By Rick Schwolsky

When a company comes out with a completely new line of tools, expectations are usually pretty high. And if it's entering a totally new category, the new tools have to shoulder their way into a crowded field, and compete with old favorites to break into the big-time. That's the tough reality DeWalt faced when it launched a line of pneumatics last year featuring five nailers, and 18 gas and electric compressors. Needless to say, we had to jump in and take a test ride. We set our sights on the 20-degree, round-head framing nailer (model D51845) and a handy 2 hp, 4-gallon, single-tank compressor (model D55155) for our mini test.

D51845 Framing Nailer

We'll start with the nailer, because this is where the going gets tough and the field is crowded. In this case, the test site included true-blue Paslode, Porter-Cable, and Hitachi veterans framing some very big houses for Kreutzman Construction in Boulder, Colo. The first thing you notice about the DeWalt tool is how light it is. At 7.5 pounds, the D51845 is the lightest framing nailer on the market thanks to a magnesium housing and magazine. Good news if you're working overhead or with your arm extended, but a mixed message if you're nailing engineered lumber.

The power-to-weight ratio of a pneumatic nailer is a tricky balance for tool designers. Shedding weight is a good goal until you make a nailer so light it recoils too much, because it doesn't have the mass to resist the force. This seems to be a subjective area though, because while all of our framers loved how light DeWalt's tool is, they were split on whether the nailer recoiled too much. Our testers felt this is a powerful nailer, but despite what the company claims, it had some trouble with engineered lumber. In DeWalt's defense our testers also feel that way about all their nailers.

Recoil debate aside these guys liked the tool, especially some of it's user-friendly features. Its compact size, great balance, non-slip grip, aggressive toe-nail nosepiece, a great tool-less depth adjustment, and rafter hook stand out as favorites – especially the swing-out rafter hook. The jam clearing feature described as "quick-release" by the company really took some getting used to and it never got very quick. It's a great idea based on backing the magazine away from the tool head for clear access to a jammed fastener, but it needs to work more smoothly. You can also remove the magazine completely, but I'm not sure why you'd want to. You can get a bump or sequential trigger kit, and the trigger lock-out feature is a good safety detail. The street price is competitive with other framing nailers at $329.

D55155 Portable Compressor

Actually, introducing a line of compressors was probably a lot easier for DeWalt than its nailers. That's because DeWalt now owns Emglo. Some of the company's compressors are clearly Emglo knock-offs, while others are distinct. The D55155 is an original DeWalt design. The single tank design is really compact, and a well-designed handle makes it easy to carry – even though it?s near the top of its class at 61 pounds.

The compressor delivers 4.5 cfm at 100 psi, and recovers quickly when pushing one nailer, but struggles a bit with two. Inside it's got a cast iron cylinder, oil-lubed pump, and soft start valves which are intended to aid in cold weather operation. But our testers really liked the way DeWalt protects the gauges and controls by recessing them into the cover. The only improvement our testers suggested was to do the same for the two air ports, by recessing them or installing them on an angle that allowed the side roll-bars to protect them. This isn't designed as a prime-source compressor for a framing crew, but it's a terrific portable compressor with great features and surprisingly strong performance. It sells for $349. Contact: DeWalt Industrial Tool, 800-433-9258,

Published in Hanley-Wood's Tools of the Trade magazine, May/June 2002