Battery-powered Brad Nailers
In the 25 years or so since most of us saw our first pneumatic brad nailer while watching Norm Abram on TV, those tools have become almost as common as a cordless drill in home shops. And with good reason: 18-gauge brads secure glued assemblies without clamping and leave negligible holes to fill.
In a world where everything is going cordless, it seems inevitable that hoseless brad nailers would become a thing. Before you scoff at the idea ("I already have an air compressor; this seems silly!"), we thought the same thing about our corded drill back in the day, and where is that tool today? Still, as we tested these nine battery-powered nailers, we found them quite capable, but with some compromises, as you'll learn.
Do they pack enough punch?
It's critical for a nailer to fully sink the fastener, because these wire nails are virtually impossible to pull out or finish off with a hammer. Three nailers routinely sank all fasteners without issue in the pine, Douglas fir, red oak, and maple we used in testing: the Bostitch, DeWalt, and Senco Fusion F-18. Two models, the Makita XNB01Z and Ryobi P320, had difficulty consistently seating fasteners fully in hardwoods. These nailers will work fine if you use primarily softwoods or attach up to 3⁄4 " hardwood to softwood. Ryobi's Jason Swanson says the Ryobi nailer was optimized to shoot fasteners in stock up to 3⁄4 ", but thicker hardwood would be considered extreme; Makita's Wayne Hart says these results are not consistent with Makita's own testing.
With a pneumatic nailer, you can add or subtract "power" by adjusting the air pressure in the hose. And that's important because sinking a nail in oak typically requires more power than doing the same in pine. Only two of these nailers, the Ridgid R09890B and Ryobi, have adjustments to add or decrease the force of the driver, and this worked well when we changed from hardwoods to softwoods. Each nailer has a depth-of-drive adjustment for the nose, but this feature adds only about 1⁄16 " to 3⁄32 " of countersink. In most cases, this was enough to compensate for hardwood versus softwood. We found the adjusters on the Metabo HPT NT1850DE, Ridgid, and Senco nailers difficult to use; the others work fine.
Placing brads precisely
Sometimes you need to position a fastener precisely, and with all the test models, visibility improved with the plastic no-mar nose tip removed. But workpiece marring increased, so we rated each nailer's accuracy with its nose tip in place. The Makita gets top marks here, with the Bostitch and DeWalt next best. With some models, the tips prove too large or clumsy to work with effectively. The Metabo HPT best minimized workpiece marring.
Because these tools are already bulkier and heavier than their pneumatic counterparts, we tested each nailer with a "slim" battery pack, rated from 1.5 to 3.0 amp-hours. (View the complete chart.) Larger amp-hour packs will also work with these tools.
To see how many brads each nailer could drive on a charge, we drove 11⁄2 nails through 3⁄4 " red oak into fir. All but two nailers were able to drive 500 fasteners, at which point we stopped. All of the nailers outperformed our run-time expectations. We can't imagine a situation where you would drive enough brads to exhaust a battery before another is charged. And if you have only one battery, it should easily get you through a full day's work on a single charge.
Battery packs for all but two nailers have built-in charge-level indicators. The Metabo HPT has a gauge on the nailer that works with the battery installed; the Porter-Cable has no gauge on the battery pack or nailer.
Drive systems affect delay
These nailers use three different systems to power the piston and driver. The Metabo HPT and Senco pressurize a permanent, fixed amount of air or nitrogen, and both tools fire instantaneously, most like a pneumatic nailer. The Makita, Ridgid, and Ryobi nailers work similarly, but draw in outside air. This results in about a half-second delay between the trigger pull and driver activation. The Bostitch, Craftsman, DeWalt, and Porter-Cable nailers must spin up a flywheel to deliver the punch rather than using pressurized air. The Bostitch and DeWalt flywheels begin spinning when you touch the nose safety to the wood, and pulling the trigger activates the driver immediately. The Craftsman and Porter-Cable have nearly a one-second delay before firing.
The Bostitch, DeWalt, Ridgid, and Senco nailers shoot fasteners 5⁄8 "–21⁄8 " long; the others shoot
5⁄8 –2". Dry-fire lockouts on all but the Craftsman, Metabo HPT, and Porter-Cable prevent the tool from firing "blanks," so you'll know when it's out of fasteners.
Each tool has either a colored indicator or clear window to show when it's time to add more fasteners. Almost all of the nailers will accept a full strip of 100 brads as soon as you see the indicator, but with the Ridgid and Senco, you must shoot 5–7 additional nails before a full strip will fit.
More Hoseless Nail Nuggets
■ On/off switch. All but the Ridgid and Ryobi nailers have a switch that either powers the tool or locks out the trigger to prevent accidental firing when a battery is installed.
■ Time-out function. If you wait too long between pushing down the safety nose and pulling the trigger in single-shot mode (vice versa in bump mode), all of the nailers will time out to conserve charge level and make you start the process again. Most time out in 5–10 seconds—a reasonable time. The Craftsman and Porter-Cable nailers time out in 25–30 seconds. But the Metabo HPT does so in just 2 seconds—too short, in our opinion.
■ LEDs. All models have at least one LED (some have two) to helpfully illuminate the area around the nose. A partial pull of the trigger activates the light.
■ Recoil. Battery-powered nailers tend to have greater recoil—the bounce-back after each strike—than pneumatic nailers. With most models, you'll get used to it. The Senco produced a jarring recoil worse than the others, although it did not affect its ability to seat nails.
■ Belt hook. Each nailer has a handy hook that can be installed on either the right or left side, or you can remove it if you prefer. We like the one on the Metabo HPT best because it can swivel out of the way when not needed.
■ Nail jams. We experienced only one jam during testing, so we can't evaluate jam likelihood. But all the tools except Makita have tool-free access to remove a jammed fastener should it happen. The Makita requires a hex wrench.
■ Bump fire. Only the Porter-Cable and Craftsman models lack this feature that lets you shoot fasteners rapidly by holding down the trigger and bumping the nailer's nose to the workpiece to release a fastener. But because we place more importance on the ability to place a nail precisely—even if it takes a few seconds—we don't see bump fire as a valuable feature on a brad nailer.
Here's where to "charge" your nailer budget
If you've already invested in a battery platform, in most cases it makes sense to buy the nailer that shares those battery packs. But if you're simply looking for the best battery-powered brad nailer, go for the Bostitch BCN680D1 or DeWalt DCN680D1. They share Top Tool honors.