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If you’re into DIY, you’ve probably heard about brad nailers and finish nailers. But what’s the difference between a brad nailer and a finish nailer? What type of nailer should you pick for your home improvement projects?
When you put them side by side, a brad nailer and a finish nailer will look the same to an untrained eye. But in reality, they’re different tools with different uses. One of the best ways to distinguish them is by focusing on their technical aspects and functions.
A nailer is a specialized tool used to drive nails through different surfaces, although many use it in wood projects. It comes in pneumatic, battery, or gas versions that vary according to the power source (an air compressor, an electric motor, or fuel cell). It can dramatically improve the speed and efficiency of a nailing job, avoiding hours and hours of hammering.
This guide will explain the difference between a brad nailer and a finish nailer while looking into their similarities and uses. After reading through and learning everything about these two types of nailers, you’ll be ready for every DIY project.
What is a Brad Nailer?
Brad nailers are used in renovations that require more precision. They use smaller 18-gauge fine-wire nails, which are essential in wood projects that prioritize aesthetics. However, 18-gauge nails are tough to drive manually, making a brad nailer a critical tool.
Brad nailers come in pneumatic, battery-powered, and gas-powered varieties. They also vary according to the firing mechanism: contact or sequential.
The finished result is a nail that’s nearly invisible once placed in the wood. This result is particularly helpful as you won’t need to cover or conceal it with putty. Their lightweight design makes them easy to remove, making them useful in fixing wood while the glue dries.
On the other hand, 18-gauge nails are not as strong and aren’t suitable for hardwood, thick plywood, or other dense materials. They are also not recommended for large, heavy-duty projects such as baseboards. In these situations, using a finish nailer is your best option.
- Less risk of splitting wood, as nails are more delicate.
- No concealing putty is required as the head holes are smaller.
- It can be used as a temporary fix while the glue dries.
- Perfect for small projects.
- Compact, lightweight, and very easy to use.
- Excellent for precision tasks.
- Not suitable for heavy-duty projects such as hardwood, MDF, or thick plywood.
- It may require additional tools such as an air compressor.
- It doesn’t provide a tight hold when compared to finish nailers.
What is a Finish Nailer?
Finish nailers are particularly well-suited for heavy-duty projects that require a tighter hold. Since they use larger 15-gauge or 16-gauge finish nails, they’re perfect for denser materials such as hardwood, plywood, or MDF.
As the name implies, finish nailers are used more often for construction finishes, such as installing baseboards, trims, casings, and other more challenging tasks. Similar to brad nailers, they’re available in battery, gas, or pneumatic variants.
Finish nailers are also very popular among carpenters and woodworkers. The larger nails are adequate for fixing furniture, even if the nail head can be easily seen. Luckily, concealing nail heads is easy as it only requires carpenters’ putty or wood filler.
Since they apply more force and use larger nails, finish nailers are more likely to split wood. Therefore, they’re not recommended for small woodworking projects or temporary fixes. In addition, the higher force and larger size make them harder to handle.
- Adequate for heavy-duty tasks and thicker materials.
- Non-removable nails result in a tighter hold.
- It can be used as a permanent solution.
- It can be used with more materials than brad nailers.
- Allows the user to adjust the nail depth, increasing its versatility.
- Bulkier size, making it harder to handle and carry.
- Nail holes will usually require putty for a better finish.
- Higher risk of splitting wood to the larger nail size.
- They’re more expensive than brad nailers.
Brad Nailer vs. Finish Nailer – Comparison
Check out the main difference between a brad nailer and a finish nailer according to their nail gauge, available types, firing mechanism, angle, uses, and filler requirement in the table below:
|Parameter||Brad Nailer||Finish Nailer|
|Nail Gauge||18||15 and 16|
|Pneumatic, Battery or Gas-Powered||All options are available||All options are available|
|Contact or Sequential Trip||Both options are available||Both options are available|
|Magazine Angle||Straight (90º)||Straight (90º) or Angled (21º to 35º)|
|Holding Capacity||Inferior holding power||Often used as a permanent solution|
|Less versatile as they’re not recommended for heavy-duty projects or tight holds||Can be used in all kinds of woodworking projects|
|Power||Less powerful, with less chance of splitting wood||More powerful, making them suitable for thicker wood|
|Hole Size||Around 0.0475 in||Around 0.0720 in|
|Requires Using Putty or Wood Filler||No||Yes|
|Thin wood, moldings, small woodworking projects, paneling, temporary fixes||Heavy-duty projects such as hardwood, trims, flooring, cabinets, baseboards, railings and casings|
As you can see, brad nailers are different from finish nailers in many respects. Brad nailers use smaller 18-gauge nails than the 15-gauge and 16-gauge, often seen in finish nailers.
Brad nailers exclusively use straight magazines, which are harder to work with in tight spaces. However, given their compact size compared to finish nailers, you won’t feel the pinch. On the flip side, finish nailers can be available as straight or angled alternatives, resulting in better mobility.
