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The Difference Between Brad Nailers & Finish Nailers

Are in the middle of a home improvement project, but caught on which fastening tool you need to complete it? If you are doing simple upgrades around the house, you are most likely shopping for either a finish or brad nail gun - but which one is right for you? To the untrained eye, these tools would appear to be the same, but in reality, each has a very different purpose.

Let's start with what makes each of these power fastening tools unique. A brad nailer is designed to run 18 gauge, fine wire brad nails. These small nails are very hard to drive manually, which makes a brad nailer essential to any major home renovation project where brads are needed. On top of that, brad nails are almost invisible to the naked eye once they have been driven into wood. In fact, there is a good chance you will not need carpenter's putty to conceal a brad nail that has been driven into trim. The downside to using brad nails/nailer, these fasteners do not have the holding strength to be used for larger, heavier projects, such as large crown molding or baseboards.

For larger, more bulky wood trim, you will need to use a finish nailer, such as the Paslode IM250A-Li Cordless Finish Nailer. Finish nail guns will run 15 or 16 gauge finish nails, which are slightly larger than a brad nail, giving them increased holding strength. The biggest downside to using a finishing nail gun, because of the larger diameter fastener, you will almost certainly need to cover nail openings with putty. Furthermore, if you try to use a finish nailer on a small piece of trim, there is an increased probability for wood splitting and the formation of imperfections on the wood.

Ideally, you'll want to have both tools handy for projects, especially if you are regularly working with trim and molding. If you have to choose between buying one or the other, your best bet is to start with a brad nailer, as it can handle most light trim work and will require less touch-up after installation. If you are installing shelving or a mantle, you will probably want to go with the higher strength, finish nail. The downside to only using a finish nail gun, it has the potential to split thin wood and might require additional touch up on small trim and lighter duty projects. While a finish nailer can tackle many of the same projects as a brad nailer - and then some - the brad nailer will maintain best overall appearance on small trim work.

Once you have determined whether a brad nailer or a finish nailer will best suit your needs, be sure to also consider whether a cordless, battery-powered nailer or a pneumatic, air-powered nailer will be the most efficient choice for your project. For the around-the-house DIY'er, you might find that the battery powered brad or finish nail gun is best, as it does not require an air compressor to run and can be used in hard to reach places. Senco's Fusion line of finish and brad nailers, the F-15 Finisher, F-16 Finisher and F-18 Brad Nailer, stand as excellent, industry-leading examples of cordless nail guns. For a contractor or individual that has a regular use for either tool, consider a pneumatic nailer, as they typically offer better long-term reliability than their battery-powered sibling - and do not require recharging. Brands such as Bostitch, Hitachi and Senco all offer high-quality, air-powered finish and brad nailers.

Ready to nail your next project? Feel free to drop a line if you need more information, or would like to research a specific tool.

Your Leading Source For Nail Gun Knowledge,
The Team At Nail Gun Depot

Leave a Reply

16 COMMENTS

  • George T November 15, 2016 at 2:20 PM

    I'm looking for a finish nailer and am.wondering if an 18 ga brad nailer is a good all around nailer to use since it will do smaller trims. So if it can do smaller trims I'm guessing it will do larger trims. Thoughts??

    • Nail Gun Depot November 22, 2016 at 7:19 AM

      George, sorry for the delay in response. I've forwarded your question to our customer service team, who will email you shortly with a personal recommendation. It really depends on the application you are intending to use the tool for. Typically, most start with a brad nailer since it covers the widest range of applications in finish woodwork.

  • Gary Field November 28, 2016 at 12:03 AM

    I am wanting to build a number of planter boxes using 15mm x 80mm kwila timber. Would a brad nailer or finisher be the best option given that the boxes will be carrying a load.

