On the surface, brad nailers and finish nailers (often referred to as finishing nailers) are very similar. Both are accurate nailers designed for precision nailing as opposed to bulk nailing. For example, finish nailers, as the name indicates, are meant to be used at the end of projects as opposed to throughout them (it’s why the term finish is used).
However, both have different roles and uses. Now let us compare the two types of nail guns side by side.
Brad Nailer vs Finish Nailer Comparison
The primary difference between a brad nailer vs finish nailer is that the brad nail gun shoots 18-gauge nails whereas 16-gauge or 15-gauge nails are used in the finish nailer. The small 18-gauge brad nail helps you to attach delicate trims without splitting the trim. In contrast, finish nail guns that drive thicker nails offer more holding strength.
With a brad nailer, you can attach thin trims and moldings without the need for using putty. On the other hand, a finishing nailer is what you will use for most of the carpentry and woodworking jobs though you may need to putty the hole.
Below is a comparison chart explaining the difference between an 18 gauge brad nailer vs. 16 gauge finish nail guns.
|Brad Nailer||Finish Nailer|
|Type of Nail||Brads are thin 18-gauge nails.||16-gauge and 15-gauge nails|
|Hole Size||Approximately 0.0475 inches||Up to 0.0720inches|
|Capacity||Less holding power||Ability to withstand higher payload.|
|Uses||Ideal for attaching thin trims without splitting.|
Excellent for lightweight boards and moldings.
|Excellent for finishing furniture, door casing, and other carpentry work|
Use on plywood, MDF, baseboards etc.
What is a brad nailer?
A brad nailer looks and operates like a nail gun, but unlike every other nailer on the market today, it doesn’t actually shoot nails. A brad “nailer” shoots brads. For those unfamiliar with what brads are, they are essentially a thin nail. Your average brad nail has a gauge of 18 and is generally only 0.0475 inches in cross section. As you can see, that is quite small for a nail.
A lot of amateur DIYers have probably never used nails that are that small and thin. So, you may be wondering “what can nails that thin be useful for?” Well, brads are useful for putting up extremely thin finishing. For example, say you have a very thin piece of trim, if you use a regular sized nail, it could crack or even break the trim. Because of this, you have to use a brad to ensure that the trim doesn’t break.
In general, brad nailers are useful tools to keep around your tool shed. They come in very handy when you need to delicately apply trimming or molding; or if you need to apply the finishing touches to a carpentry or woodworking project.
Tip: If a brad nail is not through, you should not try to hammer the nail head. Since the brads are thin it can easily bend and may cause damage to the work. Instead of hammering the rest of brad through, you should pull it out and do it again to drive a new brad nail.
Brad Nailer Pros
- Perfect for attaching delicate trims and moldings.
- The 18-gauge nail usually does not split the trim.
- The resulting hole is very small and doesn’t need filling
- It can also be used on smaller baseboards and plywood up to ½-inch.
- The smaller bard nail cannot hold large boards, heavy wood and moldings.
- Not an ideal tool for nailing hard to reach corners and tight spaces.
A finish nailer serves a very similar role to a brad nailer. Much like a brad nailer, you won’t be using a finish nailer for the majority of a job or a project. Instead, you bring it out for very specific situations.
If you need to put up trim or molding, you would use a finish nailer as opposed to a regular nail gun. In terms of strength, a finish nailer acts as a midway point between brad nailers, and more heavy-duty nail guns, like framing nailers. Finish nailers are stronger than brad nailers, but they not as strong as framing nail guns.
In terms of size, your average finishing nailer can accommodate nails from 1-inch up to two and a half inches in length. These nails are often headless to blend with the surface of the wood. But this also means that you cannot remove the headless nails easily.
Finish Nailer Pros
- 15-gauge and 16-gauge nails are bigger and offer higher holding strength.
- Excellent for woodworking, building furniture, fixing large baseboards and plywood and attaching large crown molding.
- Finish nailers are more versatile and are handy for various types of work.
- The 15-gauge nail guns that are collated at an angle can reach corners.
- The bigger nails produce larger holes that require filling. For a carpenter, it means additional work of filling wood putty to cover the nail hole.
- Poor choice for fixing thin trims and narrow boards.
Differences between brad nailers and finish nailers
So far, you may have noticed the similarities between the two kinds of nail guns. Both are not meant for general use, but instead, are meant for very specific purposes. Both are less powerful and use smaller nails than other kinds of nail guns. That being said, you shouldn’t get these two confused or make the mistake of thinking that they can be used interchangeably. I am going to list and explain some of the key differences between the two nailers.
Firstly, both create different sized holes on wood when they get used. As any woodworker or carpenter can tell you, when you use a nail gun on wood, you often need to use putty to fill in the holes left by the nail gun. Well, with a finish nailer, this is true. The holes created by finish nailers often require you to use some putty (although not as much as with other nail guns) to fill them.
