The Case for Cordless Nail Guns

Cordless nailer

I have been a big fan of pneumatic nail guns for years, and like many woodworkers I have an arsenal of guns that can shoot anything from a tiny pin to nearly a railroad spike. I marvel at the power and precision of these tools, but like anything they have their downsides. For example, I have to wait for my compressor to fill before I can fire nails, enduring a wailing noise that could rattle my fillings loose. Also, while I am driving nails I need to contend with a tangled mess of air hose and try to not knock things over with it on my bench as I maneuver around the project positioning the nail gun. Then, if I am diligent I should drain the compressor after I have shot my nails for the day so that rust doesn’t build up in the tank and plug the draincock. In practice this just doesn’t happen often enough.

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With these hassles in mind I have followed closely the development of cordless nail guns that have their own built-in power supply, eliminating the need for the separate compressor and air hose. I consider it a lofty engineering goal to incorporate this much nail driving power into a compact form factor that is light enough to use with one hand, and over the last couple years the tool manufacturers have started to deliver some great innovations in the area of cordless brad nailers. I wanted to take a look at a couple different options in this tool category (gas powered and battery powered), and examine some of the trade-offs in making a buying decision.

Cordless nailer

Battery or gas? Cordless nail guns come in two flavors: electric- and gas-powered.

Both use a similar mechanism to drive the nail; a piston fires down onto a blade mechanism which propels the brad into the target material. The electric nail guns use battery-supplied electricity to propel the piston, while the gas powered guns use a fuel canister containing propane, butane and propylene that is sparked by a small battery to drive the piston in a manner similar to how a two stroke gasoline engine operates.

Both designs are impressive, but there are differences to consider before making an investment in one of these options. After spending some time with a nail gun of each type I can offer some observations about the areas where I found some differences:

Cordless nailer

Fuel convenience. Advantage: Battery-Powered

The battery powered units require a battery and charger much like a cordless drill or other battery powered tool. In fact, the tool manufacturers encourage us to buy into their “platform” and maximize our investment in a battery and charger by using it on multiple tools from their product line. This concept is simply brilliant, saving space, money and hassle with only one charger and a couple batteries rather than an entire cabinet full. Rechargeable batteries are convenient, and with lithium ion technology they are now lighter, charge faster and stay charged longer than ever. A full charge is reported to drive up to 700 nails on the Ryobi unit that I tested, which is more brads that I shoot in a typical year. More importantly for me, the lithium ion battery will stay charged for extended periods, which means that the nail gun will be ready to go when I need it. It’s pretty tough to beat that for cordless convenience.

Gas powered units rely on a fuel canister to deliver the nail driving power, and a small battery is used to deliver the spark. On the gas powered unit that I tested the lithium-ion battery is small and reportedly drives up to 2,000 nails on a single charge, and the gas cartridge is also small and drives up to 1,200 nails. That is great capacity on both fronts. The downside on the gas powered is that you have to purchase an additional consumable, but I was able to buy a 4-pack of canisters for about $25 which provides capacity for nearly 5,000 brads. I don’t believe that I have used anywhere near 5,000 brads in my entire 16 years as a woodworker/DIYer. So when I take that into consideration the price of consumables for the gun is negligible, and by having 3 backup canisters on hand I don’t anticipate running out of fuel at an inopportune moment when my local home center is closed and I can’t drive any more brads until morning. Another minor downside is the slight odor given off by the fuel which is only slightly bothersome and remained localized without permeating into the house from my attached shop.

Cordless nailer

Power. Advantage: Gas-Powered

While I found the gas powered gun to have more nail driving muscle, I should qualify this up front by saying that either gun has the capability to perform any typical task that I have used a brad nailer for; installing trim, attaching a cabinet back, reinforcing a butt joint, etc. Either gun is capable of beautifully countersinking a 2” brad into a normal combination of hardwood/softwood/plywood. When I put the guns to an extreme test, however, of driving a 2” brad into over 2” of solid hard maple, the gas powered gun handled this with ease while the battery powered gun came up a bit short, leaving the nail about ¾” proud of the maple. Shooting brads into 2” of hard maple would be an unusual situation in my shop, but if it did arise I would need to accommodate the fastening requirement using another method.

