Thanks to the power and speed of its nailers, fastening specialist Paslode reckons the hammer has had its day on site. Andrew Gaved finds out why
DAVID Lattimore is on a mission to rid the world - or at least the construction industry - of the humble hammer. As distribution sales manager for the Paslode nailer range, he has the benefit of a pretty compelling argument or two up his sleeve for first and second-fix applications.
For example the flagship gas-powered Impulse IM250II can fire three nails a second at a speed of 75 miles per hour for finishing applications. The pneumatic versions, for the real high-speed jobs, can top 10 nails a second.
This speed - and the fact that you can whack your nails in one-handed and set the nail to any depth required - offers a massive productivity benefit over the traditional approach, allowing the operative to easily fix a long run of nails. Depending on the application, the Paslode is between three and seven times quicker than a hammer, the company says.
For those who don't trust statistics out of context, Scottish contractor Stuart Milne has put the Impulse nailers to work in the field - reducing the time for putting up a three-bedroom timber frame house from three days down to around 12 hours.
The statistics are so impressive that operatives paid by the metre were, for a while, able to command daily wages to make even a Terminal 5 worker jealous.
For a flat roof, the nailer in the hands of someone suitably trained can do a job that used to take a day in a couple of hours. Now the employers have cottoned on and it is common in second fix applications to quote two job rates - the hammered price or the Paslode price.
And if the productivity argument alone doesn't convince, there are further advantages, Mr Lattimore says.
'Because of the speed of impact, there is less chance of the wood splitting and there's no need for a pilot hole - you just drive through.'
The operative can thus get much closer to the edge of a beam than with a hammer because he does not have to take a swing at it and he is less likely to bruise or split the wood.
'In demonstrations we have driven up to 20 90mm nails before splitting, ' he says.
The gas-powered range is Paslode's real trump card. Mr Lattimore reckons the fuel-cell driven machines can cover 80 per cent of construction applications - only the heavy-duty jobs requiring more than 1,000 nails an hour will remain the preserve of the pneumatics - and they are far more portable than their pneumatic counterparts.
'It is going to come into its own in loft conversions where you are having to fire nails in at an angle between the eaves, ' he says.
And then there is the handy advantage, very rare in the world of tools, of Paslode being the only player in its field, having been the monopoly supplier of gas nailers for a number of years. Battery powered versions, with which competitors have flirted, cannot provide the necessary consistency of power, the firm believes.
'We are always expecting a competitor to come up with their own gas powered version, but it hasn't happened yet, ' says marketing manager Ben Henson, He and his colleagues haven't done badly in spreading the word to some sections of the market - the Impulse is reckoned to have something approaching a 50 per cent share for framing applications - but there is still plenty of work to do. The company believes there are still areas of construction which still haven't grasped all the benefits.
'Roofing is an area on which we are really focusing. Many roofers are still using a hammer and the amount of nails going into a roof is phenomenal, ' says Mr Henson. 'The fact that it is cordless means that it is also much easier to use at height than a pneumatic nailer.'
But still there are hordes of people on site brandishing the old hammer and nails. Part of the problem is a cultural one but the main barriers seem to be weight - at 15 kg the nail gun is not light, although Paslode prides itself in the fact it is well-balanced and thus easy to handle - and price.
'It's an expensive hammer, but what we sell is a system and given the speed you will have paid for the tool within a few days, ' claims Mr Henson.
He tells how he recently paid someone to put up a fence at his house, then noticed he was using the oldfashioned route to fix the feather-edge panels. As if you couldn't guess the ending, after an off-the-cuff sales pitch, the workman went home with his own nailer.
In a bid to break through the cultural resistance on site, the sales force has committed to spending 50 per cent of its time talking to the end-users, demonstrating safe use and hopefully converting some of the waverers to the practical benefits. 'There is no better advert than using it properly on site, ' says Mr Henson.
Paslode has launched a training system whereby each user who passes the in-house training scheme gets a card and each approved instructor has to carry photo identification. This sort of scheme depends on implementation, and the firm is hoping to encourage all house builders to follow Bovis's lead in asking to see operatives' cards before they can use nailers on site.
The cardholders are all logged onto a database, of which one of the upshots is that the firm has a regularly updated list of every new project and their site managers.
Paslode reckons the safety regime is crucial, given the potential for the combination of inconsiderate use and a tool with its own internal combustion system. 'There is still no legislative requirement for gas tool use, ' says safety officer Lucy Irvine.
Although the Impulse has a safety system that requires full engagement of a probe before the nail fires, and full retraction before it fires again to prevent accidental firing, there is still plenty of evidence of misuse. Top of the list of accidents is not bothering with eye protection, and part of the brief of going onto sites is to get users to use the product properly and safely.
The firm has a cautionary tale of a new user who had trained with an entirely different type of tool who thought he could use the Impulse without training.
Not appreciating the speed involved, he put his hand close behind the beam he was nailing and nailed himself as well.
Another common failing is not keeping the tool properly maintained. 'It's incredibly important to clean the tool, given the fact it's an internal combustion system, so much so that we have put a cleaning manual in each tool box. If you are using the tool for over 4,000 nails a day, you need to clean it at least weekly, ' says Mr Henson.
The other unique part of the Impulse system is the nail itself - unsurprisingly given parent company ITW's primary focus is as a fastener producer and manufactures all its own nails.
The Impulse uses a strip of 50 nails glued together, which has the knock-on benefit that they are less likely to get dropped or lost than the conventional nail or 'loose nail' as its known, somewhat derisively in power nailer circles. Over the course of a site job, the reduction in lost nails can mount up - to the extent that one contractor worked out he saved 15 per cent of his total nails by having glued nails, Mr Henson says.
In terms of where to go next, Mr Henson will only say there are improvements coming up in the range, but there is clearly scope for chipping away at the lighter/ faster parameters. The firm has recently launched a positive placement nailer specifically for firing into the holes on joist hangers, and tools for niche applications look another likely avenue for development.
The continued influence of the Paslode brand seems assured thanks to the unofficial spokesmanship of Tommy Walsh, Handy Andy and most other TV makeover chippies. The need for speed has made the gas nailer a mainstay on these shows and the current proliferation of them does wonders for the Impulse's exposure.
'We can't get absolute figures, but the sales graph shows a definite swing upwards whenever the shows are on, ' says Mr Henson. Now they just need Bob the Builder to give up his hammer.