The fastest way to install metal connectors is with a pneumatic nailer, but DeWalt’s new 20-volt DCN693 metal connector nailer is the next best thing, especially if you don’t want to be tethered to a hose and compressor. It’s faster than using an impact driver to install metal connector screws, and of course way faster than nailing by hand. We tried it out recently while building a 53-foot-long deck.
The nailer has a brushless motor powered by DeWalt’s 20V MAX lithium-ion battery platform, and takes standard 30- to 35-degree paper collated 1 ½-in. or 2 ½-in. connector nails. You change nail sizes by flipping a switch located just below the rear of the handgrip on the back of the battery mount. There’s a large easy-to-twist thumbwheel at the front of the tool that quickly adjusts the depth of drive, and the nailer also has a rafter hook.
Operation. There are two operation modes—sequential fire and rapid cycle. A slide switch to toggle between firing modes is located on the magazine side of the tool just below the cap; one arrow for sequential, two arrows for rapid cycle. When you position the probe-tip into a connector hole in sequential mode, the motor automatically winds up and is ready to fire. When you pull the trigger, the tool sinks the nail, and then the motor winds down when you remove the tool from the connector.
In rapid cycle mode, the motor continues to spin for a few seconds after firing off a nail so you have time to place the tip for another shot without waiting for the motor to wind up again. In rapid cycle you can fire off nails as fast as you can re-position the probe tip into connector holes.
While it takes one or two seconds for the motor to reach full speed after the probe tip is pressed to a connector hole in sequential mode, it usually takes about a second to visually verify that the probe tip is accurately placed in a connector hole before pulling the trigger. So in the big scheme of things, the delay between rapid cycle and sequential modes is pretty small and not much slower than you'd experience with a pneumatic tool. But there is an energy penalty for this slight increase in production—DeWalt notes that the battery won't drive as many nails before needing a recharge in rapid cycle mode as it will when operated in sequential mode.
We didn't test to find out the maximum number of nails a charged battery would drive in either mode, but on this deck, we were able to nail off 48 2x6 joist hangers and 18 2x12 joist hangers in sequential mode, and the battery still had plenty of life left in it. The nailer had no trouble sinking nails flush with the hangers in the dense PSL rim joists on the outside, and did equally well on the SYP ledger after dialing back the drive depth.
We had one nail jam, which we quickly fixed by unscrewing two hex bolts at the front of the magazine and swinging it down to expose the nail channel (there's a hex wrench stowed at the rear of the magazine). Of course, we removed the battery first; unlike a pneumatic tool, where you know it can't be fired when the air is disconnected, you have to remember to remove the battery before working on the tool to be safe. And when not in use, it's a good idea to activate the trigger lock button just above the trigger.
The only design feature I can fault is the nail pusher. The button is clunky and has some friction when retracting. And the pusher doesn't engage the retainer hook easily—it's something you have to focus on to lock back before letting go.
Ergonomics. As with any battery-operated tool, the trade-off with going hoseless is weight. While the specs say that the DeWalt nailer weighs 8 pounds, we found that it came in at just over 9 pounds with the battery and no nails. In comparison, the nailer is almost the size and weight of the original metal connector nailer, Paslode’s F250S Positive Placement MCN. It's bulkier than my Bostitch StrapShot 150-MCN (though that tool only drives only 1 1/2-in. nails), but smaller than my Bostitch F33PT switchable probe-tip framing/MCN tool (though roughly the same weight).
In practice, we found that it fit fine between 16-in.-o.c. joists when shooting the shear/diagonal nails. If you’re working with 12-in. o.c. framing, though, I'm not sure if it will be as easy to position the nailer.
The going internet price for the kit—which includes the nailer, a charger, one 4.0-Ah battery, and case—is about $450. Many tool hounds and deck crews already using cordless (battery and/or gas) nailers will be all over a cordless metal connector nailer. If you regularly set up a compressor and have a pneumatic connector nailer, then you'll have to weigh whether a cordless tool is worth the investment.
- Mike Guertin is a custom home builder and remodeler in East Greenwich, R.I. and a regular presenter at Deck Expo.