When it comes to finding different sizes of nails, there seems to be no shortage. For those who are nailing baseboards, the sheer variety of sizes or gauges can be confusing. Choosing the right one means accounting for the size or width, length, and type of nail being used. While nailing together larger, thicker pieces of wood may make the selection easier, baseboards present another situation.
If you decide to add or replace the baseboards in your home, the first step after purchasing them is to let them sit in the open inside the house for at least 24 to 48 hours. This allows the material to acclimate to the home. This means that any shrinking should take place at this time. It is far better to let the baseboards shrink first, then apply to the walls. Otherwise, if they shrink after application, they might bend or warp.
Best Nailer for Baseboard Trim
The key to choosing the right nails for baseboards starts by assessing the thickness and type of material that is being used. Although not all baseboards are alike, they all share common attributes that you can determine to help you choose the right size or gauge of nail.
A 16 gauge finish nailer is the best size nailer for baseboards with thickness 1/2 inch to 3/4 inches. For trim with thickness 1-inch or more, use a 15 gauge nailer that shoots a bigger diameter nail and also has an angled base that allows you to reach tight spaces. The 18 gauge brad nailer works well for thin trims, base cap, and shoe molding; but not recommended for thick baseboards.
In short, the choice between a finish nailer and a brad nailer depends on the thickness of the baseboard or trim.
Go for a pneumatic nailer since they cost less and are powerful. If you do not have an air compressor for nail gun, then it makes sense to spend the extra dollars on a cordless nailer which is more convenient to use as well.
In terms of nailers, the general rule is the bigger the gauge number, the smaller the nail. The nailers that shoot the biggest trim nails are generally those that shoot 15 to 16-gauge nails. So, when applying a trim nailer to a baseboard, moldings, and faux shiplap sidings, etc you can expect to use smaller nails, and for good reason.
What Size Nails are Best for Baseboards?
It all starts with the purpose of baseboards. A baseboard is essentially a thin piece of wood that covers the bottom of an interior wall. Baseboards serve two functions. They create a neater appearance for the wall, providing a smooth line that complements its look. And more importantly, they protect the wall from damage that may be caused by shoes, pets, or anything else that may strike the wall from the floor.
A baseboard is a thin layer of protection that is easy to replace if damaged. When you compare the prices and work needed to replace a baseboard compared to repairing an interior wall, the value of baseboards becomes quite apparent.
However, the thin nature of the baseboard means that you should consider 15 to 16 gauges for the nails being applied. There are good reasons why this is the perfect size for nails when attaching baseboards to the wall.
15 or 16 Gauge for Baseboards?
The reason why this size of nail is the right one starts with the thin nature of the baseboard itself. The bigger the nail, the deeper the impression it makes on the material. With baseboards being so thin, you want a nail that is thin, so that it does not create a noticeable indention. Yet, it is long enough to firmly attach itself to the wall.
Both 15G and 16G nail guns can drive nails up to 2 1/2 inches (6D to 8D long nails). The main difference is the diameter of the nail (15G is bigger) and the angled base of the 15G nailer that helps you to reach corners easily.
There are few other types of nail guns such as roofing and framing nailers that can drive bigger nails, which offer better holding power. But, this means that you will have more fill work to do after the nails are applied. Plus, you increase the chance of splitting the baseboards when driving the nails.
A 15 or 16-gauge nail is basically perfect for the job. This is because it is large and long enough to attach the baseboard, yet thin enough to be barely noticeable. Although with any nail you will have some fill work to do when making the baseboards look neat. There is considerably less work when you use this size of nail.
Installing Baseboards with a Nail Gun
Applying the baseboard to the wall normally means using 15 or 16-gauge nails from a nailer or nail gun. You simply line up the baseboard on the floor and attach them to the wall.
You may need to cut a miter or trim the baseboards that wind up near a door or corner of the room or hallway. Drive the nails approximately 12 to 16 inches apart.
Once the baseboards have been attached, the next step is applying putty to the indentions created by the nails. In addition, the putty will hide the head of the nail from the baseboard and give you a clean appearance. For 15 or 16-gauge nails, the intentions should be quite small, if noticeable at all. You should only need a little putty for the job. Let the putty dry and then sand the baseboards smooth.
Once sanded, you can paint the baseboards to match the color of the wall. This will create a complete finish for the wall while providing the protection offered by the baseboard. If the baseboard itself should become damaged, you can remove it from the wall and add a new one. Repeating the procedure of nailing, applying putty, sanding, and then covering with paint.
Can You Use 18 Gauge Nails (Brad Nailer) for Baseboards?
Yes, you can use an 18-gauge Brad Nailer for your baseboards. However, it doesn’t have the holding power compared to a 15 or 16-gauge nail.
You are probably wondering if you need an 18 gauge or 16 gauge nailer for baseboard trims. The 18GA nails work well for trims up to 1/2 inch. For baseboards thicker than 1/2 inch I recommend you go for 16 gauge nail gun.
The nails used in a brad nailer are smaller in diameter (0.0475 inches) and have a length of up to 1 1/4 to 2 inches. The 15G and 16G nails are bigger in diameter (see nail size comparison) and are longer which give them more holding strength. However, 18-gauge nails are best for thin trims that can split easily.
Another important consideration is the length of nails that are being used. Because a baseboard is quite thin, the nails should never be more than two and a half inches (8D) long with 1 ½” to 2″ being recommended. The reason is simple. If you drive a nail into the wall, the chances of hitting an electrical line increase with the length of the nail being used. 1 ½” is long enough to reach into the wall, but not quite enough to hit an electrical line for the most part.
For attaching baseboards, 15 or 16-gauge nails work the best. They have enough size to firmly attach the baseboards in place without being too big to split the material. When using the right nailer, you might go up to 18-gauge if the baseboards are thicker and stronger than normal.
One tip that will help you keep from splitting thin baseboards is pre-drilling the holes first with a drill bit that is a little smaller than the nail you are going to use. Then, you can drive the nail in and the head will hold the baseboard in place.