What Is the Difference Between a Brad Nailer and a Finish Nailer?

Image of finish nailer in use but What Is the Difference Between a Brad Nailer and a Finish Nailer?Nailing is a crucial aspect of woodworking. Most woodworkers and DIYers have used nailers over the years and with the evolving technology, it’s even getting better. There are many nailers out there with the most confusing being the brad and finish nailers, so, what is the difference between a brad nailer and a finish nailer? Let’s settle this once and for all.

What makes the brad nailer and the finish nailer different is that you’ll use the brad nailer to shoot 18 gauge nails, while the finish nailer will be ideal when you are nailing the 16 or 15 gauge nails.

Even so, when choosing which device you want to use for your nailing projects, keenly check on your project requirements. Then, if you keep reading, you’ll get to know more about these two nailers.

Here are the main features and differences between these two nailers.

Brad Nailers

Unlike other nailers, you’ll use the brad nailer to shoot brads which are essentially thin nails. You will mainly use this unit for fixing trims and moldings. What’s best about the brad nailers is how you can use them for extremely thin finishings.

With the incredible features of this type of nailer, you can easily use it when you require more holding strength than a micro pin provides. For this reason, the brad nails have a gauge of 18 with a cross-section of only 0.0475″.

Thanks to the compact design of these nails, you can effortlessly use them on small pieces of wood trim. In addition, the nails help prevent surface splitting.

Finish Nailers

You can use the finish nailers for running the 15 or 16 gauge nails. The best part is that you can do either straight or angled nailing, depending on the tool you are using. Therefore, always ensure you know the type of magazine that your device uses.

Like the brad nailer, you’ll only need the finish nailer for specific situations such as putting up trims or molding. Even though they seem to perform similar jobs, the finish nailer has more strength. Therefore, please don’t use it on very thin trims since they might crack.

Should I Buy a Brad Nailer or a Finish Nailer?

You’ll need both of these tools since each of them has a specific use. For example, even though a brad nailer will give your delicate wood materials a nice appearance without splitting them, you’ll need a finish nailer for your trim woods and other hardwood materials.

Before choosing which nailer is appropriate for your project, consider your project’s demands. Both the brad and finish nailers drive nails, but each of them has some specifications on when and where to use while making joints.

Can I Use a Brad Nailer for Baseboards?

No, you can’t use the brad nailer for your baseboards. The ideal nailer for baseboards is the finish nailer since it produces more stability and holding power. In contrast, a brad nailer is only suitable for thin trims.

Why Use Gauge 15 or 16 for Baseboards?

With the delicate nature of a baseboard, you’ll find the gauge 15 and 16 very essential nails since they won’t leave impressions on your material. You can use both nailers to drive up to 2½” or 6D to 8D long nails.

What’s best about using the 15 or 16 gauge nail is that it’s thin enough to go unnoticed and large and long to attach the baseboard on your wall perfectly. Like other nails, you’ll have to do some filling work, but this time it will be less work.

Can a Finish Nailer Use Brad Nails?

Yes, a finish nailer can use brad nails. The only disadvantage is that it won’t work effectively. For the best results when shooting an 18 gauge nail through plywood, ensure you use an appropriate size compressor and your nailer to be in good condition. 

You’ll experience problems if you want to nail more than one layer on top of the other.

Basic Finish Nailer Tips

Mainly, you’ll differentiate a nailer from the thickness of nails ideal for their use. You can do this by checking the gauge number, with the bigger number referring to a smaller nail.

Below is what you need to know about the finish nailers.

  • Fasteners

It would be wise to note that nails with a smaller gauge usually come in packs that load vertically. On the other hand, you’ll find 16 gauge nails in packs that mostly load at an angle.  

  • Use nails before screws.

If you use nails before screwing or drilling holes, they will help you keep the parts aligned, especially when screwing cabinets. 

  • Push the baseboard using a block

Consider pushing the baseboard using a block, mostly a 2×4 block. Doing this will be of much help when the baseboard or the floor isn’t straight. The block will also provide you with a broad surface that will let you use maximum pressure while pushing against the wall. You’ll also enjoy using the technique with uncooperative crown molding.

  • Pre-finish parts

There is no need to worry about beating up the wood with nailers as you do while using a hammer. With this great technique, the assembly process will be a piece of cake since you can finish parts before assembling.

Another advantage of pre-finishing parts is that you’ll enjoy better results in less time. You only have to ensure that before shooting, the soft rubber tip of your nailer is on the gun.

  • Use a pinner for tight spots.

Suppose you have a tight end where other nailers can’t fit, consider using a pinner since it has a working end of only 6⅜”.

  • Nail before you clamp

If you only use a coat of slippery glue, your boards will slide from your desired alignment as you attempt to clamp them. Therefore, you’ll find nailing an essential practice of preventing misalignment as you secure your wood pieces with much pressure.

  • Tack trim for marking

If you want to mark the length on your trim correctly, ensure you hold it firmly in place to eliminate errors. But what if the piece is too long? Consider using a brad nail to tack one end of your trim against the wall in such cases.  