  • Kurt Bruns April 27, 2017 at 8:36 PM

    Hi guys, I have just purchased a new 18GA.2inch Brad Nailer Gun model XAGD50. My problem is what nails to put in? I've tried the Brad nails c25mm and c5omm but they don't work after looking at the instructions and it says where you load the nails into the cartridge it says " F" Nail 18Ga? Can you please explain to me.
    Thank you
    kurt Bruns

    • Nail Gun Depot April 28, 2017 at 8:14 AM

      Kurt,

      We're not familiar with the tool you've listed here, as well as the 18 gauge "F" nail. It could be related to a variety of things, such as angle, head size, diameter, or even something else.

      If you could send us the brand, model and SKU of the tool you purchased, as well as the specific fastener requirements as listed in its owner's manual, we can try to better troubleshoot your issue.

      Please feel free to contact sales@nailgundepot.com direct, or reply below.

  • George July 3, 2017 at 5:21 PM

    Years ago we had a cypress shadow box fence installed, now some of the boards
    r needing to be replaced. My son bought me a 3 gal 100 psi comp. What size brad
    length/crown/gage would u recommend?
    Thx

  • Robert M. Koretsky September 23, 2017 at 8:31 PM

    I have both 16 and 18 gauge battery powered electric nailers, by Dewalt and Porter Cable, and they work great! Adjustable power/depth setting for soft wood( cedar) to hard wood(hickory), and they have excellent penetration, don't jam, nails are inexpensive. Battery charge lasts through hundred-nail clip easily. Easy to load too. I would never use a pneumatic, that's more for commercial framing and roofing.

    • Nail Gun Depot September 25, 2017 at 7:26 AM

      Robert,

      Glad to hear you've found some tools that work well for you!

  • Michael K September 29, 2017 at 10:45 AM

    I'm thinking about adding a wood plank/slat ceiling and was wondering what the best tool for the job would be - a brad nailer or finish nailer?

    Thanks!
    Michael

    • Nail Gun Depot October 2, 2017 at 8:50 AM

      Michael,

      What is the thickness of the wood you are looking to attach?

      Depending on the wood being attached, and what it's being attached to, you may need something more industrious than a finish nailer.

  • 1robert west October 13, 2017 at 11:56 AM

    Is there a air brad nailer that will use both 15 gauge and 18 gauge?

    • Nail Gun Depot October 16, 2017 at 10:26 AM

      Robert,

      As of right now, there is not a tool that we offer, capable of firing both 15 and 18 gauge nails. To the best of our knowledge, no such tool currently exists.

  • Charles November 12, 2017 at 6:33 PM

    Hey Guys!

    I am getting into wood working and just moved into a new house. I am wanting to build a 12x16 workshop and a 12 x 8 storage shed. I recently bought a Bostitch 6-Gallon Portable Electric Pancake Air Compressor with 3 Tools Included. I also bought a framing nailer. Will this setup meet all of my needs for the shed and storage build? For example, Can I use the finish nailer to attach the siding?

    Then I am also thinking about doing shingles or a metal roof., So I assume I would need a roofing gun?

    I have never used any type of nail gun before and am really lost as to the meaning of the angle of each gun. If someone could explain what tools I need to do which job, that'd be extremely helpful!

    Thanks for any advice!

    This is what I purchased: http://www.bostitch.com/products/tools/construction-tools/combo-kits/3toolcompressor-combo-kit/btfp3kit

    • Nail Gun Depot November 13, 2017 at 8:43 AM

      Charles,

      It's probably easiest to first break each project down, to then determine which tool will be most suitable for the job:

      For siding, most framing nailers can be used for this type of application. You should not use a finish nailer for siding, as the nails are much too small for this type of job.

      For roofing shingles, we would recommend a coil roofing nailer for installation.

      The kit you've mentioned is best suited for projects in finish and trim woodworking, such as installing door casing, decorative molding, wood furniture assembly or similar.

      Typically, framing nailers will be differentiated by nail collation (how the nails are connected together), whereas finish and trim nailers are identified by gauge - and angle - in some instances. Marrying the correct tool to the job is most important; you can almost always find the correct fasteners for each tool after the fact.

      Here's a link to our Fastener Finder, which may help: http://www.nailgundepot.com/fastener-finder.asp

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