When it comes to purchasing a pneumatic finish nailer, the
range of choices is as wide as a Texas prairie. But that hasn't
always been the case: When I was starting out, there were only
a couple of brands and models to choose from. In recent years,
most of the excitement about new finish guns has been about
pinners, 15-gauge nailers, or tools that don't have to be
connected to an air hose. Far less attention has been paid to
the 16-gauge pneumatic nailers that many of us have been using
As an interior trim carpenter, I use a number of different
pneumatic nailers, brad guns, and staplers every day. But for
installing standing and running trim, my 16-gauge nailer gets
the most use of all. The nails it takes (1 1/4-inch to 2
1/2-inch) are ideal for installing base, crown, face frames,
and door and window casings. (I still use my 15-gauge nailer
for structural items such as stair treads and door jambs.) The
16-gauge fasteners have enough holding power for decorative
trim, leave small nail holes, and are significantly less
expensive than 15-gauge nails.
So when JLC asked me last summer if I'd like to test the
current crop of 16-gauge finish nailers, I readily agreed. Ten
models arrived in the mail: a Bostitch, a DeWalt, a Grip-Rite,
a Hitachi, a Maxus, a Milwaukee, two Paslodes, a Porter-Cable,
and a Ridgid.
Before using the tools on the job, I did a series of
out-of-the-box tests to get a feel for each nailer's
performance. They were performed with the protective tips in
Rapid-fire test. For this test, I
drove 25 2 1/2-inch nails into the edge of a pine 2x4 at
approximately one-second intervals (see Figure 1). A 50-foot
length of 1/4-inch air hose connected the guns to a 4-gallon
compressor with a line pressure of 110 psi, which was set to
kick on when the tank pressure dropped to 90 psi. Each nailer
started with a full tank.
Figure 1.The author used this setup to test each
gun's ability to set nails. First, he rapid-fired fasteners
into the edge of a 2x4. Then, working at normal speed, he
nailed on pieces of 3/4-inch poplar, MDF, and oak. Many tools
were unable to set all the nails.
Only three of the guns fully set all of the rapidly fired
nails: the Bostitch, the Grip-Rite, and the DeWalt. The Maxus,
the Ridgid, and both Paslodes performed well, cleanly setting
most — but not quite all — of the fasteners. The
performance of the other guns was mixed, with most setting the
first few nails and leaving the remainder flush or just above
I had the most trouble with the Hitachi and the Milwaukee: They
couldn't set any of the 21/2-inch nails below the surface. Some
of these problems could be attributed to the rapid firing, but
since the setup was the same for each tool, I consider the
Trim nailing test. Next, I performed
a more realistic test by fastening pieces of 3/4-inch oak,
poplar, and MDF onto a 2x4 with 1 1/2-inch, 2-inch, and 2
1/2-inch nails. All of the nailers successfully set the
11/2-inch and 2-inch nails, and most were able to set 2
1/2-inch nails. The exceptions were the Hitachi and the
Milwaukee, which still had a hard time driving fasteners much
beyond flush, especially in oak and MDF.
The clear winners in the trim nailing test were the Bostitch,
the Ridgid, and both Paslode guns. All four tools set nails
cleanly and consistently below the surface.
Use on Site
Once we finished bench-testing the nailers, we began to cycle
them on and off the job. Every week for about three months my
son, Scott, and I used two or three different nailers for
standard trim work: constructing built-ins and nailing door and
window casing, baseboard, and crown. Since we didn't want to
forget anything, we kept notes on what we liked and disliked
about each tool. I also loaned out a few of the nailers to
other carpenters to get their opinions.
