and Grip-Rite use stacks (Figure
Figure 1. Of the four
tools in the test, only the Hitachi uses nails. It accepts a
2-inch nail, which is the longest fastener in the test. The
other three tools use staples; none are interchangeable.
Grip-Rite's nailer accepts the shortest staples (5/32 to 5/8
inch). Bostitch takes the longest (3/4 inch to 1 1/2 inches).
And the Spotnails falls in between (7/8 inch and 1 1/4
Figure 2.The author
likes stacks of caps better than coils. Coils tend to unroll
and become distorted, making loading difficult. Hitachi offers
coils of caps in both metal and plastic; its metal cap is shown
here (top). The other tools use plastic caps (bottom left, from
left: Grip-Rite, Bostitch, Spotnails). Caps measure about 1
inch in diameter. A properly driven cap sits tight to the roof
without distortion (bottom right).
In addition to taking less expensive fasteners, the newer tools
cost at least $150 less than the Hitachi — a savings that
means little to me if the guns don't perform.
To see if the newer models are a worthy alternative to our
Hitachi, my co-workers and I used them on the job site for six
months. Our goal was to get a feel for their real-world
performance. We looked for features that make the tool easier
and more comfortable to use; we paid particularly close
attention to the feed and magazine systems. After all, these
tools burn through fasteners quickly, and it's important to
know which ones minimize time spent clearing jams and
Here's what we discovered.
Bostitch's cap gun holds 100 1-inch proprietary caps and 160
staples. Since the proprietary caps are threaded onto a plastic
leader — rather than coiled — you don't have to
worry about rewinding misshapen or dropped coils. However, this
design means that the Bostitch requires more frequent loading
than the Hitachi and Spotnails, which have larger, circular
Bostitch's caps come in stacks of 100. They're dropped in the
top of the magazine and then the plastic string that collates
them is removed, also from the top of the magazine (Figure
Figure 3.Bostitch's vertical cap magazine, which
is made from sturdy reinforced plastic, is the easiest to load.
With the pusher pulled to the top and rotated out of the way,
strings of caps are dropped in (top). Once the pusher is back
in place, the plastic leader is pulled out. Stacked caps like
The gun secures the caps with standard 5/16-inch-crown 18-gauge
staples in sizes from 3/4 inch to 1 1/2 inches. Staples load as
they would on a conventional pneumatic stapler: Once the pusher
is pulled back and locked in the loading position, they can be
dropped onto the magazine rail. We easily found 5,000-count
boxes of staples ($16) at our local suppliers; a couple of
stores also stocked the caps, which come in packages of 1,000
($22). In our experience, it takes 1,000 caps to fasten about
1,800 square feet of roofing or housewrap.
With its front-mounted magazine, the gun looks as though it
might be a little nose-heavy, but it's not. The lightweight
aluminum housing makes it comfortable to use. Because the
contact element is mounted on the side, the user is forced to
keep the gun square to the roof, which practically guarantees
that fasteners will be positioned flat for maximum hold.
Other features include a quick-release nose for clearing jams
and an adjustable exhaust. The gun's depth adjustment is
located just below the trigger.
With a plastic case — plus starter packs of staples and
caps — the Bostitch sells for around $230.
When we began our test, the Grip-Rite was the newest cap gun on
the market. (Since then, Bostitch has introduced its N66BC-1
model; see page 120). It holds 110 caps and 110 1/2-inch-crown
standard staples in lengths from 5/32 to 5/8 inch. The shorter
staples limit this tool to felt and housewrap — the other
tools accept longer fasteners for installing varying
thicknesses of rigid insulation.
The Grip-Rite is very compact; it's the smallest of the group
and about a third the size of the Hitachi. In part, the smaller
size is due to Grip-Rite's unique cap magazine, which is
mounted on the bottom of the tool (Figure 4).
Figure 4. The
Grip-Rite's cap magazine is mounted on the bottom of the tool
— rather than on the side, as with the other guns. This
arrangement makes the Grip-Rite very compact. To load the caps,
the user retracts the cap pusher, which opens the magazine
door; strings of 110 caps go in the end (top). The author found
this cap-feed system unreliable. Staples go in a separate
magazine under the handle (bottom).
Inexplicably — given that these tools are commonly used
on roofs and staging — the Grip-Rite is the only model
that includes a belt hook. This is a feature that should be on
all of the nailers.
While this gun is nice overall, the cap feed system is not very
reliable. You load the cap parallel to the staple, then flip it
up 90 degrees for fastening. I ran 600 caps through the gun and
was never able to get an entire magazine of caps to feed
properly. I would have given up sooner, but I wanted to give
the tool the benefit of the doubt.
