For every Arthur there is an Excalibur — together they create the seamless integration of human and machine that heralds the fulcrum of change. It could be anything, really; for Wyatt Earp it was the Buntline Special, Indiana Jones never left home without his whip, and for Eddie Rickenbacker it was the SPAD S.XIII. Everyone’s got one, even if they don’t know what it is exactly. After careful thought, mine is the 18ga. pneumatic brad nailer. It’s the weapon of choice in my shop, so it seemed only natural that I host a small test of nailers and see how they stack up to each other.
To that end, for the last few months we’ve been testing five models of 18ga nailers in the shop against the rigors normally associated with shop use. Then, for a little extra kick, each was loaned out to a rougher environment like a trim carpenter crew, cabinet shop or furniture repair retailer for a few weeks. Once each came back from the field, we compiled and compared the data.
First, the contestants: Each is an 18ga. pneumatic finish/brad nailer from a different company to get a decent scope of the field. In alphabetical order, they are:
- Bosch BNS200-18
- Bostitch BT1855
- Campbell Hausfeld SB504000
- Paslode T200-F18
- Ridgid R213BNA
We first thought to see which gun jammed the most. Thousands of nails were pushed through each rig in the wood shop, at the same pressure, with the same compressor — none misfired. Our next thought was to see which one came back the most beat-up after the rough testing in the real-life shop tests — all guns came back fine. I began to realize these are all modern guns that perform well at the task they were designed for. Since none of them failed, it then became a comparison game.
The chart below (also posted in a larger format here) outlines our major feature comparisons.
Once you’ve consumed the numbers and features, here’s how they break down in actual operation.
The Bosch was much like a high-performance German luxury car — efficient with mechanical precision and an attractive styling package. It features the minty-fresh Bosch Full-Force system that delivers the same power while pushing a little less air. Though it’s mostly the PSI behind the power, the Bosch just feels like it’s working less and hitting harder. The smooth action and the features operate just like a pro-grade rig should. The fit and finish was excellent and it felt “correct” holding it at any angle. The only drawback we found was that it wasn’t oil-free — but that’s about all we can pick on other than price. It’s the most expensive rig in the test, at just south of $100 retail.
If the Bosch is a German luxury car, the Bostitch leans more towards a Rolls. The fit and finish is, for lack of a better word, polished. The controls are solid and have a positive feel to them, and it’s the only nailer in the test with a safety trigger lock. Of course you could always just unplug the hose, but it’s nice to have anyway. The Bostitch oozes finesse rather than power, and we see why some craftsman swear by them. It also doesn’t smell like oil or leave spots, which we found to be a positive experience.
What can we say about the Campbell Hausfeld, other than that we were surprised. It’s a $25 nailer and that’s what it feels like — a bit clunky and the controls aren’t as friendly, plus it’s the fatass of the group — 55% heavier than the lightest in the test. What it does have is versatility; the CH accepts both brads and staples. Our tester had upholstered a headboard, switched to brads, and built a small side table in the time it took us go to lunch. She also did it without ever unhooking the gun. Value and raw functionality make up for whatever it doesn’t have in the way of elegance.
Paslode is normally a brand we associate with gas guns, but they have a pneumatic line as well. The features on it are a bit basic with no bump fire or much in the way of extras. However, our remote tester, a trim installer pro, said “…it’s because prize fighters need to keep it tight.” At 2.1 lbs. the Paslode was the lightest gun in the test, due mostly to its ABS housing. When we arrived after a few weeks to collect it we noticed two other guys on his crew had acquired one. We found that telling.
When matched against the rest of the field, the Ridgid holds up very well. It’s not the lead in any of the categories, but strikes a well-balanced middle ground, sporting some of the higher-end features like bump fire and oil-free operation. The other side of that coin is it doesn’t quite have the versatility of the CH or the finesse of the Bostitch. The Ridgid is simply a solid contender in the pack that happens to be my personal favorite for no other reason than I’ve had my hands on it for several years and built more projects than I care to count with it. It’s a road dog.
For me, the 18 gauge brad nailer is literally the gun on my hip, and its addition to my shop turned out to be the latchkey to my project flow. So I was very interested in what we’d find at the end of our test. As it turns out the conclusions are, as always, not what we expected.
Each nailer performed exactly as advertised: They drove fasteners — a lot of fasteners. What application, budget and preference you have will really be the deciding factors in your purchasing decision. There really isn’t a right or wrong answer, just right or wrong for you. Grab a gun, any gun, and get to work.
SB504000 [Campbell Hausfeld]
Street Pricing [Google Products]
Bosch Via Amazon
Bostitch Via Amazon [What’s This?]
Paslode Via Amazon
Ridgid Via Amazon [What’s This?]