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Brad Nailer Vs Finish Nailer : Which Nail Gun is Better for You

Picking out the differences of brad nailer vs finish nailer at a quick glance could be a bit hard. Though both the nailers look alike, there are certain dissimilarities concerning the nail size of both the nailers. Plus, their mode of application is also different.

In this article, we will cover all the possible differences, uses, benefits and setbacks of both the brad and finish nailers. But, before moving straight to the topic, it is important to understand the concept of nail gauge. Since there is a significant difference in the gauge value of the nails used in brad and finish nailers, you must have a clear idea regarding the same. So, let's begin!

What is Gauge?

There are three commonly available gauge sizes in the market; 15, 16, and 18. Higher the gauge value, the slimmer or thinner is the nail.

Here is the logic behind:

The gauge number indicates the number of nails per inch. Suppose, the gauge value is 18, that means the number of nails contained per inch is 18. Similarly, if the value is 16, that means there will be a lesser number of nailers that can be contained per inch, i.e. 16 nails. This implies that the 16 gauge nails are thicker than the 18 gauge nails. So, the above italicized statement is satisfied! Now that the concept is clear, let's move to the details of brad nailer vs finish nailer. 

What is a Brad Nailer?

Brad Nailer

The brad nailer originated much after the introduction of the finish nailer, where the gun's (finish nailer's) primary feature was to shoot thin nails to the workpiece.

However, with the passage of time, brad nailers came into existence with the convenience of shooting even thinner nails of gauge size 18.

A brad nailer is generally used for minor applications, where there is worry of getting the wood split. Since any nail head generally leaves a hole behind on the wood, you would definitely wish to use a nail that leaves no visible hole behind. Plus, you will not have to cover up the hole with wood putty. These are the reasons why a brad nailer is used. The reduced size of the hole is fit for carrying out intricate wood projects as it hardly leaves a visible mark behind. 

Where is an 18 Gauge Brad Nailer Used?

Brad nailers are basically utilized to work on such types of woods that have chances of splitting or where it requires using thinner nails to keep the hole on the workpiece as much smaller as possible. Brad nailers have an array of applications, however, they are mostly used for the following:

  • Trim work
  • Fastening decorative molding
  • Casing
  • Paneling
  • Baseboard installation

Advantages of a Brad Nailer

  • Perfect for working on delicate wood texture, where wood splitting is primary issue
  • Holes of the nail heads are smaller
  • Brad nailers are utilized to fasten things temporarily while using glue. Once the glue dries up, remove the nails as those hardly leave a visible hole
  • Nails shot by this nailer are fit for fixing small projects, including making picture frames, jewelry box making, attaching decorative molds and trims, and other cabinetry tasks

Disadvantages of a Brad Nailer

  • Not fit for using on thicker wood pieces, Medium Density Fiber or thick plywood
  • If you decide to purchase a pneumatic brad nailer, then also you have to invest bucks in an added air pump

What is a Finish Nailer?

Finish Nailer

A finish nailer is the one that can support nail sizes ranging from 15 gauge down to 18. On the contrary, the brad nailers only support 18 gauge nails. The significant difference between a brad nailer and a finish nailer is this nail gauge, as discussed earlier in this guide. Finish nailers are utilized only when the project workpiece requires a firm hold. Cabinetry, heavy baseboards installation, etc., are the things that require a finish nailer as a primary tool. Another remarkable feature of this nailer is that it comes both in angular and straight designs. The former one is more easy to use as it easily fits into confined spaces. Therefore, based on the projects you have, an angled finish nailer might be a considerable choice.

Both cordless and pneumatic editions of finish nailers are available in the market. The pneumatic nailer is comparatively lighter and significantly more powerful. However, it is a good choice only if you already have an air compressor. Else, you have to buy one. Or, you can simply avoid all these hassles and go for a cordless option as it will still get your job done. The second one is best for the professionals who are always on the move and require working on ladders throughout the day. This frees you from the worry of dragging an air compressor and hose every time you climb up and down the ladder. 

Where is a Finish Nailer Used? 

