Tool Test: Drywall Screwguns Trigger Happy

Can your screwgun keep up with you? Here are 11 new models that’ll help you hang drywall faster.

Myron R. Ferguson
Fall 2002

Speed is everything when you’re hanging drywall, and screwguns can either make a job go faster – or if they don’t work well, can slow you down. An average drywall crew can hang 3,500 square feet or more a day-which means they’ll drive about 3,500 screws. That’s a long day and a lot of screws, so these tools must be light and fit comfortably into your hand. But they’ve also got to have the speed and power to run all day, full-out.

We compared a number of screwguns for comfort, noise level, switch locations, and ease of use. All are very important since this tool is in your hands so much. We also looked at depth adjustments, bit replacement, variable-speed features, and belt-clips. Some of the tools in this review were field-tested; the others have become available since we conducted the field tests.

Comfort. In field testing, we found the Makita and DeWalt tools to be the most comfortable. The thickness and angle of their handles seems just right. I especially liked their cushioned rubber grips. All the models we tested have finger grooves along their top edges, too. These grooves make the guns easier to hold without squeezing them hard all day.

Switches. Drywall installers use screwguns differently. Some keep their tools switched on at full-speed all the time, while others pull the trigger each time they drive a screw. A good switch-lock lets you lock the trigger with one hand so you can relax your fingers and concentrate on driving screws instead of holding the trigger. Makita and Bosch were the easiest tools to operate one-handed; DeWalt’s was not as easy, and I found that reaching the forward and reverse switches on all the tools was not a problem.

I like variable speed triggers. They give tools a softer start and can increase the life of their motors, especially if you start and stop the tool with each screw. Then also help with starting larger screws used for installing blocking and nailers.

Depth adjustment. The depth adjustments on most models we tested are easy to use. Just slightly turn the end of the nosepiece and you’re ready to go. The only tool that had problems with the depth adjustment was the Bosch model. You have to pull out the depth adjustment before you can turn and set it, which was inconvenient.

Bit Change. All the bit changes worked well, but I thought Metabo’s bit change was the best. All you have to do is pull up on a spring-loaded holder to release the bit. To install a new bit, you pull up the bit holder again and slide it into place. It works great.

Belt clip. All the models we reviewed have belt clips which I liked. They’re large, tight, and don’t let the tool fall off when you move around or climb up on benches. Some belt clips are removable; Makita’s belt clip retracts. I find it easier to properly set screws near the inside corners of walls and ceilings if I remove the belt clip completely, so Makita’s fold-back clip is nice. All the other tools can get in as close as ¼-inch if you remove the clips.

Warranty

All screwguns in this test carry typical one-year limited warranties. The DeWalt tool also comes with a 30-day satisfaction guarantee. If you’re not happy with the tool after you buy it, you can return it up 30 days later and the dealer will refund your money. No questions asked.

Conclusion

All the screwguns we used drove screws well. We really liked the Makita tools: they’re comfortable, fast, and quiet. If you make lots of bit changes, the Metabo is nice. The DeWalt is comfortable to hold and has plenty of power for big screwdriving jobs. And the new models described in the comments section offer good features and performance.

Myron R. Ferguson is a drywall contractor in Galway N.Y. He is the author of Drywall: Professional Techniques for Walls and Ceilings, published by Taunton Press.

How a Screwgun Works

The adjustable depth of drive and clutch features give you a perfectly set screw every time. The depth of drive adjustment controls how deep you set the screw head by adjusting how far the drive bit extends beyond the nosepiece. This depth should be just below the paper for drywall. Once the screw reaches the correct depth, the clutch engages and stops the bit from spinning. This lets you keep the trigger locked on; when you start the next screw, the bit isn’t spinning until you press on the tool again. This disengages the clutch.

Proper Use

  • Align your forearm and wrist with the nosepiece and pull the trigger with your ring and pinky fingers. Some tools have grooves to make this easier.
  • Position the screw on the bit.
  • Press the tool and screw firmly into the drywall until the screw sets. Not pressing firmly or all the way will leave the screw head too far out for finishing.

Field-Tested
We tested these tools for weeks on jobsites. Here’s how they compare.

