Autofeed screw guns have been around for years. The best-known
models have cords and consist of a nosepiece that's attached to
another manufacturer's screw gun or drill-driver. But in the
last year or so, a couple of companies started making cordless
versions with a nosepiece that's integral to the rest of the
tool. I wanted to see how well they worked, so I borrowed two
to use on a bathroom I was remodeling.
I could have used corded tools, but cords get in the way when
you're working in tight quarters. And cordless tools are
reaching the point where they perform about as well as tools
with cords. The only limitation is run time, which is not a big
issue when you're remodeling small to medium-size rooms.
Cost vs. Productivity
The idea behind autofeed tools is to speed up the work. But
collated screws are a lot more expensive than bulk screws, so
the gain in productivity needs to offset the increased material
cost. When sold in bulk, 1 1/4-inch screws go for around $4 per
thousand, but they cost $14 per thousand when collated. As a
result, some trades have been more receptive than others to
Many carpenters now use screws to fasten subflooring,
underlayment, and deck boards. The speed they gain from using
an autofeed gun more than makes up for the added cost of
collated fasteners. It isn't faster than using a pneumatic
nailer, but it produces a better product. On the other hand,
professional drywall hangers have been reluctant to make the
switch from bulk to collated screws, because they can drive
loose fasteners as quickly as you or I can drive collated ones.
However, if you hang board only occasionally, the added
fastener cost is insignificant next to the time you save by
using an autofeed gun.
Cordless guns are not intended to replace corded models for
all tasks. Screwing off vast areas of subfloor means putting in
a large number of fasteners as quickly and probably not as
accurately as possible. Cordless models are not intended for
this task, which is why they aren't available with extensions
that let you work from a standing position.
The cordless autofeed guns I tested were from Makita and
Senco. Both tools take the same plastic collated screws, which
come 50 to a strip. These fasteners are compatible with guns
from Grabber, Hilti, Milwaukee, and PAM.
The first gun I tested was Senco's DS200-14v. It's a
general-purpose tool designed for the remodeling market. This
gun is powered by a 14.4-volt 1.7-amp-hour battery. It runs at
2,300 rpm and drives fasteners from 1 to 2 inches long. The
DS200-14v is part of Senco's DuraSpin line, which includes a
number of corded and cordless models. I did not test the
drywall version of this tool, model DS162-14v. It spins at
4,000 rpm and drives screws up to 1 5/8 inches long. The
drywall model has less torque than the version I tested but
will drive more short screws on a single charge.
I used the DS200-14v to fasten drywall, subflooring, and
various pieces of blocking. Besides driving screws rapidly, the
best thing about this tool is how comfortable it is in your
hand. The contoured handle is very ergonomic. And all the grip
surfaces including trigger, handle, top, and back end are
covered with a cushioned rubber material. According to the
manufacturer, this gun weighs 4.9 pounds. But it feels lighter
than that, and I think that's because it's so well balanced.
Most autofeed guns have pistol grips, which put the weight of
the tool out in front of your hand. The DS200-14v has the sort
of mid-handle grip found on cordless drill-drivers, so the
weight is centered over your hand. This is not the ideal
configuration for fastening drywall, but it's better for
The Senco DS200-14v shoots screws from 1
to 2 inches long. According to the author, it has excellent
balance and precise depth-of-drive adjustment.
Senco's gun had no trouble driving 1 5/8-inch screws through
subflooring into dry Douglas fir joists. It also put 2-inch
screws through plywood into solid lumber. Even if it took
longer screws, I doubt it would have the power to drive very
many of them. If you want to drive the 2 1/2- and 3-inch screws
needed to fasten 2-by decking, you'll need a more powerful
corded model. That said, a 2-inch screw is long enough to
fasten 4/4 and 5/4 deck boards, and corrosion resistant
fasteners are available in that size.
The DS200-14v can do a surprising amount of work on a single
charge. According to the manufacturer, it will put 650 1
1/4-inch screws through drywall into wood before it needs to be
recharged. I tested this with a fresh battery and managed to
drive 610 screws before both the battery and I needed a
recharge. (According to Senco, the DS162-14v will drive 975
screws on a charge.)
Strips of screws are easy to load, though switching lengths
meant using an Allen key to remove and reinstall a set screw.
This is my least favorite feature of the tool, because it's
easy to drop and lose small parts on a job site. To change the
depth of drive, you turn a thumbwheel on the side of the
housing. You can do this in very fine increments, so it's easy
to get whatever setting you want.
The strips of screws are very floppy, but the shielded guides
on Senco's gun keep them more or less out of the way. Fasteners
feed cleanly through the nosepiece, and the only time I had
trouble was when I let up before the screw was all the way into
the work. A spring-loaded nosepiece similar to the bale on a
pneumatic finish nailer advances a new screw each time it's
pressed into the work. The nosepiece is open and doesn't block
your view, which makes it easier to place fasteners exactly
where you want them.
The DS200-14v retails for around $200 and comes in a plastic
case with a charger, two batteries, extra drive bits, and Allen
The second cordless autofeed screw gun I tested was Makita's
6831DWA. It resembles one of the company's corded models but is
powered by a 12-volt 2.0-amp-hour battery. This gun runs at
2,000 rpm and drives fasteners up to 1 5/8 inches long.
The 6831DWA is a general-purpose tool that does a good job of
fastening drywall and subflooring. Although it doesn't shoot
the longer screws that Senco's gun does, 1 5/8-inch fasteners
are long enough for the vast majority of tasks I'd want to
perform with a small autofeed gun.
I used the Makita gun to refasten the subfloor in a bathroom I
was remodeling. It had no trouble driving 1 5/8-inch screws
into dry Douglas fir joists. I also used it to fasten drywall
and found that its compact size made it easier to get at inside
corners and work in tight spaces. Makita's gun is about the
same length as Senco's but is 3 inches shorter top to
The Makita 6831DWA drives screws up to 1
5/8 inches long. It comes standard with one
The 6831DWA is configured like a traditional drywall gun with
the grip at the back end of the housing. As a result, it
doesn't feel as well balanced as a gun with a mid-handle
design. But pushing from the back is a more natural position
for driving a large number of fasteners. That's why drywall
hangers grasp the back of the housing instead of the handle of
the screw gun. It's easier on the wrist because it turns the
tool into an extension of your arm. The Makita gun is a
solid-feeling 4.4-pound tool with a contoured handle and
hard-plastic housing. It has a reversible belt hook for left-
or right-hand use.
Depth of drive is adjusted by turning an indexed thumbwheel on
the housing. The sides of the nosepiece are closed, so it's
hard to see the exact spot the screw will be placed. However,
screw placement is not a big issue when you're fastening
drywall and subfloor, and there are index marks on the side of
the nose to help line up the fasteners. The only problem I had
with this gun was the occasional jam due to the collation strip
getting twisted on its way into the guides. This happened only
when the nose was pointed down and was easily fixed by twisting
the strip back into place.
I was surprised at the amount of work Makita's gun would do on
a single charge. It put 575 1 1/4-inch screws through 1/2-inch
drywall and into dry framing before the battery gave out. At 40
to 50 screws per sheet, that's about 12 full sheets of
The 6831DWA retails for about $270 and comes in a plastic case
with one battery, a charger, and spare screw tips.
Personally, I'd be happy to own either one of the autofeed
guns I tested. Because I do general remodeling and like the
versatility of the longer fasteners, I'd probably buy the
Senco. If all I wanted to do was fasten subfloor and drywall,
I'd prefer the handle configuration of the Makita.
David Franeis a finish carpenter and a contributing
editor toThe Journal of Light