Finish Nailer vs Brad Nailer – What Are the Differences?

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Finish Nailer vs Brad Nailer

Hammering nails into wood is one of the most repetitive tasks in DIY home improvement and construction projects. Therefore, it is no surprise that there are nailers, i.e. electric or pneumatic tools that make nailing more efficient and convenient.

Finish nailers and Brad nailers are two great tools that will enhance any workshop. They are similar nailers that overall look much the same. However, there are differences between the two that you should know. Whether you intend to only buy one type or want to know which one is most useful for you to buy first – here is a comprehensive and practical comparison of both to help you decide before making that final choice.

Finish Nailer


The Dewalt DWFP12231 Finish Nailer.
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What Is a Finish Nailer?

The clue is in the title when referring to Finish Nailers. They are intended for use mostly near the finish of a project or job. That is, the types of nail they use are thinner than Brad Nailers. They are actually designed to be almost invisible to the naked eye. These thin nails, typically 15 and 16 gauge nails (read more about the size of nails below) should not require much putty or filler to hide them and minimal rubbing down should be necessary.

Finish nailers are not usually used in other areas of work apart from the final assembly stage of projects or tasks. For heavy duty nailing, you would normally use a standard nail gun instead. Because finish nails are thinner than a standard nail, they are not as strong while strength, on the other hand, is not exactly a key factor for using finish nails.

The nail type used is a headless nail which is designed to penetrate the wood with the top of the nail slightly below the surface. Because of this, it is difficult to remove finish nails from wood if they have been installed incorrectly. Without a nail head, they can be difficult to extract though.

What Are Finish Nailers Used For?

Finish nailers are very handy for many types of work. They are ideal for woodwork, fixing and building furniture, plywood work and installing baseboards and crown moulding. If you need to install some trim or moulding strips, a finish nailer is the ideal tool for the job.

A variety of nail lengths can be used from about 1 inch to 2 and a half inches depending on the job requirements. This makes finish nailers an ideal tool for attaching together reasonably weighty items or achieving a reasonably strong finish that is for example required in making furniture and cabinet making.

Because these Finish nails are thicker, there is always a chance they may split the wood if used near the edges. To avoid risk of splitting, a pre-drilled hole can be drilled slightly smaller than the nail size.

What Are the Different Types of Finish Nailers?

Three types of finish nailers are typically available:

Cordless and mains powered nailers are also available and are more common for the DIYer. A cordless unit can be operated anywhere, is very compact and has no trailing wires or pipes to worry about.

Pneumatic versions that require a pneumatic air supply. While air nailers are lightweight compared to their electric siblings, they may not be suitable if you don’t already have your own air compressor.

Brad Nailer


The Bostitch BTFP12233 Brad Nailer.
Find deals for this model and other brad nailers on Amazon.

What Is a Brad Nailer?

A Brad nailer looks almost identical to a standard nail gun. However, brad nailers do not use normal nail gun nails. They use a very thin type of nail which are often referred to as “Brads”.

Brads are 18 gauge nails which are almost the thinnest commonly available nails on the market, second to pin nails. They are designed to be so thin so they will be invisible when used and they are also designed for very thin and intricate tasks. For example, if you have a very thin piece of trim that needs to be attached somewhere, a brad nailer will do the job without splitting the wood or causing damage that requires later filling. A finish nailer would be too heavy duty for a thin or intricate task like this and thicker nails may split or damage the wood.

What Is a Brad Nailer Used For?

Brad nails are oval in cross section and not round like most Finish nails. Therefore when working on thin wood, it is advisable to position the nail so the oval is in line with the wood grain to reduce any chance of splitting the wood.

There are pros and cons for using thin brad nails. Being so thin, a Brad nail encountering a knot in the wood may cause it to bend or not fully drive into the wood. if the brad nailer did not fully seat the nail into the wood, it is not possible to use a hammer afterwards to push the nail properly into the wood as the Brad will be too thin and bend. It is also often difficult to remove poorly seated brad nails or if they have been inserted into the wrong place. Brad nails have very small heads so are difficult to pull out.