Brad nailers generally don’t leave noticeable holes in the material. If the material is especially weak or thin, then they can leave holes, but you only need to use a little bit of putty to fill them.
The brad nailer is designed to shoot 18-gauge nails whereas the finish nail guns are either for 16-gauge or 15-gauge nails. The below table shows the nail size difference between 16 gauge and 18 gauge nails.
|Nail Size||Size in inches||Millimeters|
|18-gauge (Brad Nailer)||0.0475||1.207|
|16-gauge (Finish nailer)||0.0625||1.588|
|15-gauge (Finish nailer)||0.0720||1.83|
In terms of power, finishing nailers are the more powerful of the two kinds of nailers. For example, say you have some heavy and/or thick trim that you need to put up. You could try using a brad nailer, but you risk not having enough to keep the trim secure. If you use a brad nailer in the wrong situation, the trim or molding will eventually fall away from the wall.
If you need power, the finish nailer is hands down the best option of the two. On the other hand, if you are driving nails into thinner trim, then the power of the finish nailer becomes a hindrance.
One of the key differences between the two is that brad nailers won’t split or crack thin pieces of wood.
Another important difference (and this one will especially be relevant for carpenters) is how well each nailer does on corners. A lot of carpenters prefer to use brad nailers on corners because they cause less damage than finish nailers.
When to go for a brad or finish nailer
Determining when to go for a brad or finish nailer is not an easy thing to do. It will largely be determined by the weight and thickness of whatever it is that you are using the nailer on. If you are working with something play of hardwood or thick plywood, then you should definitely go for a finish nailer, as most brad nailers won’t have the power to handle that sort of wood.
On the other hand, if you are dealing with thinner pieces of wood, then you want to use a brad nailer; as a finish nailer could potentially split the wood.
In general, most people will get more use out of a finish nailer than they will a brad nailer. So, if you are debating which one to buy for your tool shed, I would recommend the finish nailer.
By using this guide, you should be able to easily determine if you should use a brad nailer or a finish nailer on your next job or home project. If you are still confused, bring a sample of whatever it is that you are trying to nail to your local hardware store and ask an expert for their opinion. They should be able to point you in the right direction if you are still confused.
Brad or Finish; Which Nailer for your job?
I will answer some of the most common questions related to brad and finishing nailers. If you have a specific question, feel free to email me.
Can I use brad nails for trim?
Yes. Brad nail is an excellent choice for lightweight trims and molds.
Which nail should I use for baseboards?
You can use your 18-gauge brad nailer for installing baseboards. Use the 1 ½ inch long nails for the best results.
However, if your baseboard is large and heavy consider using a finishing nailer.
When using a finishing nailer close to the edge of the baseboard, I usually predrill a hole to avoid splitting of the board. I highly recommend you do the same. Just make sure that the pre-drill size is smaller than the diameter of the nail.
Can you use brad nails in a finish nailer?
Don’t do it.
The brad nails are 18-gauge nails which have a diameter of 0.0475 inches (approximately 1.2mm). Your finish nailer is designed to use either 16-gauge (Ø0.0625 inches) or 15-gauge (Ø0.0720inches).
I have seen people do this by mistake and caught their error only after noticing that the nail gun was shooting 2 nails per shot. If you load the smaller diameter brad nail in a finish nailer, it will result in jams and it will break your nail gun. In the worst case, you will get injured by the flying metal shrapnel.
Brad nailer or finish nailer for hardwood floor?
Ideally, you should get a flooring nailer for installing hardwood. The downside is that flooring nail guns can only be used for this specific purpose. Hence many of you might want to know if you can use a finishing nail gun for flooring.
In my experience, a 15-gauge finish nailer can work well for hardwood floor installation. The brad nails will not penetrate easily through the tough hardwood.
Which nailer is right for crown molding?
Since molds are lightweight in most cases a brad nailer would work fine. However, for wide crown moldings are usually heavy and the brads can’t hold them. I would recommend you use a 16 gauge finish nail gun.
Finish nailer or Brad nailer for shiplap installation?
Personally, I haven’t done many shiplap walls. But I have observed that most shiplap installers use either framing nailer or finish nailers. I haven’t seen anyone using a brad.
Brad nailer or finish nailer for quarter round and shoe molding?
23 gauge pinner and 18 gauge brad nailers are the best for the quarter round. For shoe molding, use the brad nailer with 1-1/2 long nails.
Tips: Here are two important tips for you.
1. The brad nails are not round and they have a chisel edge. Position your nailer such that it is across the grain of the molding. This is to avoid the chisel edge splitting the molding.
2. If the floor is wooden avoid nailing into the flooring. When the season changes the flooring may expand or contract and it will pull the molding along with it.