Whenever you are dealing with heavier projects that require greater holding power and structural strength, a finish nailer is all you need. A finish nailer supports two types of nails; 15 gauge and 16 gauge nails. The jobs that require the application of a finish nailer are: 

  • Crown and base moldings installation 
  • Window and door casings
  • Hard and softwood flooring
  • Cabinetry tasks 
  • Exterior trim installation
  • Chair rails
  • Staircases

Advantages of a Finish Nailer

  • Has better holding power to thicker wood, plywood, or others
  • Being longer and wider, the finishing nails are best for cabinetry, moldings, and baseboards installations
  • Renders firm and permanent hold; once shot through the surface, there is no way for it to come out
  • A versatile nailer type; perfect for shooting nails on any type of material surface
  • You will not have to reload the nailer frequently as each nail strip is long enough to run short

Disadvantages of a Finish Nailer

  • Not suitable for nailing on delicate surfaces; the nails are hard and wide and so, there is a high risk of the nail to split the material (if it is not sturdy)
  • Leaves visibly wider holes on the surface which require filling with wood putty; this increases the time spent on the project
  • If you buy a pneumatic finish nailer, be ready to spend some extra cash in an air pump, in case you don't already have it

When to Use a Brad Nailer or a Finish Nailer? 

What type of nailer is fit for which application depends on the type wood or other projects you deal with. Brad nailers can not utilize finish nails as these nails are larger and thicker in size; 15 or 16 gauge value. So, make sure your work matches the type of nailer and nails you are using, then go ahead. Below is the categorised list of the jobs fit to be done by a brad nailer and a finish nailer, respectively:

  • Jobs Requiring a Brad Nailer

    - Home repairments and improvements, like loose trim installation in cabinetry, baseboard installation, adding crown moldings, installation of interlocking floors for extra grip, etc.

    - Temporary fastening of two or more surfaces while gluing. As the adhesive gets dried up, the nails can be removed safely from the surfaces without leaving a barely visible mark

    - Small-scale wood projects, such as picture framing, birdhouse making, etc.

  • Jobs Requiring a Finish Nailer

    - Attaching thick molding trims
    - Door casings
    - Chair railings
    - Crown molding
    - Baseboards installation
    - Can be used for any such project that requires structural strength rather than a spotless external appearance

Quick Overview Table of Brad Nailer Vs Finish Nailer

Brad Nailer

Finishing Nail

Description:

- Uses thin nails sizing 18 gauge


- Fit for delicate woodworking projects


- Both individual pieces and collated strips are available

 
- The length of the brad nails ranges from ½ inch to 2 and ½ inches


- Hole Size (in mm or inches): 1.41 mm or 0.055 inch


- Nail Length (in mm or inches): 51 mm or 2 inches

Description:

- Supports versatile nail sizes ranging from 15 gauge and 16 gauge (in diameter) engineered for using on thicker woods


- Both collated strips and individual pieces are available ranging from 1 inch to 3 and ½ inches


- Hole Size (in mm or inches):
(i) 15 gauge: 1.69 mm or 0.066 inch
(ii) 16 gauge: 1.58 mm or 0.063 inch


- Nail Length (in mm or inches): Both sizing up to 63.5 mm or 2 and ½ inches

Benefit: Slim profile decreases risk of wood splitting and leaves no visible hole mark behind. So, you won't require filling it up with wood putty

Benefit: Heavier gauge of the nail ensures greater holding and structural strength to the projects

Applications: Decorative trim installation, paneling, picture framing, shoe molding, quarter-round molding, installation of narrow trim around doors and windows, etc.

Applications: Interior and exterior trim installation, casing of doors and windows, baseboard molding, light carpentry and cabinetry tasks, crown moulding, stair treads, etc.

Conclusion

From the above discussion, one thing is clear that the brad nailers are meant for delicate and smaller tasks, whereas a finish nailer is for heavy duty jobs that require structural integrity. For middle ground jobs, if you are to use either molding or baseboard installation, which one is more suitable? Sadly, there is no definite solution to this question. It depends. If the material used for molding or baseboards is thick and heavy, then go for a finish nailer. If your tasks include lightweight, delicate wood to work on then both the brad nailer and finish nailer types are suitable. However, you must remember that a finish nailer is generally used for permanent holds. It is better to use a finish nailer for paneling or molding projects.

In case you have neither of the two nailer types and you are trying to figure out the one best for your purpose, simply consider the type of projects to be dealt with. For minor wood projects, a brad nailer is the solution. Conversely, for major wood projects or other materials, a finish nailer would be a good choice. Anything ranging from affixing wall studs to nailing any hard surface permanent, a finish nailer is the first and last solution. 

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