After this, do your marking before yanking the trim on the wall and removing the brad. You can avoid damaging your trim’s face by using nippers when pulling the nail through the back of the frame.

By doing this, you rest assured of an accurate cutting mark. You will also have one extra hole, which you can consider filling later on.

  • Extend your reach

If you start nailing using a hammer, you’ll have to use both hands, therefore, limiting your reach. Naturally, you won’t want this, especially when you have a demanding project. The remedy for this is using a trim nailer since you can use it to shoot your nails over a stretch without moving your ladder.

You can also extend your reach is by using a bench. It has a wide surface area to provide you with an ample stepping space than a ladder does.

  • Position parts with a gauge

You won’t be happy if your boards are not in perfect alignment after nailing. Therefore, consider positioning the parts ideally using a gauge. You don’t have to use a combination adjustable square gauge if you don’t have one. Instead, design a custom gauge by simply tacking a couple of wood scraps.

  • Dealing with stray nails

What will you do if the nail pops out of your trim by accidentally taking a turn? First, this might be because of careless aim. In such a scenario, you can drive out the nail using a hammer. For the case of a gauge 18 nail, bend it back and forth using pliers until it breaks. You can then drive the remaining piece into the trim with a nail set.

Should I Get a 16 or 18 Gauge Nailer?

The correct answer to this question is that it depends. Even so, the 16 gauge nailer is more versatile since it can permanently hold and support thick boards. The only time you’ll require the 18 gauge nailer is when you have a project that involves the use of molding and other delicate trims.

The Differences Between the 16 Gauge and 18 Gauge Nailer

Here, you will see the main differences between the 16 and 18 gauge nailers that will help you decide which is the best nailer for your project.

  • Nail size

For an 18 gauge nailer, you’ll need to use a thin nail (18 gauge). On the other hand, the gauge 16 nailer will require a slightly larger one (15 or 16 gauge).

  • Trims

When handling both exterior and interior trims on doors, windows, and baseboards, high precision is a factor to consider. You’ll also need to concentrate on crafting stability and holding power. Therefore, the ideal tool for the baseboards is the 16 gauge nailer. The 16 gauge nails also offer a better solution when making furniture or doing repairs.

  • Finish

For finishes, consider using the 18 gauge nailer since the nails are thinner and smaller. Using these nails will ensure no remaining footprints and no wood splitting.

  • Heavy-duty tasks

The 16 gauge nails are ideal for thicker woodworks that require better holding strength and high stability. It even becomes more manageable if you pair the trims with glue. You also rest assured of durability when you use the gauge 16 nails on hefty forms of woodworks.

  • Power source

There are two primary power sources for both the 16 and 18 gauge nailers. You can either choose between battery or air (pneumatic versions). Each of these systems has its advantage and disadvantage.

Let’s take an in-depth review of the two power sources.

  • Battery power

Do you need a free hand brad nailer? I suggest you go for the battery-powered one. Choosing this type will eliminate the hassles of aligning your hose while working. It also provides convenience in job site portability. 

Another cool thing about this type of nailer is that you’ll experience minimal noise pollution while working. You only need to ensure you fully charge it before using it. Also, it would be nice if you had extra batteries with you to avoid wasting time while working.

Tip: You should take caution when using Li-ion batteries since they are most prone to thermal cum physical shock. Even though you will rarely experience such cases as breaking down, the best thing is to take caution.

  • Pneumatic power

If you are working on demanding jobs and you want to go non-stop unless frequently loading nails, the pneumatic power nailer is what you need. The only concern is that you’ll require a compressor, hoses, connectors, and fittings.

The Setbacks You Must Know

  • There is no guarantee of structural strength or stability when using the 18 gauge nailer.
  • The 18 gauge nails are hard to punch through thick hardwood such as walnut, ash, oak, beech, oak, and many more.
  • 16 gauge brad nailer is only ideal for structure, framework, and other repair jobs.
  • The gauge size of the 16 gauge nailer can leave a wider gap around the finish area.
  • Filling the left hole with wood putty doesn’t give a perfectly smooth finish.
  • A thicker nail can split or crack your wood.
  • Selecting the right nailer depends on your project’s demand.

When Would You Use a 16 Gauge Finish Nailer?

You will use a 16 gauge finish nailer if you need better support and enhanced stability for your trims. The nails are thick enough to give you confidence, especially when working on hard and long pieces.

Another reason to use this nailer is to finish jobs such as installing boards or crowns directly to drywall. Generally, you’ll use this nailer when working on a more permanent structure.

Some of the construction and installation jobs that will require the 16 gauge nailers include:

  • Cabinets
  • Flooring
  • Staircases
  • Chair rails
  • Exterior trim
  • Casing
  • Crown and base molding
  • Baseboards

What Is the Best Nailer for Baseboards?

Generally, to determine the best nailer for your baseboard, ensure you consider the key factors such as length, size or width, and the ideal type of nail. 

Tip: It would be best you also remembered to allow at least 24 to 48 hours before installing your baseboard to prevent shrinkage since it might result in warping or bending.

What Size of Finishing Nails to Choose for Baseboard?