What Is the Difference between Brad Nailers and Finish Nailers?

Given the similar design and use of both types of nailer, the main difference is which nails are used. Brad nails are smaller than finish nails, so you would use a Brad nailer for more intricate projects. Finish nails provide more stability – a finish nailer would subsequently be the right choice if that is your priority.

Read on to learn more about the different types of nails and the uses of Brad and Finish nailers.

Brad Nails vs. Finish Nails – the Differences

What Are the Common Nail Sizes (Gauge and Length)?

Gauge is a measure of thickness of thin nails or fasteners. The higher the gauge value, the thinner the nail. When it comes to nail guns, the following sizes are among the most common ones (source, conversion):

Type of Nail Thickness Length
Pin nails / Micro pin 23 gauge (0.025 inches) 3/8 to more than 1 1/4 inches
Brad nails 18 gauge (0.04 inches) 5/8 to more than 2 inches
Finish nails 16 gauge / 15 gauge (0.05-0.057 inches) 5/8 to more than 2 1/2 inches
Framing nails / full head nails > 0.10 inches > 2 inches

Finish Nails

What Are Finish Nails Used For?

Can be used on hardwood or thick plywood. These are areas where a brad nailer wouldn’t be able to do the job. They are available in longer length nails than Brad nails so are more suitable for jobs working with thicker wood that a Brad nail gun would not have sufficient power to properly penetrate.

What Are the Pros and Cons of Finish Nails?

Pros
  • Thicker nails provide stronger connections.
  • Finish nails are longer than brad nails.
  • They can be used on more general-purpose work than brad nails.
  • They are ideal for use on thicker wood.
  • Nails can be later hammered or pulled out if they haven’t fully entered the wood.  
Cons
  • Difficult to use on thinner wood.
  • The larger nail size may crack the wood and the higher power of the finish nail gun may also damage the wood.

Brad Nails

What Are Brad Nails Used For?

Brad nails are the better choice for thinner material where no strong connection is required. Thanks to their smaller size, they are almost invisible which makes them ideal for intricate projects.

What Are the Pros and Cons of Brad Nails?

Pros
  • Thinner nails are less likely to split the wood.
  • They will be more invisible than finish nails.
  • They are ideal for smaller, thinner or intricate projects.
  • Cause less damage to wood than finish nails.
  • Do not require putty or filling later.
  • Brad nails are available on strips set at an angle so they can be delivered right into tight corners with ease.
Cons
  • Thin Brad nails will not provide a strong connection like Finish nails can.
  • The lower power of Brad nail guns means the nails may not fully enter the wood if it is too thick or a hardwood.

Using a Nailer

When operating a nail gun, hold it hard against the wood before pulling the trigger and be aware to hold the gun steady during the split second the nail is being driven into the wood.

Avoiding Jams

You better do not consider buying a finish nail gun and then using it for brad nails if you are working on smaller projects – DON’T! Using brad nails in a finish nail gun will only result in the nail gun spitting out two nails together and then getting jammed.

All types of nail gun will at some time get jammed. The good news is that modern nail guns are designed so only a simple latch needs to be unclipped and the jammed nails can easily be removed from the gun.

To avoid nail guns from jamming, always watch carefully where you are aiming your nail. Avoid knots in the wood and other debris that may interfere with your nail such as previous nails already in the wood.

Safety

Brad nailers and Finish nailers are considered reasonably safe tools to use in competent hands but safety should always be the number one concern. During use, wear safety goggles and earplugs and ensure any loose clothing is kept well away from the nailers in use.

What Type of Nailer to Use for Which Tasks

This section gives you an overview of the typical uses of Brad and Finish nailers and what you need to consider.

Which Nailer Should You Use for General Home Improvements and Repairs?

A Brad nailer should be used to ensure invisible repairs, but for anything more heavy duty, a Finish nailer is preferable for strength.

Which Nailer Should You Use for Making Cabinets and Furniture?

Brad nailers are ideal for adding trim and accessories but a Finish nailer should be used for parts of the furniture that require strength.

