Building and repairing fence is one of those jobs that is as much a part of rural life as riding tractor. Whether on a livestock operation where it is important to keep critters in or on a vegetable operation where it is important to keep critters out, fencing is one of those chores that comes with the territory.
Anyone who has done any amount of fence work knows how exhausting it can be to drive nails or staples into an endless row of fence posts.
Andy and Sam Gardner know about fencing. At the home place, Gardner Brothers Land, LLC they feed out replacement heifers for dairy producers in the Northeast and down along the mountains into Virginia. At any given time they may have as many as 600 to 1000 head of curious heifers on the farm. They feed out the heifers, returning them to their home dairy when they are about to freshen.
In between times, they do custom fencing for any farm, business or government agency that needs a good, tight job done.
The Gardner brothers are sold on the Stock-ade ST400i staple gun. While it is sold under the Stock-ade name, it is made by a subsidiary of the Illinois Tool Works. The 400i is the fuel cell version of the ST400, a pneumatic stapler that has been on the market for four years.
“With the 400i and the Stock-ade insulators, we were able to install a line of fence with 500 insulators in less time with less fatigue on our guys and on us,” says Sam Gardner. While he adds that they are still tweaking their routine to get the most efficient way to move between posts and install insulators, he says he is sold on the gun.
The stapler was developed for use at the sheep stations in Australia and New Zealand. The manufacturer since has begun marketing it in most of the English-speaking world. As part of their beta testing, several users in the United States were given units to try under local conditions.
“We don’t own one yet,” Andy says. “But we’re happy to have our hands on this loaner.”
Rick Jackmas, president of McArthur Lumber and Post, McArthur, OH also recommends the ST400i stapler for fast, easy fence work. The unit shoots a 1.5-inch to 2-inch staple. “It will work with any type of wire that you would use that size staple with,” he says. “It will go in any rural fencing with any wood over 1.5 inches thick.”
Since most fencing jobs in this part of the world work with 1.75-inch staples, the unit is right in most users’ sweet spot. The unit is a top-loader for simple access.
“The 400i sets two, 2-inch staples every second. They are fully embedded in the wood with twice the pullout power of other staplers. In fact,” Jackmas says, “the staples are almost impossible to pull out.”
Jackmas knows what he is talking about. McArthur both sells the 400i and uses it when it does work for the states of Ohio and West Virginia and even for Victoria’s Secret.
Andy Gardner took out his watch and then spent some time to punch buttons on a calculator. “It takes 54 seconds to move between posts, putting four insulators per post,” he discovered.
He timed his efficiency on a run of 50 posts. “It took us just under a minute to install each post,” Andy says. There are two staples per insulator.
“I think it is very important to use the insulator that goes with the gun attachment,” Andy emphasizes. He notes that early vendor literature did not make it clear that one had to use their insulator for high tensile applications. “We are extremely satisfied with the product and will continue to use it in our applications/business but I want the rest of the professionals out there like me to fully grasp what is being sold,” he continues. “The prices are competitive so that's not an issue.”
The crew working for Gardner Brothers Land is a professional bunch. “We hire good guys and pay them well,” Andy says. They also make it a point to provide the crew with the best of equipment.
“We know we are spending good money on more efficient equipment,” Andy continues. “But in the end we find we are saving money.”
Happy, well-equipped workers tend to be proud of the work they do and there is less employee turnover for management to deal with, too.
The ST400i is not a cheap tool. Originally offered to the market at $1000, it is expected to sell in the United States in the $700 range, making it best suited for someone who does regular fence jobs.
“There is no question that it will pay for itself if used regularly,” Jackmas says. He notes it is light enough and portable enough that a 10-year old can use it all day. “But the tool will keep up the two-staples-a-second pace longer than any man can,” he chuckles.
Sam Gardner agrees. “We usually put one guy on the gun for about 20 or 25 posts and then switch off,” he says. However, he notes that the unit is not as light as it seems after it has been toted up and down hills for a day.
That said, most users say the best thing about the ST400i is that it requires no compressor. Set-up and take-down time is close to zero because no truck or wagon access is required for power as would be needed with a pneumatic unit. Anyone who has run fence in hilly or boggy areas knows what a hassle it can be to get a pickup truck close enough to where the fence line work needs to be done. Usually, someone has to move the truck and help drag the compressor hose.
The 400i runs on fuel cells. As a result, stapling with the cordless stapler goes from being a two-person task to being a one-person job.
It works well on spot maintenance jobs, hilly projects, or full-farm electric or woven fencing, Jackmas says.
Andy Gardner agrees. “We do a lot of high-tensile fencing,” he notes. That is an understatement. Last year, Gardner Brothers Land had one job alone that involved 15,000 feet of high tensile fence installation.
“You need to make high tensile ‘hot’ for it to be effective,” Andy feels. He knows that producers in some areas do not electrify their fence. However, given the choice, he says he always would go with juice.
They also have experience using the 400i on both woven wire and barbed wire, too. “We are ecstatic about it,” Sam says.
The typical package from the manufacturer includes a box of 1200 staples shipped with two fuel cells for the stapler.
They drive two staples per insulator. Figuring it costs 32 cents per insulator and 12 cents for the cell and staples, they figure they have about 56 cents tied up in each installation.
Better yet, the Gardners have had no malfunctions with their demonstration unit. “And we don’t have staples not doing what we want them to do,” Sam says.
“It is consistent,” Andy adds.
That consistency is helped by a guide that comes with the insulator attachment. “As long as you take the insulator attachment and put it in the guide hole, it is pretty foolproof,” Andy says.
That is, it is foolproof unless you need to remove a staple. The staples have barbs which makes them even tougher should pressure be put on the fence. The driving depth is adjustable to assure no damage to the fencing itself.
“Darn right they are hard to pull out!” Andy explains. “Once they are in there, they are in there.”
Jackmas credits the positive placement to the fact that there is no wiggling around when the staples are driven into the fence post. It is “POP!” and then they are set straight into the timber.
Like the Gardners, he typically sees a 1.75-inch staple for most fencing applications.
“It’s a great product,” Andy Gardner says. “My guys are completely sold and would probably revolt if we had to go back to hand-driving staples in insulators.”
“We really like the gun,” Andy concludes. Noting that his crews are fencing from the Fall into early March, he says the ST400i is “way more than adequate.”
“We are fortunate, blessed and humbled,” Sam adds. “Our fencing business complements our replacement heifer operation. And this fencing business just keeps growing!”
The Gardners figure they have about 56 cents tied up in each installation.
“The staples are almost impossible to pull out.” -- Jackmas
“We were able to install a line of fence with 500 insulators in less time with less fatigue on our guys and on us.” -- Sam Gardner
Andy Gardner in the red shirt and brother Sam agree that one of the things about the ST400i is that it requires no compressor.
“It takes 54 seconds to move between posts, putting four insulators per post,” Andy Gardner discovered.
While he demonstrates one-handed operation, Sam Gardner says, “We usually put one guy on the gun for about 20 or 25 posts and then switch off.”