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Review: Porter Cable Compressor & Brad Nailer
Saturday July 12th, 2003

There it sat.

It arrived at 9:00am. The UPS guy usually shows up mid-afternoon....why so early today? At first, resistance was not difficult. I just tried not to think about it.

But the PC was not about to loose this battle. I could hear it calling me...tempting...teasing.

My concentration waivered, but I managed to remain productive for most of the morning.

Things got much more difficult after lunch, when some coworkers arrived at the office after an off-site morning meeting. I could hear them talking about it down the hall. I suspect they were fondling the box, as well.

One particularly helpful coworker pointed out that I would be very disappointed if I got home and found that the combo pack did not come with any brads. He recommended that I open up the box and check.

Another coworker seemed downright suprised when I argued that the boss would definitely NOT consider ANY part of the spare desk to be scrap wood. And, yes, the people in the office below would probably complain about the noise of the compressor.

Well, I made it through the day with the box unopened. Minutes before leaving the office, I opened the box to find that it does include 1000 brads. less stop to delay arrival in the workshop :)  Once there, the evaulation can begin!

As you read this review, please keep in mind that I have no prior experience with air-driven nail guns or air compressors. My view of nail guns is colored by two things:
  1. watching Norm Abrams shoot brads on every piece he builds
  2. the electric brad-nailer shown at the right...which will barely sink a 1/2" brad in pine (don't bother with oak)

This is the kit being reviewed.  I recently came into possesion of this tool set compliments of The Spalted Board. Visit the site to find out how you can win!

Porter Cable CFBN 125A 18 GA. Brad Nailer and 2HP, 6 Gallon Pancake Air Compressor Combo Pack

Setup is pretty straigthforward and well described in the manual. The compressor requires a 15-minute break-in period - which provides plenty of time to thoroughly read the manual for both the compressor and the nailer. A good idea if, like me, you have never owned or used either of these machines. The break-in requirement is labeled in at least 3 places...including the power cord. Hard for anyone to miss.

However, even before the break-in could begin, I ran into my biggest complaint with this tool...the power switch is very poorly labeled (see the picture below).  Porter Cable, if you are listening, would a label be so expensive?

The switch is labeled with stamped lettering on the housing, which has since been painted over. Can you tell what it says?

Believe it or not, it's even harder to read without the glare of the camera flash.

After the break-in (which is best suffered with hearing protection), it's time to hook everything up. It is here that my second complaint arises. There are absolutely no instructions on how to hookup the hose and two quick-release adapters. That is fine if you have ever used a compressor before. But not for a beginner...and I would assume that many purchasers of a combination nail gun and compressor package will be first-time users. Granted, it's not that hard to figure out...but what about this roll of white plastic tape (teflon tape)? Having done some plumbing work, I'll assume it is meant to seal the threads on the fittings...but how much? Once around? Twice? A few words of instruction here would have made me feel much better.

Ok, now on to the good stuff!

With a hose attached to the compressor and the nail gun, I closed the relief valve and turned the compressor back on. While the tank is filling, I need to adjust the pressure regulator to the correct pressure for the gun. It is rated for 70-120psi, so I will split the difference: 95. The regulator is adjusted by turning the black knob under the right pressure guage.  There are two guages - one for the tank pressure and one for the pressure coming out of the regulator (the pressure to the tool).

Here's the nailer. Besides the convenient carry case, it included 1 1/4"  brads (1000), oil and two allen wrenches. The manual makes no mention of what the wrenches should be used for...but most of the gun is assembled with matching I guess they are for dissassembly.

The instructions recommend oiling the gun with each use if you don't have an automatic oiler installed on the line. The recommendation is 2-3 drops of oil in the air hose connection prior to use.

Note the red trigger. There is also a black trigger available from PC that allows one to hold the trigger and touch end of the gun serves to the workpiece to fire a nail. I guess this would be for rapid use. This rapid-fire trigger is available at no extra cost.

The gun has a couple of adjustments to note:
  • The air discharge is on the top of the gun and can be adjusted 360°.
  • The drive-depth adjustment is under the trigger (as noted by the red arrow on the picture).
The brads are very easily loaded into the gun - flipping a lever at the back of the gun releases a slide that opens the side of the gun. Slip in some brads and slide the side back into position. Everything is now ready. I grab some oak scraps, position the gun and pull the trigger. Bang! Woohoo that is fun!

The brads that came with the gun are 1 1/4". The gun can handle brads up to 2" in length. There is no problem driving all 1 1/4" of the brad into oak.  In fact, when adjusted for maximum depth, the brads are driven about 1/16" below the surface. When adjusted for mininmum depth, it leaves the brad protruding about 1/8" above the surface.

Since the compressor is rather loud, I was curious how often it would run when I'm in the shop. After letting the compressor fill the tank to its 150psi capacity, I nailed a board continuously until the compressor cycled again. In 2 tests, I averaged 45 nails between compressor cycles. Incidentally, this experiment made me much more comfortable with the feel of the gun - I recommend all beginners try a similar exercise.

This kit is a great way to get started with air tools. The gun seems to have pleny of power for small assembly and finish-nailing tasks. It includes everything needed to get started (the gun comes in it's own case to keep it safe and clean). I'm sure it will become an integral part of my workshop. I can already think of a half-dozen other tasks that will be easier with compressed air available.