Which Nailer Should You Use for Making Picture Frames?

Brad nailers are suitable for this type. Glue can also be added as a personal choice. Due to the thin framing wood and the close proximity to the edge, using a Finish nailer in this instance may result in a split.

Which Nailer Should You Use for Hardwood Floorings?

A Flooring nailer is mostly used for installing hardwood floor boards but a Finish nailer can also be used. Brad nailers are unsuitable for this type of job.

Which Nailer Should You Use for Fencing and Decking?

Building fencing requires strong connections using sturdy pieces of wood that only Finish nails can achieve. Brad nailers will not result in a sturdy fence. Decking similarly uses sturdy planks that require good joins to ensure they are safe to walk on and these can be achieved using a Finish nailer. Due to the size of the wood, Finish nails will not cause a split and generally it is not necessary to cover the nails with putty on outside decking. Alternatively, you can consider using a framing nailer if you require more stability.

Which Nailer Should You Use for Lightweight Trim and Mouldings?

Brad nailers are ideal for lightweight trim and mouldings. The thinner brad nails will not be visible and smaller brad nails are ideal as trim and mouldings do not require substantial nails to hold them into place. The trim will not be split by the very thin brad nails unlike Finish nails or a standard nail gun.

Which Nailer Should You Use for Installing Wooden Door and Window Frames?

A Finish nailer should be used to ensure door and window frames are installed properly. For any finishing trim that attaches around the installed frames, a Brad nailer may be used to ensure the trim doesn’t split.

Which Nailer Should You Use for MDF and Plywood?

Finish nails should be used for LDF and MDF.

If the plywood is only thin, Brad nails may be used but for everything else, Finish nails are preferable. The Finish nails will not split plywood like other woods but if nailing very close to the edges, be careful the plywood doesn’t fracture.

Which Nailer Should You Use for Shiplap Wall Installations?

Use a finish nailer that will give more strength to securing the wall to the studs. A Brad nail gun will not give sufficient strength with its thin Brad nails.

Which Nailer Should You Use for Quarter Round Moulding and Shoe Moulding?

As with other types of moulding, Brad nails should be used to ensure the moulding doesn’t split. Use the nailer positioned at 90 degrees to the wood grain to ensure the oval Brad nails are driven into the wood at the correct angle without splitting. Note that if installing moulding at the edges of a wooden floor, avoid nailing into the floor itself as changes in temperature and humidity may expand the floor and may pull the moulding as it moves.

Holding Things Together Temporarily Prior to Gluing or Inserting Screws

Brad nailers will be able to hold together lightweight items but if you later want to remove the nails, this may be difficult. If gluing hardwoods or thick plywood, Finish nails will make for a stronger bond but the nail heads may be visible inside the wood so will have to be filled with putty.

Using a Brad nailer to put in a few nails to hold a job together before inserting screws is a great tip to make for an easier life and holds the wood together and straight while you sort out the screw holes.

Which Nailer Should You Use for Roofing?

Neither Brad or Finish nailers are suitable for roofing as they do not have the ability to hold roofing nails. A Roofing nailer is the only choice for this.

Which Nailer Should You Use for General Construction?

For heavy duty construction jobs, a standard nail gun is recommended but for medium sized woodwork, a Finish nail gun is ideal.

Conclusion

Are you wondering whether a Finish nailer or a Brad nailer is the right tool for you? It basically comes down to the size of nails you want to use.

Finish nailers use 15 and 16 gauge nails whereas Brad nailers use 18 gauge nails. When talking about gauge, the higher number gauge, the smaller diameter nail, so 15 and 16 gauge finish nails are approximately 0.05 to 0.057 inches in diameter. 18 gauge brad nails are only 0.04 inches in diameter. To a layman this difference may not sound much but in woodworking terms, this difference can be extremely significant.

If you are a DIYer and just want to buy a single nail gun, you will likely get more use out of a finish nailer rather than a brad nailer.

Check current prices of Brad Nailers or find the latest deals for Finish Nailers on Amazon.

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