The guns performed the same in the field as they did in the
shop; some set nails consistently and others didn't. I noticed
that if I removed the protective tips, most of the guns that
had been having a hard time setting nails were suddenly able to
do it. However, the Hitachi and the Milwaukee continued to have
To avoid having to go back and set nails by hand, we ended up
leaving the protective tips off the Hitachi, the Milwaukee, the
Porter-Cable, and the Ridgid. The Porter-Cable and Ridgid set
fasteners just fine with the tips in place when nailing
perpendicular to the stock, but not when we nailed at an angle;
we decided it was easiest to leave their tips off all the
Working without the tips did not cause undue damage to the
trim. I've been using my own 16-gauge guns (old Porter-Cables)
without protective tips for years. It's rare for the wire bale
to leave a dent, and if it does, the hole can be easily filled.
When we're working on cabinets or prefinished trim, we simply
position the gun more carefully. Still, I would much prefer to
use the protective tips that come with the tools. The fact that
the tips keep some guns from fully setting nails is a problem
manufacturers ought to address.
Ragged holes. When we started working
with actual trim, we noticed that some of the drivers left tool
marks or ragged entry holes. The Bostitch, the DeWalt, the
Maxus, and both Paslodes were least likely to do this; they
left no tool marks and very clean holes.
Corners. Guns with longer nosepieces,
such as the DeWalt, the Hitachi, the Paslodes, and the
Porter-Cable, were best at getting into corners. Thanks to its
angled magazine, the Paslode T250A was the best tool for this
Line of Sight
The ability to place nails quickly and accurately is important
to us. It's very frustrating to have nails miss the intended
target or blow out through the edge of the workpiece. These
problems are less likely if the gun has a good line of
Unfortunately, the protective tips on some of these tools make
it hard to tell exactly where the nail will be placed. Many of
the tips have alignment marks, but using them is an exercise in
futility when you have to shoot many thousands of nails per
job. I would much rather be able to see exactly where the nail
In terms of visibility, the Paslode tools have the best tip
design. The U-shaped pad is open in front, allowing you to see
exactly where the nail will exit the gun and enter the work
Figure 2.Most protective tips hamper visibility by
making it hard to see where nails will enter the stock. Paslode
avoids this problem by equipping its guns with a U-shaped tip
(left). Bostitch supplements its gun's conventional tip with a
package of profile tips (above) that can be used to index the
nose of the tool to a variety of moldings.
After the Paslodes, the tool with the best line of sight was
the DeWalt, which has an open wire bale surrounding its tip.
The bale curls toward the back of the tool, so you can see
through to the work.
The Bostitch gun has a clean line of sight but poor visibility
at the tip because of its stubby nose and large protective tip.
The nail doesn't exit where you think it will, which is why you
have to use the alignment marks. This nailer comes with a
package of specialized tips that key to the shapes of various
moldings: convex profiles, V-groove, T&G, and 5/16 offset.
The tips are not a bad option — but again, I'd rather be
able to see quickly and easily where the nail is going to go
in. As with many other guns, we used the Bostitch without its
I really wish nail-gun manufacturers would pay more attention
to line of sight; few issue are more critical than nail
placement when you're installing trim.
Magazine and Loading
The average 16-gauge model takes nails between 1 1/4 inches and
2 1/2 inches long. A few take even shorter ones, down to 1 inch
or 3/4 inch, but I see no value in using such short 16-gauge
nails. For trim that thin I'd normally use an 18-gauge brad
Most of the tools we tested load from the top or rear of the
magazine. Of these two configurations, I prefer rear loaders,
because they make loading nails in and out quicker and easier.
The Grip-Rite and the Maxus (which appear to be identical) were
the most aggravating to load. With these models, once the nails
are in you have to squeeze and pull on the pusher in just the
right way to make it slide forward and engage.
Unlike the other nailers, the Bostitch loads from the side
(Figure 3). You just slide the cover open, add or remove
fasteners, then slide the cover closed. Done. It takes only
seconds, making this magazine the best of the bunch.
Figure 3.A side-opening magazine makes loading and
unloading the Bostitch easy; it also provides access for
clearing jammed fasteners.
For a long time, all the advances in finish-nailer design
seemed concentrated in the 15-gauge models. But in recent
years, 16-gauge models have caught up and now usually have
adjustable depth of drive, cushioned grips, and toolless
clearing of jammed fasteners. Manufacturers have also cut the
weight of these tools by incorporating magnesium housings and
composite materials. About half the tools we tested have belt
hooks; all come in plastic storage cases.
