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Tool School: Framing Nailer

by on Oct 26, 2018

This week on Tool School, I’m trying out the new Dewalt cordless framing nailer. It’s the most powerful cordless nailer they’ve ever built, so I’m excited to see how it works! 

This post is sponsored by the Home Depot

You know you’re pushing the limits of what you might call “DIY” when your project requires a nail gun. For most jobs, a hammer and a bag of nails will suffice. But if you’re framing an addition, building a deck, or putting up a fence, you’ll probably want to reach for a framing nailer. These beasts are heavy, tough, powerful, and (slightly) dangerous. But when you need one, you’ll know it, and you’ll be glad it’s there.     

We tried out the 20-Volt MAX Lithium-Ion 21-Degree Cordless Framing Nailer (model DNC21PL). It’s a brand new product that really ups the ante on what a cordless nailer can do. When you’re looking at nail guns, the default choice has often been to use a pneumatic tool. But those come with several challenges, like managing hoses, maintaining air compressors, and limited portability. 

A cordless nailer solves those problems, giving DIYers and professionals alike a tool that’s easy to transport and use with minimal set up. The trade-off, though, is in power and consistency. And while cordless models have typically lagged way behind in those areas, the new 20-volt cordless nailer from Dewalt aims to close the gap.

What’s cool about cordless nail guns

Pneumatic nailers have one major feature, and the same major drawback: they’re pneumatic. Sure, you get loads of power, and you never run out of juice, but you also have to find an electrical outlet (or generator) to plug into, and you have a heft air compressor to lug around. Not to mention air hoses to coil, untangle, and avoid as you walk around the job site.

A framing nailer is a pretty specialized tool to begin with, so the cordless version is just a lot more accessible to everyday (read: non-professional) users. You don’t need any extra equipment (i.e. your existing Dewalt batteries are compatible), and there’s really no learning curve in terms of figuring out how to use it. 


Here’s what makes the Dewalt cordless framing nailer unique:

  • It has a dry fire lockout feature that prevents the tool from firing when nails are low

  • It’s cordless, with a 4.0 Ah battery that backs enough punch to drive bigger, longer nails

  • It comes with a quick stall release lever to reset the gun’s driver blade in the event of a jam

  • The 21-degree fire angle makes the tool compact, and easier to fit into tight spaces (like between joists or studs). At 8.5 pounds, it’s a little heavier that some pneumatic models, but still manageable

  • You can adjust the nail depth without using a tool adjustment

  • It has bump and sequential firing modes

What is a framing nail gun used for?

A framing nailer is used to drive large or long (or both) nails into all types of wood (2x4s, plywood, and engineered lumber, or LVLs). Unlike a finish nailer, the framing nailer is not a precise tool. It’s built for speed and power. 

The Dewalt cordless framing nailer we reviewed weight about 8.5 pounds, and it’s about 16-inches long. It’s not featherweight, that’s for sure. But all that extra weight packs quite a punch.

Dewalt organizers
Pictured: Dewalt’s 10-Compartment Deep Organizer, and the shallower Pro Small Parts Organizer

Framing nailers take specific types of nails

If you’re looking to purchase (or rent) this tool, you’ll have to be sure you get the right type of fasteners. Our tool can handle nails as small as 2 inches, and all the way up to giant 3.25-inch, 0.0148-inch-diameter nails. The Dewalt DNC21PL takes plastic collated, full round-head nails. It has a 21-degree angle, which means you’ll need nails specially designed for that (it’s a common angle so they’re easy to get).

Other nailers use paper-collated nails (slightly more expensive), or take clipped-head nails, which allow the manufacturers to jam more nails into each shoe. Clipped head nails may not be allowable in all application (check local building codes). 

Need a place to organize your nails, or other small parts? Dewalt makes sturdy, multi-compartment organizers that are perfect for a rough-and-tumble job site. They latch on both the front and the sides, so they won’t accidentally spill if they take a tumble. And the organizers inside are customizable. Want to start small? Try the 10-Compartment Pro Small Parts Organizer. Need room for bigger stuff? Then the 10-Compartment Deep Pro Small Parts Organizer is the way to go.


How to clear a jammed nail from a cordless framing nailer

In our testing, it wasn’t hard to get the nailer to jam or stall. The nailer stalls when the motor is not able to fully drive the nail into the material (usually when you’re going into very dense wood, or using long nails). Clearing the Dewalt nailer when it stalled was super easy: there’s a lever on the top of the tool that does just that. 

We never had a nail jam the tool up completely, but if (or when) that happens, there are two hex bolts that can be quickly unscrewed on the tip of the tool. Then the magazine rotates open giving you access to the jam. 


How to load nails

This nailer is a top-loader, which means you slide the shoe of nails in through a slot in the top of the magazine. It’s not hard to do, but I think I’d prefer one that loads through the rear of the magazine (like some other models), just because of the way the gun hangs in your hand while you’re loading it. 

Loading nails into a framing nailer

How long does the battery last?

According to the manufacturer, you should be able to shoot about 900 nails on a full charge. However, your mileage may vary depending on the size of the nails you’re using, and the material you’re shooting them into. Fortunately, the battery has a clear charge level indicator on the front, so it’s easy to know when you’re getting close to needing to swap it out.


Loading battery on Dewalt framing nailer

What type of nailer should you get?

The honest answer is: you might not need to own one. Unless you’re doing heavy duty construction on a fairly regular basis, this tool could be overkill. However, if you’re tackling a big project, it may be worth the investment. If you already own some pneumatic tools (i.e. you have and understand how to use an air compressor), that would tip the scales in favor of a pneumatic nailer. If not, the simplicity and easy use of this cordless nailer makes it appealing. 


Adjusting tip of framing nailer
Easy tool-less depth adjustment

Dewalt cordless framing nailer guide

This post is sponsored by The Home Depot. All opinions are mine alone. Thanks for reading, and for supporting the brands that make Curbly possible.

I acknowledge that The Home Depot is partnering with me to participate in the ProSpective2018 Campaign. As a part of the Program, I am receiving compensation in the form of products and services, for the purpose of promoting The Home Depot. All expressed opinions and experiences are my own words. My post complies with the Word Of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) Ethics Code and applicable Federal Trade Commission guidelines.

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