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The Difference Between Brad Nailers & Finish Nailers

If you're doing simple upgrades around the house, you're most likely shopping for either a brad nailer or finish nailer. So, which one is right for you? To the untrained eye, these tools would appear to be the same, but in reality, each has a different purpose.

MAX NF255FA 18 Ga brad nailer

Brad Nailers, The Precision Workers

A brad nailer such as the MAX NF255FA pictured above, 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 once they've been driven into wood. In fact, there's a good chance you won't need carpenter's putty to conceal a brad nail that has been driven into trim. The downside is that these fasteners lack the holding strength for larger, heavier projects, such as large crown molding or baseboards.

The Bostitch SmartPoint 16-Gauge Finish Nailer

Finish Nailers, The Heavier Holders

For larger, more bulky wood trim, you will need to use a 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. For example, the Bostitch BTFP71917 Smart Point Finish Nailer (shown above) is a 16-gauge finish nailer.

When using a finishing nail gun, you'll almost certainly need to cover nail openings with putty due to the larger fastener diameter. Furthermore, if you try to use a finish nailer on a small piece of trim, there's an increased probability for wood splitting and the formation of imperfections.

Go For Both?

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, a mantle or the like, you'll want to go with the higher strength finish nailer. If you only plan to get a finish nailer, keep in mind that it has the potential to split thin wood and might require touch-ups 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 is best overall on small trim work.

The Senco Fusion 18 Gauge Brad Nailer

Choose Your Power Source

Once you've determined whether a brad or finish nailer best suits your needs, consider whether a cordless or air-powered nail gun will be the most efficient choice for you. 

For the around-the-house DIY'er, a battery powered brad or finish nail gun is best, as it doesn't require an air compressor and can be used in hard-to-reach places. The cordless Senco Fusion brad nailer (above) drives 18-gauge brad nails with lithium-ion battery power.

For a contractor or individual that has regular use for either tool, consider an air-powered or pneumatic nailer, as they typically offer better long-term reliability than their battery-powered siblings—and don't require recharging. 


Shop Nail Gun Depot:

18-Ga. Brad Nailers

16-Ga. Finish Nailers

15-Ga. Finish Nailers

Leave a Reply


  • 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


      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 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?

  • 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


      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?


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


      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


      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:

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


      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:

  • Gail morgan December 24, 2017 at 8:34 AM

    Will different brand 18 gauge brad nails fit in all 18 gauge guns?

    • Nail Gun Depot December 27, 2017 at 5:08 AM


      Assuming your 18 gauge brad nailer's specs match the specs of the 18 gauge nail you are looking to use, the answer is yes, different brands will work the same. It doesn't matter whether you're using a Senco, SureFit or any other brand of nail.

  • Dan January 1, 2018 at 1:00 PM

    Is a brad nailer or finish nailer the best to use for installing new closet shelves?

    • Nail Gun Depot January 2, 2018 at 11:42 AM


      It really depends on how thick your shelves are, as well as the material they are made of. If you can send some additional information, we'll pair you with the right tool.

  • Jaime February 5, 2018 at 4:07 PM

    I want to fasten 22 gauge copper strips to a 3/4" plywood base. What do you recommend I use to fasten it. 3" Strips will cover 2' × 4' area.

  • johnmalan March 1, 2018 at 5:14 PM

    Looking for a brad nailer for stanley 1/2" brads. swkbn050. what do you have?
    thanks john

  • Tyson Zaren April 30, 2018 at 7:48 PM

    Building a cube stairs box storage for shoes what be the best to use don't want to see the nails

    • Nail Gun Depot May 2, 2018 at 8:38 AM

      Assuming you're using wood to build the box, a corrugated fastener would not be visible if you fasten the butt joints from the inside. If the box is not wood, this will not work.

  • Will June 4, 2018 at 7:41 PM

    I'm looking for a Brad nailer that has a head length of 7" so it fits in an 8" concrete form any help finding one would be greatly appreciated

    • Nail Gun Depot June 6, 2018 at 5:01 AM


      We do not carry anything like that currently. Even our 15 gauge concrete/steel trim nailer is limited to 2" pins. It may exist somewhere, but we're not familiar with that particular tool.

  • Bill Shetter September 6, 2018 at 4:26 PM

    I am installing 1x8 treated yellow pine tongue and groove boards as flooring over 1x3 pine strips/battens that are attached to a concrete floor with tap con screws.
    This is a one time job that encompasses about 3000 square feet.
    What is the best battery powered nailer to attach the T&G to the battens for this one time job?
    Thank you

  • Victor Torres October 8, 2018 at 8:56 AM

    What kind of nails can I use for a 4×8 sheet of hardie

    • Nail Gun Depot October 8, 2018 at 12:31 PM

      James Hardie has specific fastener requirements. To prevent voiding your warranty, we advise contacting the manufacturer to determine the exact fastener they recommend. Aerosmith does offer fasteners that are James Hardie approved.

  • Will D December 15, 2018 at 10:20 AM

    I am lining a shipping Reefer with Radiata Pine Battens which are attached already with Rivnuts. I now want to attach a New Zealand native Rimu T&G . Its not a classed as a softwood but also not a particularly Hard type of wood.
    I have thinking I'd need a Brad nailer but no reading your web site, Im wondering if i should be thinking of getting a Brad nailer.
    The T&G is 3/8" and the Pine Battens are dried 3/4"
    What tool and guage of Brad would you recommend?

    I have only ever picked up and used a Brad tool once, many years ago in a class room setting, so am a real green-horn.
    I'd much appreciate your suggestions

    With thanks and ....Merry Christmas & Happy, prosperous New Year to you all from NZ.

    • Nail Gal December 17, 2018 at 6:02 AM

      Hi Will,

      Thanks for your question. We don't recommend a standard 18-gauge brad nailer for T&G (tongue & groove) flooring. Instead, we recommend the Powernail 50F flooring nailer. It runs 18-gauge flooring l-cleats. This tool will set the nails into the tongue at a 45-degree angle. Best wishes and Happy New Year to you as well!

  • Maria Villegas March 26, 2020 at 2:05 PM

    If you don t currently have either one of these tools and are trying to figure out which one you need, the best thing to do is really think about the projects you ll be working on. If you make small, delicate things like picture frames, jewelry boxes, or dollhouses, a brad nailer is perfect. On the other hand, if you re doing larger projects, investing in a finish nailer is probably a good idea.

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