These two nailers also differ in their uses. Brad nailers are suited for small projects and temporary fixes, while finish nailers are more commonly used in heavy-duty jobs, given their larger nail size. Since they have smaller heads, brad nailers don’t have to be concealed with putty or wood filler.
Similarities between a brad nailer and a finish nailer
The similarities between brad nailers and finish nailers are related to their accessories and versions rather than their functionalities. Have a look and see how these two types of nailers are similar:
- Size – Even though they vary in power and function, brad nailers and finish nailers are often similar in size. However, finish nailers are usually heavier and bulkier due to increased performance.
- Both can be available with straight magazines – Straight magazines can make reaching certain spots more difficult, especially when using finish nailers.
- Pneumatic, battery-powered, or gas-powered versions – Both brad and finish nailers can vary according to the power source. They can be pneumatic, battery-powered, or gas-powered.
- Firing mechanism – Brad and finish nailers come in two firing mechanism options, contact and sequential. In contact firing, the nail fires as long as the trigger and the nose are pressed, meaning you won’t have to release the trigger between shots. Sequential firing requires releasing the trigger so that a nail is fired.
Differences between a brad nailer and a finish nailer
Even though they seem similar, brad nailers and finish nailers have more differences than similarities. Their most noticeable differences are in price, strength, nail and hole size, angle, and uses. See how they differ:
- Price – Finishing nailers are usually more expensive than brad nailers due to their versatility and strength. Generally, the price difference is around 20-30% for similar specifications and voltage.
- Holding strength – Since they use larger nails that are shot with more force, finish nailers have a higher holding strength and are often used as a permanent solution. In contrast, brad nailers have thinner and smaller nails, resulting in a weaker hold.
- Nail size – Finish nailers use 15 or 16-gauge nails, while brad nailers can only shoot 18-gauge nails. This difference results in a stronger hold but a larger hole size for finish nailers.
- Hole size – Finish nailers holes are approximately 50% larger than brad nailers due to the size of the nails. As a result, the nail heads usually require using putty or wood filler to conceal them.
- Magazine angle – Brad nailers have straight magazines, while finish nailers usually have angled magazines. Angled magazines have a higher capacity and are easier to handle in tight corners.
- Practical uses – Brad nailers are ideal for small DIY projects that use softwood, panels, and moldings. Finish nailers are better suited for heavy-duty projects such as construction. They’re suitable for hardwood flooring, baseboards, trims, and casings.
Which One To Use?
This question will depend on the nature of the work, your personal goals, and your specifications. If you work with delicate and thin types of wood or small DIY projects, a brad nailer is more than enough for your needs.
On the other hand, finish nailers are better suited for heavy-duty carpentry projects. They are generally more versatile because they’re compatible with more types of wood, including MDF and plywood.
Different projects will require different tools, so we recommended that you always be aware of your project’s specifications and needs before purchasing a particular nailer.
Additionally, it’s also essential to consider the nailer type – pneumatic, gas, or battery. Each type has advantages and disadvantages, so choosing one isn’t as easy as it seems.
Pneumatic nailers are known for their performance and efficiency. However, they’re not as mobile as other options and require an air compressor, which can be costly.
Gas-powered are extremely powerful, making them the perfect choice if you work with hard materials. It has the main disadvantage of requiring regular fuel cell replacements and periodic cleaning. It can also struggle in lower temperatures.
Battery-powered nailers are easier to handle and don’t need as much maintenance. However, they’re often heavier and more expensive than pneumatic or gas-powered nailers.
Frequently Asked Questions
Take a look at the most commonly asked questions about these types of nailers:
There is no definitive answer as they’re made for different situations. If you’re a DIY enthusiast that prefers small woodworking projects or renovations, a brad nailer is more than enough for most situations.
On the other hand, a finish nailer is better for more intensive labor performed by carpenters and woodworkers, such as trims, casings, and flooring.
This will depend on the thickness of the baseboard. For thicker baseboards, we recommend using a finish nailer, as a brad nailer may not have the force to hold it properly.
A brad nailer is usually enough to install or better secure a thinner baseboard. Always verify your nails’ length before attempting to install baseboards.
Brad nailers are designed to shoot 18-gauge finish nails, which is incompatible with 15 or 16-gauge nails. Brad nailers produce less force, so finish nails won’t hold. Not to mention it can be a safety hazard.
Brad nailers and finish nailers are different tools, each serving a specific purpose. Now that you know the difference between a brad nailer and a finish nailer, you can select the right tool for your needs.
If you’re looking for a versatile tool, it would be best to consider getting a finish nailer. For more general jobs, a brad nailer will be sufficient. Remember that you should always choose quality tools for better results!
A Professional Painter, Joseph is known for solving huge problems with simple DIY tricks. Now retired, he writes for ThatPainter.com to educate people on how to get their paint job just right. Joseph specializes in painting services, and has a ton of experience working with paint of varied quality.