In short, the gun holds promise — we liked its cool cap
magazine, belt hook, and small size — but Grip-Rite might
want to go back to the drawing board to work out the bugs in
the feed system.
The tool sells for $240 with a plastic case.
Hitachi's cap nailer is the only tool in the test that uses
nails instead of staples. It also boasts the largest capacity,
holding coils of 350 nails and 350 caps. Nail length ranges
from 7/8 inch to 2 inches, which means the tool can be used to
install foam sheathing.
At more than 5 1/2 pounds (unloaded), this nailer is the
heaviest we tested. Its weight, coupled with its cap
compartment — which is mounted on the right side of the
housing — makes the tool feel a little out of
Because the cap magazine is made from hard plastic, we
initially had some concerns about its durability. However, a
co-worker's impromptu drop-test on a 20-degree morning proved
that the gun and the magazine are pretty tough — the
15-foot tumble onto frozen ground did no damage.
Hitachi's large magazines mean you don't need to reload as
often — which is good because this was the most
time-consuming tool to load (Figure 5).
Figure 5. Loading the
Hitachi takes some effort: First you have to open two doors to
load the nails and engage them on the feed pawls (left). Then
you open the cap magazine and get the caps started on the feed
mechanism (right). It took the author several attempts to
master the process.
Depth-of-drive on the Hitachi is adjusted with a small knob
under the trigger, but I never needed to use it. I found that
the gun drove nails to the proper depth without adjustment and
worked consistently whether the air tank was full or ready for
a recharge. The gun also has a selective trigger for switching
between bump-fire and sequential nailing modes, but we never
had occasion to try it.
Unfortunately, I couldn't find anyone in my area who stocked
Hitachi nails and caps, so I had to order them. A box of 2,800
caps and nails cost me about $56. The gun (no case) sells
online for $402.
Spotnails Crossfire TCS6832
The Crossfire uses 200-count rolls of caps and strips of
18-gauge staples in 7/8-inch and 1 1/4-inch lengths. The coil
of caps is mounted toward the rear of the gun, which gives the
tool a balanced feel.
The stapler ships with a sequential trigger installed, but the
manufacturer includes a bump-fire trigger in the package and
recommends replacing the sequential trigger with the bump-fire
version for more consistent operation.
To load caps, the user inserts the roll into the circular
magazine on the tool's right side (Figure 6). The caps slide
through a channel while the user pulls up on the feed lever.
The process is easier than it sounds.
Figure 6. The Spotnails'
circular magazine accepts 200 caps. Once they're loaded, the
caps advance manually while the user holds up the "picker's"
red handle (left). Staples can be placed on the magazine rail
after the pusher is locked in the retracted position
The stapler itself is very compact, which helps to reduce its
My biggest gripe involves how the caps are collated. They're
held together by a strip of cellophane tape with surprising
tensile strength. Sometimes the tape fails to break after a cap
is driven; when that happens, a string of caps is pulled from
the magazine when the gun is moved to drive the next
Another problem is that the caps aren't on a reel of any sort,
so the slightest mishandling means you have to reroll them for
We also had some concerns about the construction of the cap
magazine. Though it's made from hard plastic, it seems doubtful
it would survive a fall from a roof or scaffold.
On the plus side, boxes of 2,000 caps and staples sell for $30
at one of our local roofing suppliers, which made this gun the
most economical to use.
You can find the tool (no case) online for around $220.
After several months of testing, we decided that we liked the
Bostitch best. We especially appreciate its easy-loading cap
magazine, easy-to-adjust depth-of-drive, and inexpensive,
readily available fasteners.
Our second choice is the Hitachi, with its large magazines and
its ability to drive a 2-inch nail.
Too Late to Test
The newest cap nailer came on the market just as we were
wrapping up testing. With a capacity of 300 nails and 100 caps,
Bostitch's N66BC-1 could be considered a cross between
Hitachi's NV50AP3 and Bostitch's SB150SLBC-1. It accepts
Bostitch's stacked caps and coiled nails from 11/4 to 21/2
inches — a half inch longer than any of the tools in our
test. The ability to shoot a longer nail should make the tool
appealing to contractors who install greater thicknesses of
foam sheathing. According to Bostitch, the tool weighs 5.8
pounds and sells for $320. Look for a comprehensive test in an
upcoming Toolbox review.Jeremy Hess is a lead carpenter with
Heisey Construction in Elizabethtown, Pa.