On the surface, a finish nailer and a brad nailer are very similar. A lot of people get confused when it comes to the two types of nailers, and often they use them interchangeably. Besides, they are about the same size, and they are both used to drive nails through trim wood. However, there’s a big difference between a finish nailer and a brad nailer when it comes to their functionality.
Ideally, the primary difference between a finish nailer and a brad nail is the nail gauge. The standard gauge sizes are 15, 16, ad 18. The number represents the number of nails per inch. For instance, a 16 gauge nailer would have 16 per inch while an 18 gauge one would have 18 nails per inch. This means the higher the gauge, the thinner the nail.
Let us look at some facts about both the finish and brad nailers to help you determine which one is right for your activities.
Understanding a Finish Nailer
Finish nailers as the name suggest are used to finish projects. They are used to drive tiny finish nails and small trim boards onto wood projects hassle-free. The nails can be hammered through the trim board into softwoods and hardwoods or even specialty wood products such as MDF with very minimal footprint.
A finish nailer uses thicker nails that range between 14 to 16 gauges and typically 1 to 2.5 inches long. Also, the nails are meant to blend into the wood, often leaving a small hole. The holes can be filled with wood putty before or after finishing. Finish nails are heavy-duty nails, and they require more force to drive in when compared to brad nailers.
Finish nailers also create a much stronger hold. This makes them perfect for attaching heavy baseboard and crown molding, something you cannot do with a brad nailer. It is also used for window and door casings, exterior trim, chair rails and hard and softwood flooring.
Often you will come across the terms straight finish nailer and angled finish nailer. This is simply the angle of the magazine. Angled nailers hold nails at a right angle, and they are best suited for precise shooting and tight spaces. Angled nailers tend to be more expensive because they are always spot on target when compared to straight nailers.
Straight nailers, on the other hand, do not allow for angled adjustments and they lack agility and accuracy as is the case with angled nailers. They are also bulkier, and they are not able to get into small spaces. Therefore, it may be a good idea to consider a straight nailer if your project requires little finesse.
Benefits of a Finish Nailer
- Because the nails are longer and wider, a finish nailer can be used to hold heavier and thicker wood and heavy trims such as in cabinetry of molding.
- This fastener is not only used to shoot the nails, but it is also used to hold things into place permanently. The larger and longer nails provide more holding power than that of a brad nailer.
- A highly versatile nail gun as you can use it on a range of surfaces and materials from plywood to baseboard and MDF. You can mount these materials on drywall, wood, or even plaster.
- A finish nailer just like other nail guns is equipped with a safety tip which is used to prevent accidental firing before engaging the gun. It is also fitted with a rubber, anti-marring tip to avoid damaging the wood, trim or moldings.
- You don’t need to reload as often as the nails come in long strips.
Downsides of a Finish Nailer
- This nail gun is really powerful, so it is not perfect for thin and delicate materials. Also, the wide nails are likely to split thin materials.
- It leaves behind larger nail holes that require a bit of time to fill.
What is a Brad Nailer?
A brad nailer is primarily designed to shoot thinner nails, usually 18 gauges nails. It is somewhat smaller than a finish nailer, and consequently, it does not have much holding power. Also, a brad nailer does not use the standard nails; instead, it uses small finishing nails referred to as brads hence the name ‘brad nailer.’
Brad nails have a very narrow head on the end which makes them fully embedded after firing, leaving a much smaller hole than all other nail guns. Depending on the material you are working on, you may not even need to use wood filler. This also implies that you cannot remove the narrow head easily. They are therefore perfect for attaching trim wood without slitting and visible holes that need to be filled with wood fillers as it is the case with finish guns.
Brads are perfect for small projects like making picture frames, jewelry boxes, or for holding things in place when you are using glue or other adhesives. You can then remove the brads later when the glue has dried without leaving any visible holes. It is also perfect for home improvements and repairs such as installing interlocking floors and securing loose trim.
Benefits of a Brad Nailer
- The narrow head allows for a secure attachment, and it is easy to hide in wood trim.
- Relatively small nail holes thanks to the thin gauge nails/brads
- Minimized risk of splitting wood, especially when working on thin and delicate word pieces.
- Handy when gluing wooden surfaces.
- Perfect for thin trim and molding projects. Besides, there is no need for predrilling to avoid splitting the surfaces you are fastening.
Downsides of a Brad Nailer
- The brads cannot be used with thick pieces of wood. The 18 gauge nails do not penetrate thick plywood and other hardwoods such as MDF.
- Not ideal for working in tight spaces and other hard to reach corners.
Similarities between a Finish Nailer and a Brad Nailer
i.Depth adjustment system
Both nailers feature an effective depth adjustment system which ensures seamless and easy nail penetration on your very first attempt. This acts as an effective way of minimizing splinters and saving time.
ii. Angel adjustments
This feature makes it easy for you to adjust the nose of your nailer to different angles as per your nailing needs. Angle adjustments provide optimal results as it is easy to shoot nails from an angle.
iii. Depth analysis
This is the ability to adjust the puncture depth depending on the thickness of the material. This is done manually, but some tools are set to do it automatically.
Most nailers tend to use magnetic strips to hold nails or brad into position while loading. This allows the operator to have total control as well as preventing spills. You can also use canister loading that uses nails in packs. The number of nails in the packs varies from one brand to the other but is also a good way of preventing spills.
Brad Nailer vs. Finish Nailer–Which one is best?
The choice of the nail gun will depend on the job. For example, a brad nailer cannot use14 to 16 gauge nails, so you may want to match the correct tool for the job. While a brad nailer is made for small and delicate projects, a finish nailer is for tough jobs that rely on structural integrity rather than physical appearance.
Finish nailers are available in both pneumatic and cordless versions. The pneumatic ones are slightly lighter and more powerful than their cordless counterparts. They are good option if you already have an air compressor and if not a cordless one will still get the job done, especially when you don’t want to keep on dragging an air hose behind you.
Brad nailers are a right pick for woodworkers who are looking for something to attach pieces of wood. Also, it is ideal for those who work with delicate trims a lot as a finish nailer could potentially split them.
A finish nailer, on the other hand, is a must-have if you are working with heavy materials or if you are looking for a versatile nailer than you can use for more than just finishing.
However it is always a great idea to buy a combo kit to ensure that you will have the right carpentry nailers when needed.
William Phillips was born and raised in Keller, Texas. He is a licensed general contractor, and he has been a home improvement specialist for two decades. His passion for the trade led him to freelance writing to share his life experiences with his readers. Phillips enjoys thoroughly researching DIY tools and writing guides at ToolsHaunt as a way of giving back to the community.