If you do any kind of trim work at all, you are undoubtedly aware of the kick-ass tool known as the finish nailer. If you’re a finish carpenter, you probably own at least a couple of them. I am definitely NOT a finish carpenter – I don’t even play one on TV – but I’ve installed my share of baseboard, window and door trim, and even the occasional fancy-schmancy stuff like wainscot and crown mould. Even though trim work isn’t my forté, this type of nailer is such a time saver that I’ve managed to accumulate three over the past couple of decades, ranging from a little 23-gauge Bosch pinner to my 15-gauge Bostitch finish nailer. And handy as all those nailers are, they all just got nudged over a bit on the shelf to make room for the Ryobi Cordless AirStrike Nailer, Model P320, which recently arrived courtesy of Ryobi for our evaluation.
The Ryobi Cordless AirStrike Nailer is a recent addition to Ryobi’s line of 18-Volt ONE+ tools. It will run on the older NiCad batteries, but will shoot a lot more nails if you power it with a Lithium-Ion battery. This 18-gauge brad nailer features AirStrike Technology, which eliminates the need for noisy compressors, tangled hoses or expensive, smelly gas cartridges. This means faster setup and easier maneuvering on the job site. The Ryobi AirStrike drives 18-gauge nails from 5/8” to 2” in length, and includes 2 non-marring pads to keep your work surface free of tool marks. Other features include (take a deep breath): selectable driving modes (single sequential or contact actuation), tool-free depth-of-drive adjustment, a simple air pressure adjustment dial, tool-less jam release for easy access to clear nails, a dry-fire lockout feature, a belt hook that attaches to either side, and a low nail indicator to quickly and easily see when it is time to re-load. Here’s a quick one-minute overview from Ryobi:
Who Needs A Finish Nailer?
My introduction to finish nailers came many years ago. I was installing a beadboard ceiling on the 8’ X 20’ porch of an old house, using pieces of tongue and groove beadboard around ½” X 3” X 14’ long. My helper and I were holding the pieces up and hand-nailing 4p finish nails through the tongue into each ceiling joist, craning our necks as we stood on a makeshift scaffold (the ceiling was 10’ off the floor). There was quite a bit of tongue-splitting taking place, accompanied by an equal amount of grumbling and special construction words.
Toward the end of the day, after we’d been at it for a couple of hours, we had less than ¼ of the ceiling finished. A subcontractor at the site took pity on us and offered the use of his compressor and finish nailer. The only catch was that he needed it back first thing the next day. Long story short (I know, too late), we had the rest of the beadboard up in a little over two hours, and the next day I bought the contractor a case of beer. Not long after, I bought my first finish nailer.
Aside from being way the heck faster than using a hammer to get your trim nailed, finish nailers have several other advantages. Since you only need one hand to use them, the other hand is freed up to
hold your beer position the trim and hold it in place. They shoot a very thin nail, which leaves behind a very small hole to be filled. And finally, the small size, and the speed with which the nail goes in, makes it much less likely to split your trim than hand-nailing.
Let’s Take A Look
The Ryobi Cordless AirStrike Nailer feels very solidly made. It loads very quickly – just depress the lever at the back of the magazine, slide the magazine cover open, drop in the nails, and slide it closed.
I didn’t experience any jams with the tool, but if it does jam, it’s quick and easy to clear. First, remove the battery (a good first step in doing anything with a tool that can shoot a long, sharp piece of steel at a high rate of speed). Open the magazine and remove the nails. Next, pull up on the latch and open the jam release. Insert a flat blade screwdriver into the tip of the driving mechanism and push it back, freeing the nail jam. Pull out the bent nail, close the latch, reload the nails, slap the battery back on, and resume nailing.
Speaking of shooting sharp pieces of steel, I fully endorse Ryobi’s recommendation to use eye protection with side shields marked to comply with ANSI Z87.1. I had no issues with the Ryobi, but I have had the experience of having a deflected nail go flying past. Not only do you have to perform an unscheduled underwear change, but in a contest with a flying nail, you will lose. If you don’t believe me, check out this nailer incident on HomeFail.com.
It’s easy to switch between the two modes of firing. “Single sequential actuation” mode basically means you push the nosepiece against the work surface until it’s depressed (you can cheer it up later), pull the trigger ‘til the nail shoots, release the trigger, move on, and repeat. With “Contact actuation” mode, also know as bump nailing, just hold the trigger down, and every time you contact the work surface and depress the nosepiece, you fire a nail. This method tends to not allow the same degree of accuracy, but it’s a lot faster (but also more dicey from a safety standpoint). I fired about fifty 2” nails using the contact actuation method, and the gun cycled and was ready for the next shot very quickly. At any rate, to change modes, just remove the battery (not necessary, but recommended by Ryobi), slide the mode switch, and replace the battery. Easy peasy!