Oil-free operation. The Bostitch and
Paslode nailers don't need to be oiled. This is convenient for
the carpenter and means there is less chance the gun will spit
oil and stain the work.
Belt hooks. Whereas the DeWalt,
Ridgid, and Milwaukee nailers all have built-in swivel belt
hooks, the Paslodes have a removable hook that can be placed on
either side of the tool. Belt hooks are handy because they save
you from having to search for a place to lay the gun down,
especially when you're up on a ladder.
Firing modes. There's nothing more
frustrating than nailing up a piece of trim only to have it
fall off the wall when you release it because you ran out of
nails. Bostitch, Milwaukee, and Paslode have helped eliminate
this with a dry-fire lock-out feature that prevents their guns
from firing when empty.
All of the nailers can be switched from sequential-fire to
bump-fire mode. The Ridgid, the Milwaukee, the Hitachi, and the
two Paslodes each have a switch on either the trigger or the
housing that allows quick changeovers; the other models require
changing the trigger itself.
Exhaust port. The ability to adjust
the blast of air so that you don't end up with a face full of
dirt or drywall dust is both a convenience and a safety
feature. All the tools in this test have adjustable exhaust
ports except the Bostitch, which doesn't need one because it's
designed to vent exhaust air through a diffuser at the back of
the handle — a very nice feature.
An air gun built into the head of the Hitachi allows you to
blow dust and debris out of the way without having to
disconnect the gun and use a separate blower.
Nose assembly. With most of these
guns, if nails jam you release a luggage-style latch, open the
nose of the tool, and pull out the bent fastener. On the
Paslodes, the latch is hidden under a smooth plastic cover,
leaving the front of the tool clean and uncluttered (Figure
4. With most guns, clearing jams
involves flipping open a luggage-style latch on the nose of the
tool (top left). Paslode created a sleeker, less cluttered
nosepiece by building its latch into a contoured cover (top
right) that blends smoothly into the casting
The Porter-Cable unlatches by means of a spring-loaded lever on
the side of the magazine. And if a nail jams in the Bostitch,
you simply slide open the magazine and pull the bent fastener
out from the side.
After using these tools for several months, I had no trouble
choosing a favorite: Paslode's T250A-F16. The only 16-gauge
pneumatic with an angled magazine, this nailer gets into
corners easily, plus it's sleek and compact and has a good line
of sight. Useful features like a dry-fire lock-out and a belt
hook — not to mention the fact that the gun doesn't need
oiling — make it even more appealing.
The T250A-F16 costs about $40 more than the average 16-gauge
nailer — but for a pro, performance trumps price every
time. After all, a savings of $50 or $100 can be lost in a
single day if the tool performs poorly.
My only misgiving about this gun concerns the angled nails it
takes: They cost two or three times as much as the straight
nails used by other 16-gauge tools. Although cost shouldn't be
the main issue when buying the nailer itself, fasteners are
different — their cost is recurring, and could quickly
exceed the price of the tool.
Which leads me to my second-favorite tool: Paslode's other
nailer, the T250S-F16. In terms of function and features, it's
nearly identical to the T250A-F16, but it has a straight
magazine and therefore takes the less-expensive straight
My third favorite is Ridgid's R250SFA. This gun performs well,
is easy to load and unload, and packs a swivel air fitting and
swivel belt hook. It also comes with the best case.
I really wanted to include the Bostitch FN16250 in my list of
favorites; I appreciated its unique side-loading magazine, rear
exhaust port, and extremely light weight. And I liked that it
doesn't need oil. But I couldn't get past its visibility
problem; the tool's stubby nose and protective tip simply made
it too hard for me to see exactly where nails would be
However, for users who are willing to work without a protective
tip or who are comfortable relying on index marks, the Bostitch
could be an excellent choice.
Paul Allenis an interior trim contractor in East