Cordless nailer

Weight. Advantage: Gas-Powered

The gas powered unit that I tested tipped the scale at 4.4 pounds, and was easy to use for one handed overhead operations such as crown molding or trimming windows. For regular all-day use this would be a significant consideration for me, as the gas powered unit would greatly reduce user fatigue. The battery powered unit weighed 6.5 pounds, or nearly 50% more. For bench work this did not concern me at all, and for overhead nailing it was slightly more cumbersome than the gas nailer but not really problematic for light to medium use such as a normal trim job. I would not consider the weight a problem at all for my nailing requirements but a full-time finish carpenter who could spend a full day nailing crown molding in place might take this factor into consideration.

About the Cordless Nail Guns that I tested

Cordless nail guns are still somewhat of an emerging tool category, and a relatively small number of manufacturers have products in the market. I imagine that other tool companies are watching closely and fiddling with spreadsheets now to decide if/when they will jump in. To get a good representation of each category I brought in a gas powered gun from Hitachi and a battery powered unit from Ryobi.

Cordless nailer

Hitachi NT50GS 2” Gas Powered 18-Gauge Straight Brad Nailer

This gun shoots brads ranging from 5/8” to 2”, with a capacity of 100 nails. It offers a great ergonomic design, light weight for production use, and plenty of nail driving power for any application. There is no compromise in switching from a compressor powered pneumatic gun to this tool, and the power delivered by this tool is simply astonishing.

Cordless nailer

Ryobi P320 18V One+ 18-Gauge Cordless 2” Brad Nailer

The Ryobi nailer also shoots 5/8” to 2” nails, and it offers a slightly larger capacity of 110 nails. It also has a couple nice bonus features such as an integrated LED light (I have gotten spoiled with this on my drills and router so now I love to see this on any portable tool) as well as a bump fire capability that allows sequential nailing by holding the trigger and tapping the nose of the gun onto the work piece, shooting 60 brads per minute. I admit that I was somewhat skeptical that a battery powered brad nailer could actually perform to my satisfaction, but this tool exceeded my expectations. Additionally, Ryobi offers over 50 other tools that work with the same battery, which is convenient. And in my case their marketing strategy worked; within 1 week after getting the nail gun I bought their 18V string trimmer and I am now looking at a leaf blower.

Corless Nail Gun Conclusions

Cordless brad nailers carry a higher cost than their compressor-driven counterparts, but if you can justify the cost you will appreciate the convenience. Both battery and gas powered brad nailers offer a portability advantage over the traditional pneumatic gun, so choosing between these two types of guns depends on your own requirements.

What do you think?

Is there a cordless nail gun in your future? Which way do you think you might go; battery or gas powered?

Photos by Author

Source:

Hitachi NT50GS 2” Gas Powered 18 Gauge Straight Brad Nailer, $245
www.hitachipowertools.com

Ryobi P320 18V One+ 18 Gauge Cordless 2” Brad Nailer, $129 (not including battery and charger)
www.ryobipowertools.com

Discussion
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27 Responses to “The Case for Cordless Nail Guns”
    • WWGOA Team

      The short answer is yes. Be sure to use galvanized nails to minimize stains from rusty nails and for general outdoor durability. That said, Outdoor projects like a fence are subject to a lot of weather. If it were me, I would look at using stainless steel screws. They hold longer and are much stronger than nails. Use trim head screws for a neater look. You could try the galvanized brads first and see how they hold up. If you start to get one loose boards or popping nails, go back with the stainless steel screws.