The Ryobi Cordless AirStrike has a nail indicator window so you can see when you’re running low on nails, and the dry-fire lockout feature keeps you from bumping merrily along shooting blanks. When the tool is almost empty, it prevents firing until nails are added. This helps prevent damage to the tool and your workpiece, along with saving you a little time not by having to go back and re-nail your missed spots. When I tested this out, it locked out with 4 nails remaining.
The Ryobi Cordless AirStrike Nailer provides two ways to control how much the nails sink into the workpiece: an air pressure control, and a depth of drive adjuster. Obviously, a 2” nail going into oak will require more pressure than shooting a 5/8” brad into pine. Test your depth of drive by driving a test nail into a sample of the materials you’ll be using for the actual job. Ryobi recommends tweaking it by first using the air pressure adjustment; this is simply a dial on top of the tool. Turn it clockwise to increase pressure, counterclockwise to reduce it. If you need MORE POWER, spin the depth-of-drive wheel, re-testing after making your adjustments.
Here’s a pretty informative “How to do everything with your nailer” five minute video from Ryobi:
The Ryobi Cordless AirStrike Nailer—Preserving Marital Harmony
As I mentioned, I already had three finish nailers, including an 18-gauge brad nailer, although it could only take nails up to 1-¼” long. When I’m working on a decent-size project, they get a good workout. In between projects, though, they sit patiently on the shelf, waiting for a task that justifies dragging out the compressor and hose, firing it up, oiling the gun, shooting some nails, and then reversing the whole process. Unless I’m under a lot of pressure (usually spousal in nature), small projects like installing a piece of trim here and there get postponed.
Then along came the Ryobi Cordless AirStrike Nailer. This is the kind of stuff this nailer is perfect for, and over the past few days I used it to finish a slew of small projects I’d been putting off because I was too lazy to drag out the compressor, hose and nailer. Replace the trim around my daughter’s pantry door after last year’s drywall repair? Done! Adding new door-stop moulding for our bedroom door? Got it! Installing the final piece of oak floor trim around our bathroom threshold? Nailed it! It’s so easy to just grab the nailer, slap a battery on it, and get the job done, I find myself looking for loose trim to fix.
I have a whole-house renovation project underway in which I’ll be installing oak trim everywhere – windows, doors, baseboards, the works. I wanted to see if the Ryobi Cordless was beefy enough to push a 2” nail through ¾” oak trim and beyond. I took a couple of scraps of oak flooring, set them down on the osb-over-plywood floor, and let ‘er rip in bump-nail mode. I had to adjust the air pressure dial and the depth-of-drive wheel to the max settings, but the Ryobi buried all the nails, countersinking them about 1/16”. If it can do that, it should be able to handle the oak trim with no problem, and should easily handle pine trim all day long.
Ready To Call In An AirStrike?
If I didn’t already have the Ryobi Cordless AirStrike Nailer, there is no doubt in my mind I would buy one. The Ryobi has just become my go-to nailer for small to medium projects, just because it’s so easy to get into action. And on bigger jobs, like the whole-house trim job, it will work nicely alongside the air-powered Bostitch. It’s backed by a three-year warranty, and I think it’s a great tool for the price – $129 at Home Depot. It’s an especially great deal if you already own one or more of their One-Plus line of 18V tools, and have a battery and charger; if not, you’ll need to buy them separately.
There are a couple of options available; there’s a kit available from Home Depot that comes with a charger and compact Li-Ion battery for $60. If you already have a charger, and do a lot of nailing (or drilling, sawing or whatever with other Ryobi tools), the extended capacity 4.0Ah battery lasts a LONG time – four times longer than the NiCad battery. After doing all my small projects, and running well over 100 2” nails into the oak and into a test 2X4, it still lit up all four bars on the built-in fuel gauge. It’s also 20% lighter, which doesn’t hurt when you’re lugging a tool around all day. It ain’t cheap, though, at $99.
If you have a passel of Ryobi 18V batteries, and want to keep tabs on ‘em, you might want to invest $79 in a SuperCharger six-port battery charger. The SuperCharger charges up to six 18-volt ONE+ batteries, and can take a mix of NiCad and Lithium-Ion batteries. It recharges batteries in as little as 30 minutes, and Ryobi’s IntelliPort technology obtains maximum battery performance by applying a charge only when needed, until all batteries are fully charged. Note: this charger charges the batteries one at a time. It states this in the specs, but some buyers missed it and were miffed, thinking it would charge up to six batteries simultaneously. Indicator lights show battery and port status as batteries are charged and maintained, or when the status button is pressed during energy save mode. The included quick-release wall mount bracket securely mounts to your wall to help organize and maximize work space, and the charger can be removed from the bracket to schlep your batteries along to the work site.
Bottom line: the Ryobi Cordless AirStrike Nailer exceeded my expectations, and I think it’s a great tool. If you’re someone in the trades who already has one or more nailers, but wants the ability to skip the compressor setup for small or medium jobs, or for punch list work, this will be a huge time and aggravation saver for you. If you’re a DIYer, the Ryobi Cordless AirStrike Nailer could easily serve as the only finish nailer you’ll need. The tool only, Model P320 is $129 at The Home Depot: