One of my first reviews for The Journal of Light Construction, in 2004, was of the Max PowerLite HN90 coil framing nailer and AKHL 1050E PowerLite compressor (now discontinued). The basic premise of this system is that the compressor stores air at 500psi, which allows for smaller, more-powerful nail guns (including guns that can shoot into concrete and steel, eliminating the need for powder-actuated tools). At the time, I had to pass because we had a large crew that ran four nailers continuously on a wheelbarrow compressor. The high-pressure Max compressor couldn’t possibly keep up with our pace, and the system was expensive--the compressor was $1,200 and each coil framing nailer was about $650.
In 2008, our crew dropped down to just two guys and we had too much income that year, so for tax purposes we decided to buy into the system, with one compressor and two framing coil nailers that can also shoot siding nails.
Benefits to a high-pressure system. The major benefit to a high-pressure system is the lighter weight of the guns. We have run coil nailers for 15 years and love them. We find that it is easier to clear jams, and there's less reloading time due to the higher capacity. The downside, of course, is that more nails means more weight. The high-pressure guns are smaller and lighter to begin with.
Cons of the high-pressure system. The downside is that everything is expensive. The hoses cost more and need to be professionally repaired, due to the high pressure. The compressor is slow but quiet. It will keep up with two guys, but not if we are nailing off sheathing for shear, which means a tighter nailing pattern.
Enter a new, larger-capacity compressor. Max now has compressors available: the AKHL1260E and the new AKHL1260EX, which I'm reviewing here. The AKHL1260EX is basically identical to the 1260E that has been around for quite awhile, but it has a 5.7-gallon capacity versus 2.3 gallons for the 1260E. The compressors both feature two high-pressure and two regular-pressure outputs. We run one regular pressure for a Hitachi positive placement nailer and the two high pressure for the HN90 coil framers we love so much.
At 50 pounds, the AKHL1260EX compressor is light. In addition, it is quiet, at 67.5db in regular mode and 66.4 in quiet mode (which runs the compressor at a lower speed). We leave the compressor in the Sprinter to keep it out of the weather, and we run the hoses from there. The AKHL1260EX has a brushless motor and an inverter circuit. The inverter will function down to 70 volts when we run it off 100-foot 10/3 extension cord, without tripping the breaker. It also works well in cold.
We’ve found that we only run out of air with this larger-capacity compressor when we are shear-nailing large walls. Our nailing schedule is often 6 inches on the edges and 6 inches in the field (because we are framing 24 inches o.c.). It takes nine minutes for the compressor to go from totally empty to full when we start it in the morning. Of note is that if we use a regular-pressure gun, we can work longer shear-nailing before we run out of air. I think that in part it is because we can let the tank pressure get down to 120 before we notice the lack of air, versus the high-pressure guns that won't drive nails well below about 230 psi.
The reason I don’t care about this issue is because it shows up on larger walls, like rake walls, and the guy framing (the other guy is cutting) has been bent over continuously for a few hours--so taking a break to let the compressor catch up is welcome, especially in the heat.
Should I buy? We bought into this system 10 years ago. The guns have been fabulously reliable and easy on the body. They are powerful and we can nail LVL together like we are nailing off sheathing. The compressor has also been reliable. We’ve run it off 200 feet of extension cord and a generator, and it is a champ.
One of the reasons we bought in was to lower the wear-and-tear on our bodies. We view lighter tools as a contribution toward longevity. We want to keep building houses and keep the framing in-house for as long as possible.
The downside, again, is cost. I would say that it is about double what a regular-pressure system would cost. It is harder to get the gear worked on as well. For a two- to three-man framing/siding crew, we feel it is worth the investment. For larger crews, though, it isn’t the best option. When we were a five-man crew, we needed to run a wheelbarrow compressor to keep up.