With the Holidays in full swing, your time and energy is probably devoted to finding great gifts for those dear to you and setting out sparkly decorations. However, this can also be a great opportunity to get yourself a little gift that you will treasure in a few months when your focus returns to creating Halloween props. Whether you will take advantage of the endless holiday sales or add it to your list to Kris Kringle, I recommend you invest in a cordless nailer.
Why a cordless nailer? Because they are incredibly helpful with building props! I’ve had pneumatic nailers – all the way from framing nailers to 24ga pin nailers – for years, and while they work great, I almost never use them. They are rarely worth the hassle. First off, there’s the air hose that you have to drag around, get unstuck from every object it comes within 3 feet of and fight against when trying to position the nailer where you want it. But it’s the compressor that is the deal killer for me. Having to haul it out of its storage cubby, drag it where I needed it, wait for it to fill up and then empty it afterwards meant I only used my pneumatic nailers when I had lots of nails to drive.
Instead, I used hammers, clamps and cordless screwdrivers to assemble my projects. They worked, but always were more work than it seemed they should be. Then, while watching a DIY remodeling series, I got curious about the cordless nailers they used for nearly everything they built. They used them to build furniture, shelves and other creations within the spaces they were working. The speed with which they built things was amazing. Maybe they knew something I didn’t.
What makes nailers so wonderful is that they drive the nails so quickly and effortlessly that the pieces you are joining don’t move. You cut the pieces, hold them where you want them to be, shoot a couple of nails, and it’s done. If you want to boost the strength, add some glue between the pieces and that joint will last until the zombie apocalypse. Since there is practically no kick from the nailer, the pieces won’t shift on you. Compared to all the contortions that I went through to keep pieces aligned while I drove screws or pounded nails by hand this looked like witchcraft!
But could this tool really run off batteries? I wondered if they could really work well since it takes a large amount of energy to drive a nail. Surely, they must drain the batteries in a matter of minutes or only partially drive the nails. It didn’t take much research to convince me that I NEEDED a cordless nailer! All that I read about them confirmed that they worked like they did on that show. A bit more research led me to buy a Hitachi 15ga nailer with a lithium battery, specifically the NT1865DMA.
Image from Amazon
This is in a class of nailers called “finish nailers”, because it drives finishing nails. These are not the big nails that are used to assemble 2x4s into houses – those are framing nails. Instead, finishing nails are smaller and were originally used to attach trim within the house. Finish nails have practically no heads and therefore leave much smaller holes in the wood that need to be filled.
Holes made by different sized nails
While they were originally used almost exclusively for trim pieces, nailers (both pneumatic and battery powered) can easily drive a 2 1/2″ 15ga or 16ga nail without bending it, something really difficult to do by hand with a hammer. This means you can attach a 3/4″ piece of plywood to a 2×4 and have 1 3/4″ of the nail driven into the 2×4. That’s a pretty secure anchor. Especially when it only takes a moment to drive a second or third fastener right next to it. They won’t replace big 16 penny (16d) nails for framing applications, but for props they are awfully strong, especially when backed by glue. But please, don’t use finishing nails to frame up the addition to your house!
There are three common sizes of nails that finish nailers can drive: 15ga finish nails, 18ga brads and 24ga pins. There are others too – but those three seem to be the most common. Nail diameter varies inversely with the number, so the 15ga nails are the largest – and therefore strongest – finishing nails. I don’t recommend the 24ga pins for building your props – they have very little holding power. The choice between 15ga and 18ga is very much just your preference. Both have good holding power, with the hole of the 18ga being almost invisible. I went with the 15ga for the extra holding strength, but it was a pretty serious internal debate.
Comparison of Common Nail Sizes
You might notice that some of the nailers (mainly the 15ga models) use angled nails. This came from their primary use of nailing in molding (crown molding in particular), where you want to drive the nails up at an angle, into the ceiling. Having a straight rail would prevent this, since it would hit the wall before you could get the angle you needed.
Regardless of WHY the rail is angled, it’s important that when you buy the nails, you get ones that match the angle of the rails. Yes, that’s pretty obvious, but it’s not as easy as you would expect thanks to the wonderful tool manufacturers. For some reason, instead of clearly labeling the tools & nails with something as simple as the numerical value of the angle (e.g. 34 degrees), they also use letter designators, SOMETIMES. For example, 34 degree nails are also called “DA” nails and 25 degree nails are called “FN” nails. It’s best to learn both the numeric and the letter designation your nailer requires in order to buy what you need.
You probably have guessed that I am quite happy with the performance of the nailer – why else would I recommend you buy one? I am able to easily drive 2 1/2″ nails well sunk into the wood. I actually am having a little trouble adjusting the drive depth to be as shallow as I want. So, there is plenty of power in this tool. Despite it having a tiny battery, I haven’t run out of charge in the middle of a project. I can’t imagine that it really can drive the advertised 1,000 nails per charge, but when would anyone need to drive 1,000 nails in one day? The kick is minimal and the noise is less than expected, although ear protection should be used as with any nailer.
Having used this to assemble a few projects now, I am completely sold on its value. Well, maybe “value” isn’t the best term there. At over $250 this cordless nailer is a luxury -but WHAT a luxury! I am completely sold on this new method for building things. It’s so easy, so fast and so precise. I think the cost is justified if you assemble lots of props and projects.
I know many people will happily forgo this extravagance at $250, but ‘tis the season! The season for sales and splurging – and maybe even Santa! So watch those sales to see if you can score a deal. And if all else fails, maybe you can still make it onto the “Nice List” and find a shiny new nailer waiting for you under the tree!