Choosing a particular type of nail mainly depends on the type of material and your project’s demands. Therefore, you should first determine the primary purpose of your baseboard. One of the purposes of a baseboard is to protect your wall from damage by pets, shoes, or any other thing that might get into contact from the floor. The other crucial function is improving your wall’s elegance by complementing its look with a smooth line.

Also, you must know that using long nails on thin boards can cause cracks and piercing of hidden pipes or wirings.

If you want a fine finish for your baseboard, consider using the finish nailer since it utilizes the longer nails ranging from 15 to 16 gauges. Since baseboards require nails with a smaller diameter, choose a finish nailer with a larger gauge.

Doing this will ensure you get a smoother finish that leaves a smaller hole requiring fewer fillings. A nailer with a smaller diameter will also prevent splitting your baseboard owing to the nature of the material.

Considering that most baseboards require the painting to match the room’s interior decor, you must ensure to use a thinner nail to reduce the amount of filling you would use.

Suppose you don’t plan to paint your baseboard, use a punch to make a hole on the tainted part of your wood, then fill it later using either wood filler or putty.

How to Install Baseboard

Here are the simple steps of installing baseboards.

Step 1: Prepare your work by measuring numbering and marking.

  • First, you’ll measure then cut the appropriate size of baseboards for each wall. You should also ensure you leave some allowance for miter cuts by cutting longer boards for those that meet outside corners.
  • After this, number the back of your board and your wall (should be the same number).
  • The next step is determining the studs and marking them on the wall to use as a firm base when nailing your baseboard.

Step 2: Establish the baseboard height.

  • Here, you’ll first determine if the floor is level by setting a 4 foot level on the floor just next to your wall. You can also select the lowest point of the level by moving it across the wall then tacking an unusable baseboard piece to the wall.
  • On every few feet around the walls, make horizontal lines.
  • Use chalk to show where all the edges of the baseboard will land during installation.
  • Tack the baseboard to your wall with a nail.
  • Use a compass to determine the vertical distance from the board’s corner to the chalk line.

Step 3: Scribe for a tight fit

  • Ensure you don’t change the compass settings so you can slide it along the floor with all points vertically aligned.
  • Set a 2 to 5-degree bevel angle before cutting along the scrub line.
  • Ensure the top edge of the scribed baseboard perfectly aligns with the chalk line in step 2.

Step 4: Nail baseboard to the wall

  • Perfectly align the scribed baseboard to the wall and nail it using two 8d finish nails.

Step 5: Mark outside corner joints

  • Use the edge of the exterior corner to guide you as you make a vertical line up the back of your board with a pencil.
  • Put a mark on the top side of your board to indicate the direction of the miter.
  • Repeat the same process on the board that will constitute the other half of the miter against the adjacent wall. 

Step 6: Miter-cut outside corner joints

  • Set the miter saw at 45 degrees, then cut the miters outside the lines. 
  • Examine the joint on each board to ensure perfectly straight edges.

Step 7: Cut biscuit slots

  • Here you’ll cut and then assembly the biscuit joints of the baseboard.

Step 8: Nail on the cap molding

  • With an 8d nail, secure each stud against the wall.
  • Suppose there are spaces behind the molding. Fill them with a construction adhesive before nailing them to the studs.

Step 9: Sand the cap molding

  • Remove sharp edges by lightly sanding all the mitered corners with fine sandpaper.
  • After this, your baseboard is ready for priming and painting.

Here’s more on how to install baseboards:

Can You Use a Brad Nailer on MDF?

No, you can’t. Brad nailers are not ideal for driving nails through hardwoods such as plywoods or Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF).

Instead, use this unit for attaching delicate trims and thin strips.

Which Is Better Straight or Angled Finish Nailer?

If you want to know which is better between the straight or angled finish nailer, then you need to know the purpose of each of them.

Here are the main differences

  • Angle Nailers

These tools are ideal for small and tight spaces since they use heavier gauge nails. Therefore, they can hide most nail types even if you can’t see the nail’s head.

Since the angle nailers have large magazines, they hold relatively large nails and effectively shoots them into the wood. The only drawback is how expensive and difficult it is to find such nails.

  • Straight Nailers

For straight nailers, they use thinner nails that hide the nail’s head. You’ll find it quite challenging to use such nailers in tight spaces since they are ideal for visible areas. The straight nailers are also not as accurate as angle nailers, though they are best for basic framing and construction.

From the above differences, we see that both of the nailers have their unique uses. If you have enough money, you can opt for both. But the best thing is to go for the one you would like for your job at hand.

Final Thoughts

This article shows how essential it is to use nailers for most of your woodworking projects. As long as you choose the ideal nailer for your project, you will always have the best finishes. But…

What Is the Difference Between a Brad Nailer and a Finish Nailer?

The main difference between these two nailers is the type of nail gauges they drive. The brad nailer is ideal for gauge 18 nails, while the finish nailer works best with 15 or 16 gauge nails.

It’s my pleasure that you have read this article until this point. But if you still need more information, kindly reach out in the comment section below.

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Tyron Otieno

Tyron is an avid woodworker and writer. He founded this website to help other woodworkers, whether hobbyists or professionals by sharing his knowledge and experiencie after a decade of woodworking.