“Why is it there’s never time to do something right,” one of my friends once complained to his employees, “but there’s always time to do it over?” His point, of course, was that he would rather have them spend extra time on the fundamentals of a job, rather than having to go back later, tearing down what has already been built just to fix what has already been done.
Selecting the best possible tool is one of the things you simply have to take the time to do right, since the choice will affect productivity and job quality for years to come. In this article, we’ll review two solid choices. Neither of these are bad products, but our goal will be to decide which is truly the professional choice.
Overview: Two Great 21 Degree Framing Nailers
This is currently available as a very reasonably priced 4-piece combo set: a 21 degree framing nailer, a 15 gauge 34 degree finish nailer, a brad nailer as well as a stapler.
Buying each of these separately will certainly end up costing you more, but how many tools doing basically the same thing do you need? It’s no saving, after all, when you pay extra for a tool you’ll never use. Most people, including building contractors, will probably be perfectly happy with just a framing and finish nailer. How often will you be installing trim that’s too delicate to use a finish nailer on, and will it really be faster to mount it with brads rather than just gluing it? In my experience, a finish nailer can do almost anything a brad nailer can, but not vice versa. A stapler is great for plywood or upholstery, but chances are that you already have one if you need it.
This is a no-frills nail gun useful for framing walls, installing sub floors or general jobs such as erecting a wooden fence. Like the Freeman frame nailer, it’s intended to use nails of between 2” and 3 1/2” with round heads.
How They Stack Up!
Value For Money
Freeman: an all-in-one option to equip you for almost any job, but buying 4 air tools for the price of perhaps two or three makes no sense if you only need one of the four.
NuMax: Just a framing nailer that you can use for other kinds of job, too, at a reasonable off-brand price.
Comparison: Totally depends on what you need. If you go for the combo option, you’ll probably end up using the other tools, too; but there’s no need to go that route if you’re sure you just need a framing nailer.
Both products seem to be solidly constructed. Of course, you’re not supposed to use either as a basketball, but dropping one shouldn’t be enough to break it. The majority of leaks in either can probably be fixed by just disassembling it and replacing an o ring.
What kind of warranty the manufacturer is willing to offer is an important vote of confidence, since they actually lose money if their product doesn’t last. Both warranties come with the usual terms and conditions, but while the NuMax is nominally under warranty for 12 months, the Freeman offers a seven year limited warranty!
Comparison: Both companies have good reputations where customer service is concerned, and neither tool is going to fall apart from being normally handled. However, the seven year limited warranty on the Freeman wins hands down.
Ease of Use
Both framing nailers are constructed using a high strength, low weight magnesium alloy, both weighing about eight pounds. Since you might use it for hours on end with your arm extended, this can become significant. On the other hand, if they were much lighter, the recoil will be transmitted more directly to your forearm each time, so I suppose this is a tradeoff. Ergonomically, both offer comfortable, non-slip grips and are easy to use either horizontally or vertically. Both are of about equal size: shooting the nail at an angle helps, but you will still have trouble getting into really tight spaces.
You can rotate the air exhaust 360° on either model, without which ability you’d have to use eye protection every time you use it. Neither has a problem with frequent jamming, whether using branded or generic nails of the correct type. I found the Freeman framing nailer to be the more difficult of the two to reload, though this will doubtlessly become easier as you use it more.
The NuMax comes with two interchangeable triggers: one normal and one “bump” trigger which speeds up sequential firing significantly. For safety reasons, this mode is meant to be used by people with some experience in using nail guns, so the average handyman will be better off sticking with the normal trigger. If will also refuse to fire when the magazine contents is low. Pneumatic nailers are not designed to be used when there is no nail for them to push against, so this can avoid damage to the machine and the work surface. However, it’s easier to remove the last few nails when inserting a new clip, since the machine sometimes has trouble picking them up.
Comparison: Either will get the job done, but the faster sequential firing on the NuMax, combined with its dry-fire protection, will pay dividends on large jobs. Loading nails also seems to go a little quicker, although the final three in a strip tend to misfeed.
Both products take essentially the same nails, and either can be used to install wood siding, hang drywall or nail something to a 2 by 4. That having been said, they are designed only to accept the types of nails specified: fasteners such as roofing nails won’t feed correctly, and these devices are not meant to shoot nails into concrete.
The NuMax has an additional function in terms of being able to adjust the depth to which it drives nails. This may be useful if constructing formwork that will be dismantled afterwards, or to prevent burying the head of lighter nails, but is not likely to be used on every job. I found that getting this adjustment exactly right is quite difficult, but it’s certainly better than playing with the compressor’s regulator and hoping for the best.
Comparison: A tie. Either will do what you expect of it, but don’t expect it to be a universal tool.
Either of these will work fine with a smallish pancake compressor capable of maintaining 100 PSI, although heavy work will of course require a bit more horsepower. As long as the pressure is available, either will drive nails reliably and consistently. The occasional knot in your wood can be expected to deflect or bend a nail, but this is true for any framing nailer. There will always be a couple of nails you need to finish off with a hammer. In terms of maintenance, simply feed it a few drops of oil before use, try to keep grit and dust out of the mechanism, and 99% of your nails should be driven perfectly.
Comparison: As you would expect from two quality products, they both perform nearly flawlessly. That having been said, use an adequate compressor (especially if powering more than one tool simultaneously) and always use the right kind of nails to avoid misfeeds.
If you’ve used nail guns before, you’ll probably not feel the need to look at the instructions, but a first time user’s experience can be influenced by the quality of the manual. The Freeman combo’s instructions were not entirely clear, although it shouldn’t take forever to figure out. Despite having a few extra functions, the NuMax instructions were somewhat easier to follow.
Comparison: Not exactly a dealbreaker, but I appreciate the extra effort NuMax put into this aspect of usability.
The Final Score
Neither of these products are bad buys or of questionable quality, so which is better for you depends almost entirely on whether you can find a use for the three additional tools bundled with the Freeman framing nailer. It’s a bargain if you actually need the stapler, finishing nailer and brad gun, but not especially economical if a framing nailer is all you really want.
The NuMax product gave the impression of being slightly more optimal for heavy, long-term use, but this advantage is slight. What type of compressor you are using is far more relevant. The NuMax also seemed to be marginally easier to use and offers slightly enhanced functionality.
On the Freeman’s side, the seven year limited warranty certainly sounds good. If only covers defects in workmanship and materials (i.e. not damage arising from normal wear and tear, nor use in a truly commercial setting, and so forth), but being brave enough to offer coverage of any type for that long implies a special dedication to quality.
You can find more expensive nailers, but either the Freeman or NuMax should be totally sufficient for weekend handymen as well as most contractors. You can expect tens of thousands of hassle-free nails to be driven by either.