What may be surprising to those who are not that familiar with installing trim is that not all finish nailers are alike. This means depending on whether you are installing trim around doors, windows, baseboards, and the like, you may need a specific type of nailer for the job.
There are four basic sizes for nailers, 15 and 16 gauge finish nailers, brad nailers, and pin nailers. But the two most common are those that use the 15 gauge and 16-gauge nails.
15 Gauge Finish Nailer
Because of the bigger head, the 15-gauge nailer offers considerable holding power to keep trim in place under most circumstances. Because of their larger size, they are perfect for both interior and exterior casing when putting nails into studs. Keep in mind that you should never put this into a jamb. In addition, they are a great choice for installing baseboards, crown molding, pre-hung doors, stair treads or risers, and more.
Because of the size of the nail, you will need to fill in the hole or indentation with putty before painting or staining the wood. It is the size of the nail itself that is the biggest drawback, especially on thin pieces of trim that might split due to its girth. Keep in mind that in gauges, the smaller the number, the larger the size.
15 Gauge Nails
The gauge denotes the wire diameter of the nails. Lower the gauge number, larger the wire diameter of the nail. That means the 15GA nail is bigger than a 16GA nail.
15GA Nail Size
- Diameter of a 15GA Nail: 0.072″ (or 1.828mm)
- Length: The length of a typical 15-gauge nail is 1 ¼″ up to 2 ½″ long. This means that the trim itself does need to be somewhat thick, although not overly so if you are using this size of the nail.
15GA Nailer Users
Here, you’ll want to find a finish nailer that offers an angled magazine for the 15-gauge nails. The reason is simple enough, to hold enough nails of that size to do the job, the magazine needs to be angled at least somewhat.
One downside of the 15-gauge nailer is that you will find few versions that are cordless. This is because of the power requirements and size of the nailer itself. However, cordless models do exist, particularly the Senco F-15 Fusion which packs plenty of power and does not need an air compressor. However, cordless 15-gauge nailers are considerably more expensive compared to their corded counterparts that often use an air compressor.
16 Gauge Finish Nailer
You can find 16-gauge finish nailers rather easily because they are quite versatile in nature. These nailers are positioned between the brad nailer and the 15G finish nailer. Large enough to handle thicker trim, baseboards, and crowns, they are also less bulky and powerful compared to the 15-gauge versions, which means that they are generally easier to use and can be applied to thinner material.
They are large enough to do stair risers and work well with groove and tongue flooring near a wall when standard flooring nailers lack the space to do the job. However, they are not strong enough for pre-hung doors and larger, thicker trim and baseboards. But they are quite versatile which makes them highly desired on the job site.
16GA Nail Size
The nail size of a 16-gauge is slightly thinner compared to its 15-gauge counterpart. However, the nails themselves are close to the same length, averaging ¾″ up to 2 ½″, although the 1 ¼″ to 2 ½″ range is most widely available. The 16GA nails have sufficient holding power for interior trims and do not create quite the dent or hole compared to 15-gauge finish nails.
- 16GA Nail Diamter: 0.063″ (1.60mm)
- Length: 1 ¼″ to 2 ½″
16GA Nailer Uses
The 16 gauge nail guns are commonly used for interior trims, 3/4″ crown moldings, and baseboards. The 16GA nails are also good enough for light door and window casings.
The main advantage of 16GA nails over 15GA nails is that they won’t split the wood when used close to the edges. Also, the mark caused by the smaller gauge nail makes it easy to finish the work.
However, do not attempt to do heavy-duty work such as hanging a door with 16g nails. Generally, I recommend you use a 16-gauge finish nailer for wood up to 3/4-inches. Anything above that, go for 15GA nailers.
Pneumatic Vs Cordless
You can find both pneumatic and cordless versions of the 16-gauge nailer. This is because they are somewhat less powerful compared to their 15-gauge counterparts and therefore do not have the same bulk or power requirements.
Before getting into which type of finish nailer is better, it pays to understand the basic difference between pneumatic and cordless versions. The pneumatic version is generally lighter, faster, and quite reliable. Powered by compressed air, the pneumatic nailer is connected to the right size air compressor to provide the power to punch the nails through the material. This generally means that they are not as bulky compared to cordless versions, but they are also connected by a hose to the air compressor.
Cordless versions are just that, finish nailers that use lithium battery power to operate the device. While free of any cords or hoses, they tend to be bulkier and therefore less ergonomic to handle compared to their pneumatic counterparts. Plus, cordless versions are considerably more expensive to purchase.
A typical 16-gauge nailer can be purchased for $300, give or take $100 if you are using the cordless version. While the pneumonic types are cheaper at around $150, give or take $50.
Which Nailer is Better?
Understanding which nailer is better will start with the uses you have for it. For the 15-gauge versions, they are best suited for cabinets, furniture, and picture frames, along with trim and molding installation. Many 15-gauge nailers are used for upholstery trim as well.
While the 16-gauge nailers are most often used for trim, baseboards, and paneling, they can also be used for many of the same jobs as their 15-gauge counterparts. While the nail and head are smaller, the lighter and shorter nails of the 16-gauge variety may be more versatile. This means that if you have a wide variety of different materials, the 16-gauge may be better suited.
However, if size and holding power are the main factors, then the 15-gauge may be the right one for the job. This is especially true for thicker trim, baseboards, and large projects such as cabinetry where holding power is crucial. Keep in mind the limitations that each type presents.
And don’t forget the other two popular sizes for nailers, the 18-gauge and 23-gauge. While much smaller and arguably less versatile compared to the 15 and 16-gauge versions, they are better suited for fragile materials that often include thin trim, picture frames, and the like. The 18-gauge Brad nailer is a popular option and quite versatile as well, although the 16-gauge finish nailer may be a better choice for some types of work.
If you are looking for the best, most versatile finish nailer, the 16-gauge may have the characteristics you want. Unless you are working with mostly bigger, thicker, and heavier materials, the 16-gauge finish nailer is probably the one for you. However, if you mostly work with large pieces, then the 15-gauge nailer is the better option.