      Reply
  1. diaz

    I think the ryobi nailer would be stronger with the high capacity battery they are suspose to give your tool more performance

    Reply
    • Brian LaRoche

      Interesting,I bought the ryobi brad gun happy with it but needs a little more power. BL

      Reply
  2. Bob Goodrich

    My experience with gas guns is that they work extremely well. They also require a lot of maintenance. Firing your gas gun all day will require a thorough cleaning, much as you would a rifle. You can’t successfully buy fuel cartridges very much in advance. I have fuel cartridges that have lost most of their utility setting on a shelf. I have one 18v battery powered 18ga. nailer that works well but is slow. It seems to wind up for every hit. I built my shop with the help of a gas framing nailer and it was great up on the roof. I don’t think the battery driven nailers are quite there yet. I only have one but, from reading reviews I just don’t think I am ready to invest. I have been a cabinet maker for 40 years in my own shop.

    Reply
    • ALEXEY

      Great comment from an experienced person, thank you! There is no doubt that taking.

      Reply
  3. divertom1

    I’ve had the Ryobi nailer for a couple years now and love it. In the shop building cabinets or working on a remodel job, no more compressor to keep running or hose to get in the way. Just pick it up and shoot. My old Bostich never gets used now. Last year, I also bought their job site radio using the same battery, small, but works well too.

    Reply
  4. James Hillcoat

    I have the Ryobi 18″ brad nailer which I find excellent for any job requiring this type of nail.

    Reply
  5. Gonthier

    Hello, thanks for the test.
    Was actually thinking of changing my pneumatic nailer to a cordless one, this will help me on my decision, best regards.

    Reply
  6. aviner44

    Great bits of information glad to see both explanations to help decide which way to go, when the time is right, Thanks

    Reply
    • Jerry G

      Great review. Since I have the Ryobi cordless drill and leaf blower with 2 batteries, it’s a natural to go for their nailer

      Reply
  7. Larry

    would like to know difference between brad and finishing nail guns . both shoot 2in nail. which is more appropriate for inside trim work.

    Reply
    • WWGOA Team

      Typically brad guns are 18 ga. and finish nails are 15 ga. or 16 ga. I have an 18ga brad nailer and a 15 ga. finish nailer. I probably use the 18 ga. gun more commonly for inside trim work because it leaves a smaller hole to fill and also has plenty of holding power for most trim applications. For door casings it is common to use both guns; the 15 ga. for nailing to the jack studs and header, and the 18 ga. for nailing to the less robust (3/4″) door frame itself. For heavy crown molding I normally use 15 ga. as well, as the extra holding power and length (my 15 ga. shoots 2.5″ nails) are helpful. But I also use a 23 ga. pin nailer to shoot outside miters together on crown molding before I install them. So, I’m sorry, but you will eventually want all three guns (but you can start with

      Reply
  8. electronwriter

    How about an 18 gauge cordless stapler? I have a chicken wire project coming up in the back yard and it would seem ideal.

    Reply
  9. bobgroh

    Greatly enjoyed your very well balanced review. I share exactly the same problems – I hate having to fire up the compressor just to drive a couple of brads! I have been considering an electric nailer and your little review is a great help and very timely.

    Reply
  10. Harry

    Thanks to your great review, i just purchased the Ryobi P320 from HomeDepot.com. Have not recieved it yet but i am looking forward to using it. Thanks again for a great review Paul.

    Reply
  11. Alpo

    Interesting take on cordless vs compressor-driven. I agree with a lot of what you say here; I’d say both types have their advantages and their place. I’ve been looking for a good cordless myself — this article here https://carveyourcreation.com/best-electric-nail-guns has recommendations that look really good. Hm, I’ll have to do some more digging.

    Reply
  12. julie arnold

    I want to add crown molding to main area in condo. Is the Ryobi P320 a good nail gun for this purpose? I did chair rail in a bedroom, & used hammer and nails. Came out great, but I’m NO expert. Thank you for your assistance.

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      Hi Julie. This might be borderline ok for crown molding. I prefer to use a 15 gauge nail gun for crown, which provides better holding power. I like to shoot these in an angled finish nailer which allows me to position the gun more easily into the corner.
      Thanks
      Paul-WWGOA

      Reply