Drywall Screwguns

Bosch
1420 VSR
4,000 4.8 3.5 N/A
Comments: Despite its finger grooves, this tool’s handle is thick and awkward to hold, especially for overhead work. Pulling the nosepiece out to adjust screw depth is difficult. Like the gear cover, the nosepiece is mostly plastic, and only has 1/4-inch of metal at the end. The belt clip is fixed. The 8-foot cord is made of average-quality rubber. The lock-on switch is easy to work one-handed. www.boschtools.com

 

Makita 
6824
4,500 6.5 3.4 lbs. N/A
Comments: This is a great tool. It’s well-balanced and easy to hold all day. The gear housing is metal and there’s 1-½ inches of aluminum at end of the nosepiece. The cushioned rubber grip on the handle and upper grip area is comfortable. The lock-on switch works easily with one hand, and it’s quiet. I love the retractable belt clip, too. www.makitatools.com
Makita 
6825
6,000 5.5 3.4 N/A
Comments: This is another great tool. It has the same features as the Makita 6824, but this one is the fastest of the bunch–and still quiet. The only improvement I’d like to see is better-quality electrical cords. www.makitatools.com

 

Metabo 
SE5040 R&L;
4,000 4 3.5 lbs. N/A
Comments: This tool’s handle is a little thick and not very comfortable to hold all day. It does have finger grooves that help improve the grip. It seems a little nose-heavy, but it’s comfortable for overhead use. You’ve got to remove the belt clip to get closer than 3/4-inch to a corner. The cord is 15 feet long and made of good-quality rubber. This tool has the best bit-changing feature of all, a spring-loaded bit holder. www.metabousa.com

Cordless Drywall Screwguns

DeWalt 
DW272
0-4,000 6.3 3.1 $100
Comments: DeWalt’s new screwgun has a 6.3-amp variable speed motor that runs between 0-4,000 rpm’s, and can drive up to a #8 fastener. The tool weighs 3.1 pounds. According to the company you can remove the nosepiece for driving screws into metal studs and then re-attach it without having to change the bit setting. The rubber grip should make it easy to hold all day, and heat-treated gears and a patented brush system will extend the tool’s life, according to DeWalt. www.dewalt.com

 

Hilti 
SF 4000
0-4,000 4.5 2.8-pounds $120
Comments: Hilti’s SF 4000 is compact, quiet, and comfortable to use according to the manufacturer. It also can be used with or without Hilti’s SMI 55 Screw Magazine, for driving collated screws. The tool comes with either a 15-foot or 50-foot cord, and has an easily removable belt clip and scaffold hook. It has a newly designed clutch system and an easily adjustable depth gauge. This screwgun even has a feature that keeps dust from blowing into your face when working near the floor. www.hilti.com/us
Milwaukee 
6743-20 & 6742-20
0-4,000 6.5 3.5 $100-$125
Comments: Milwaukee’s two new tools are light and powerful, have triggers big enough for two fingers, and comfortable grips for better balance. An improved bit-control system reduces wobble so you have fewer missed screws. Depth adjustment is easy, and both models have quiet snap-action clutches, on-board screw bit storage, and removeable belt clips. The model 6742-20 has a 10-foot fixed power cord; the model 6743-20 has a 50-foot removeable Twist-Lok power cord. www.mil-electric-tool.com

 

Porter-Cable 
4630
0-5,000 6.8 N/A $95
Comments: With a 6.8-amp motor and 0-5,000 rpm range, Porter-Cable’s new screwdriver promises serious speed. The company says the multi-position grip handle is comfortable to hold and that the changing screw bits is quick and easy. The depth adjustment is easy to use and the tool has a moveable belt clip. The power switch is sealed to keep out dust. The tool has an 8-foot rubber cord. www.porter-cable.com
Senco 
DS200-AC
0-3,300 N/A N/A N/A
Comments: Senco’s corded Duraspin tool is similar to the cordless model (see below) intended for attaching drywall to wood and metal studs, as well as for other screwdriving jobs like sheathing, underlayment, cement board, and even decking. It drives screws #6 to #8 screws from 1 to 2 inches long, and comes with an adjustable depth of drive, comfortable handle, adjustable nosepiece, and a built-in belt hook. www.duraspin.com

 

Hilti 
SF 4000-A
N/A N/A 5.1-pounds $450
Comments: This is the cordless version of the SF 4000. This tool spins at 4,000 rpms and can drive 1,000 drywall screws on a single charge, according to Hilti. It comes with two 2.0-amp-hour Nicad batteries. It also is available with an accessory called the SMI-55 Screw Magazine that lets you drive up to 50 collated screws before re-loading. Hilti says the SF 4000-A is fast, comfortable and quiet and that using the trigger-lock actually increases battery life up to 60 percent. If you use their belt adapter to hold the battery, the SF 4000-A weighs less than 3-pounds. With the battery in the tool, it weighs 5.1-pounds. You can also buy a 3.0 amp-hour NiMH battery with increased screwdriving capacity. www.hilti.com/us
Senco 
DS200-14V
0-2,300 14.4 4.9 pounds N/A
Comments: The Duraspin is the first cordless collated screwgun. It’s designed for driving all kinds of screws into metal and wood. Senco’s studies show 30 percent increase in productivity with its collated screw system over typical corded screwguns using loose screws. It has an adjustable depth of drive and an adjustable nosepiece. It also has a cushioned grip for comfort and a second padded handgrip for tough screws and to help fight fatigue. The tool also comes with a belt hook and screw guard. www.duraspin.com