Tool Test Coil Roofing Nailers — JLC Online

The best guns are light, fast, and easy to load

We’re professional roofers: The company we work for does all kinds of roofing, including built-up, wood shake, and clay tile. But more than anything else, we install composition shingles. Though roofers used to nail shingles by hand or with a roofing stapler, these days the tool of choice is a coil roofing nailer.

On large projects, we might have as many as a dozen roofers on the crew, and because we supply our own guns, there are likely to be many different models on site. Like anyone else in construction, we’re always looking for better tools, so we thought it was great when JLC delivered 12 of the newest coil roofing nailers to one of our jobs and asked us to try them out.

We had the guns throughout the fall of 2005, and shared them around the crew. In this article, we’ll tell you what we learned.

The main qualities we look for in a coil roofing nailer are light weight, good balance, speed, and ease of loading. Durability is also important, but we didn’t have these guns long enough to wear them out, so there’s no good way to address that here.

Weight and Balance

Each generation of roofing nailer is lighter than the last — a good thing, because light tools are more comfortable to use. A few ounces doesn’t make much difference, but when one gun weighs a half pound more than another you can definitely feel it.

The published weight specs are frequently incorrect, so we weighed each tool (including an air fitting) on an electronic postal scale. Several models were significantly heavier than the manufacturers claimed (see "Coil Roofing Gun Specs," below). We found that the average roofing gun weighs about 5.5 pounds. The lightest models — Bostitch, DeWalt, and Porter-Cable — all weighed in at 5.0 pounds. The heaviest guns — 5.8 pounds and up — included the models from Senco, Spotnails, and Max.

In a couple of cases, the tool’s balance (or lack thereof) fooled us into thinking it was lighter or heavier than it really was.

For example, the Ridgid weighs 5.2 pounds but didn’t feel much heavier than the 5-pound models because it’s well-balanced. The Grip-Rite, on the other hand, felt heavier than its 5.2 pounds because it’s nose-heavy. A nose-heavy gun puts extra strain on your arm and wrist; it may not be a lot, but you’ll notice it over time.

Most of the guns we tested are pretty well-balanced, except for the Senco, Spotnails, and Grip-Rite models, which all feel nose-heavy.

Nailing Speed

Nailer manufacturers sometimes list a spec related to speed — the number of times the gun can cycle per second. The only number we found among the roofing nailers — eight nails per second — seems impossibly high. There may be guns that can cycle this quickly, but no coil roofing nailers we know of can feed fasteners that fast.

We didn’t have a good way to measure how fast each gun fired, but we could tell by using the tools that some were faster than others. To us, a gun feels slow if it can’t keep up with the speed at which we’re working. Most of the guns could keep up, though the Senco, the Spotnails, and especially the Paslode seemed slower than the rest.

Power. Most of our jobs involved reroofing over OSB or old wood sheathing; all of the guns had enough power to drive nails home in these materials. That said, some felt slightly more powerful than others — a quality we describe on site by saying the gun has a good "pop" to it.

Magazine Design

We go through a lot of fasteners installing shingles, so we need a gun that’s quick and easy to load. Most coil nailers require you to open two separately hinged pieces to load nails. One piece covers the magazine, and the other — the feed cover — holds the nails against the pawls that pull them forward to be driven.

On a few models, the magazine cover and feed cover swing open as a single piece. We like this design; with fewer parts to manipulate, it takes less time to load. The time savings may not be huge, but every little bit helps when you are working fast in a rhythm.

The Bostitch gun (top) is easy to load because the magazine and feed cover are one piece, which pivots downward to open. The Makita (below) is also easy to load, thanks to a single-piece cover that swings out from the nose, a design also found on the Paslode gun.

The Bostitch is especially easy to load because the cover assembly pivots down as a single piece. Loading it is a simple matter of dropping in a coil of nails, laying one end of the coil across the pawls, and flipping the cover back up. We also found the Makita and Paslode guns easy to load; they both have single-piece covers that are hinged at the nose and swing open from the rear.

Most of the guns load from the side. However, the Spotnails and one of the Hitachi models load from the bottom. Since we’re accustomed to loading from the side, loading from the bottom seems slow and awkward to us.

Most coil roofing nailers open from the side, the preferred configuration for the authors and their crew. On the Porter-Cable, the plastic piece that covers the nails is held in place by the feed cover, the metal piece that hinges out from the nose.

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