Preloaded screws, no cord. The author advocates the use of collated fasteners for their speed when you are initially hanging a sheet. He likes the convenience of cordless, as well as the added safety of not having a cord, which is a trip hazard around scaffolding and ladders.
Preloaded screws, no cord. The author advocates the use of collated fasteners for their speed when you are initially hanging a sheet. He likes the convenience of cordless, as well as the added safety of not having a cord, which is a trip hazard around scaffolding and ladders.

It takes about 3,500 screws to hang 3,500 square feet of drywall—which is how much an average crew can hang in a day. That’s a lot of screws. Professional drywall hangers are adept at loading those screws one-by-one on a single-feed drywall screw gun, so they’re able to move rather quickly. Autofeed screw guns, by comparison, use fasteners that are preloaded on a strip (50 screws in a strip is typical) so you don’t have to load the screw each time, making them faster, easier to use, and less stressful on the body. I know plenty of drywall contractors who are devoted to their single-feed screw guns; however, I fully endorse the use of autofeed screw guns—especially cordless versions—for hanging drywall. In fact, I haven’t used a single-feed drywall screw gun in at least 15 years.

While there are a number of brands available in both corded and cordless versions, almost all of which I’ve used, I chose to review the Festool DWC 18 because it has some standout features that I like. It’s relatively new to the U.S. market (it was released in September 2016), but it’s been in Germany for about seven years, so its design is well-developed. The tool is equipped with an EC TEC (permanent magnet, remotely commutated, 3‑phase) brushless motor, uses readily available collated screws, and has an on-demand drive system and precision depth control—all key features that I like.

Like many other collated screw guns, this model will work with any collated strip on the market. That’s a baseline feature of any collated screw gun for me because it means I don’t have to order screws if my local supplier doesn’t stock them or runs out—I can get them anywhere. The Festool magazine can be turned in various angles in order to get the strip out of the way in situations where it might get hung up or be a nuisance. Also, the depth of drive is set right on the nose of the magazine and can be fine-tuned using a green dial, so you can precisely adjust the depth of drive. (Note: Every feature that is green on a Festool tool is a feature you can adjust.)

The magazine can also be removed easily to change the bit, or to access improperly-set screws. When pressure is applied to the bit in this instance, it engages a “pulse” mode that acts like an impact drill. The impact is slow and each hit turns the screw in only about .5mm. This allows the screw to be set precisely.

Interchangeable head for singledrive mode. Some contractors prefer the single-feed action, which this head offers. It also improves accessibility in inside corners.
Interchangeable head for singledrive mode. Some contractors prefer the single-feed action, which this head offers. It also improves accessibility in inside corners.

The feature that I like the most is the on-demand drive system, which has two modes: manual and auto. In manual mode, you have to engage the trigger in order to drive the screw, though the motor only turns on when pressure engages the clutch. In all the time that I’ve been using this tool, I had never used it in manual mode until writing this review, though I can see its usefulness for backing screws out.

In auto mode, you don’t have to engage the trigger—you simply choose the mode on top of the gun. In this mode, the screw engages when pressure is applied to the tip, as it does in manual mode. But with auto mode, you can just keep going without ever touching the trigger. This is an incredibly efficient design because it saves on battery life, and it’s also incredibly quiet because the gun is on only when you’re driving a screw. Some newer cordless single-feed screw guns aren’t on all the time, but still require pulling and locking the trigger to engage the motor.

The motor spins at 4,500 rpm, which is typical of a drywall screw gun. I found this to be adequate most of the time. There are a few exceptions—with fire-coded drywall, for example, or with older framing that is harder than new spruce or fir—when there just wasn’t enough power to effectively drive the screw to full depth. My guess is that because the motor doesn’t run constantly, it doesn’t have enough time to ramp up to the full rpms when working in these materials.

The gun is designed to be used in both wood and metal framing. I did find it tough to insert a screw to the proper depth in tight inside corners, however. A lot of framers still don’t give us a wide-enough nailer in the corner to insert the screw without having to get the nose tight into the corner—so I blame them more than the gun. If the screw isn’t set square to the drywall in this scenario, it won’t go in straight and, as a result, will not be set deep enough. The gun does come with an alternative nose and bit attachment that can be used in place of the collated attachment. This helps with inside corners, but I find it inconvenient when attaching a sheet to switch attachments. Instead, I use a secondary, small cordless drill with a Dimpler screw setting attachment that I find faster to pick up and use for inside corners.

Another nice feature on this gun is a ladder/scaffold hook on one side of the tool (opposite the belt hook, which is a standard feature on most tools). This can be folded out of the way if it’s not needed.

According to Festool, you can set about 10,000 1 1/4-inch screws on a 5.2-Ah battery. If you’re not using that many screws, the 3.2-Ah battery is lighter and you can still get about a day’s worth out of a single charge. Cost: $300 for the tool only in a Systainer Sys 2 box; $540 for the tool, charger, and a 5.2-Ah battery in a Systainer Sys 2.

This article originally appeared in JLC.

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