When doing trim or finish work, sometimes it’s hard to strike just the right balance. You want a fastener that’s strong enough to keep your trim piece from falling off, but you don’t want a nail hole the size of the federal deficit. A 23-gauge pinner, like the Bosch FNS138-23 we reviewed last year, leaves an almost undetectable hole, but doesn’t have a lot of holding power. An 18-gauge fastener has much better grip, but in wood that will be left natural, may leave an unsightly hole. In an attempt to fill the gap, Senco recently introduced the Senco 21LXP FinishPro Nailer. The Senco fires 21-gauge headless and slight-head pins. Senco says they offer significantly more holding power than a 23-gauge pin, and a much smaller nail hole than an 18-gauge brad. We got one to evaluate; take a look and see if they nailed it.
The Senco 21LXP makes a good first impression. It comes in a typical sturdy plastic case, with dedicated space for a small bottle of tool oil and a package or two of pins. The tool looks and feels well made; the body is cast aluminum, and weighs in at around three pounds (the website says 2.7, the manual says 3.15, my postal scale says 3.4. Pick one). It has a nice heft to it, and is comfortable to hold. The Senco 21LXP is very flexible; it can handle headless and slight-head pins ranging in size from 5/8” to 2” long.
The magazine is easy to load, can hold 200 fasteners, and requires no adjustment to accommodate various sizes of pins. It comes with a standard ¼” swivel NPT connector already attached. There is a low-nail indicator window on the side of the tool, and the last nail lockout feature prevents dry firing. This is pretty much a necessity on a tool that fires such a small fastener.
Here are the official specs from Senco, followed by a five-minute demo video:
• Magazine automatically adjusts for different fastener lengths
• Reversible belt hook
• Rear exhaust with embedded muffler
• Ergonomic handle for comfortable all-day operation
• Last nail lockout prevents dry-firing
• Ultra-narrow nose allows easy access to mill work and tight corners
• On board storage for extra no-mar pad and jam clearing wrench
The Senco 21LXP Meets Its Big – And Little – Brothers
Curious to see just how big a difference there is among the various nail heads, I did a quick side-by-side comparison. I took a piece of ¾” oak flooring and shot a couple of nails from each of five various finish nailers, ranging from 15-gauge to the 23-gauge pinner. Not surprisingly, the bigger nails left a fair-sized hole where they burrowed in. The 15, 16 and 18-gauge nails definitely left their mark. At the other end of the spectrum, the 23-gauge pins are almost impossible to see.
The entry wound from the 21-gauge pin was bigger than the 23-gauge, but not by much. More importantly, the edges around the head were neat and regular; with the 18-gauge and larger, you can often see some tearing in the fibers around the edge of the hole. This isn’t a big deal when you’ll be filling the hole with wood putty and painting, but it makes for a much neater job when the wood will just be getting stained and sealed.
Next, I wanted to see how “grippy” the nails were, relative to 18-gauge brads. I nailed through pieces of ¾” oak into a 2X4. The “slight head” on the 21-gauge pins does provide good holding power. When I pried the oak free from the 2X4, none of the nails pulled through the oak. The oak nailed with the 21-gauge pins was easier to pry loose than the 18-gauge brads, but not by much.
Using The Senco 21LXP
The Senco 21LXP is quick to get up and into action. Push the lever on the side of the magazine to open it, drop in a strip of pins, and push it closed. Squirt a couple of drops of oil into the coupler, attach the hose, and fire up the compressor, set to around 90 psi (the recommended range is from 60 – 110 psi). You’re good to go! Place the tip on your work piece, pull the triggers, and fasten away.
The Senco 21LXP, like other guns that shoot very small fasteners, doesn’t use a contact-actuated nosepiece. When you pull the trigger, a nail is coming out. As a safety feature, there is a two-part trigger. Using your middle finger, pull back the secondary trigger, then use your index finger to pull the primary trigger. Pretty simple, and you get used to it after a few shots. The nailing experience is very similar to that of a 23-gauge pinner. There is literally no kickback, and very little noise.
If you’ve ever used a larger air nailer, and been surprised with a blast of air in the face, you’ll be amazed at the Senco 21LXP. There’s a tiny exhaust port back by the coupler, with a mesh muffler, that produces barely a puff of air. The gun is very quiet; no need for hearing protection with this baby!
When I was using the Senco 21 LXP, I had no jams. If the tool does jam, it’s quick and easy to clear it. Disconnect the air hose, and make sure to release the magazine cover. Use the onboard Allen wrench to undo two small bolts from the front plate, remove it, and pluck out the offending fastener. Reassemble in the reverse order, and you’re back on the firing line. The whole process takes less than a minute. By the way, having the Allen wrench stored on the tool, next to a spare nosepiece, is a handy feature.
Got A Hole To Fill In Your Nailer Lineup?
We were very impressed with the Senco 21LXP. It looks and feels like a quality tool, and has some well-thought-out design features. Senco backs it with a five-year warranty. The Senco would be a great choice for anyone who does finish or trim work, cabinet work, light wood assembly, molding or decorative trim work – pretty much any project where you need decent holding power and a nice finished surface.
The only downside I can come up with is that you might have a hard time finding 21-gauge pins locally; none of the home centers in my area stocks them. They are readily available online, though, from Amazon and ToolBarn, among others, and as this fastener size grows in popularity, availability should improve.
The Senco 21LXP FinishPro Nailer is available from Amazon and ToolBarn for just under $250 (ToolBarn has the cheaper price at the time of this article).