If you’ve never seen a brad nailer and a finish nailer before, they look almost exactly the same and do the same thing. However, they shouldn’t be confused as they’re used for very different purposes.
So if you need to do some simple upgrades around the house, which one should you use? What about if you want to do some more professional woodworking? You need a tool that can work with the materials you need to use while ensuring your wood project stays affixed.
To put it simply, a brad nailer uses smaller nails called “brads” and is better suited for thin materials, while a finish nailer uses larger nails for proper and long-lasting bonding of thicker lumber.
Here are some other key differences between the two:
|Characteristics||Brad Nailer.||Finish Nailer.|
|Type of nail||Thin 18 gauge brads.||Bigger 16 and 15 gauge nails.|
|Hole size||Almost unnoticeable at approximately 0.0475 inches.||Slightly larger at about 0.0720 inches.|
|Capacity||Less holding power.||Can withstand heavier tasks.|
|Uses||Attaching thin trims without splitting.||Finishing furniture, door casing, and other carpentry work.|
|Materials it can work with||Lightweight boards and molding.||Thicker lumber such as plywood, MDF, baseboards, and so on.|
|Price||From as low as $34 to over $300 depending on the brand, power source, and accessories included.||Slightly more expensive, starting at $50 and going up to over $400.|
In this guide, we’ve broken down all the differences between a brad nailer and a finish nailer, explaining their uses, advantages, disadvantages, and more. This way, you can be sure you’re choosing the right tool for your project!
What Is a Brad Nailer?
A brad nailer is a specialized type of nail gun that’s specifically designed to carry out detailed woodwork. They’re used to push thin 18 gauge nails into a lightweight and relatively fragile pieces of wood trims to bind them.
Such a task would be quite difficult to do manually because the brads are small that you’d probably end up hitting your fingers with your hammer quite a few times before you can successfully sink them into the wood piece.
Luckily, you don’t need to risk the integrity of your fingers anymore, as the motor of the brad nailer generates enough power to easily drive those thin nails with extreme precision.
“But I’m a DIYer, when would I need to use such small nails?” you might ask. Well, brad nailers are actually very convenient tools to have in your arsenal, and they’re particularly useful for putting up extremely thin finishing.
Thin pieces of wood trim can crack and even break under the pressure of using a regular-sized nail. Brads, however, are generally only 0.0475 inches in cross-section and ⅝ to 2.5 inches long. Pretty short, don’t you think? This ensures they won’t penetrate as deep into the wood, keeping it in one piece.
Any woodworking projects that require quick, temporary binding, for example, can benefit from a brad nailer. Since brads are so thin and small, they can be removed from your workpiece quite easily with pliers, and the hole they leave is almost invisible. You can even leave the holes unfinished because they won’t affect the look of your piece at all.
Once you learn how to operate a brad nailer, you can use it for a variety of projects that don’t require a whole lot of strength and holding power, such as the following:
- Fastening trimming or decorative molding.
- Attaching baseboard to wall surfaces, such as paneling.
- Installing baseboard.
- Temporarily holding pieces together as the glue dries.
- Making picture frames and other small woodworking projects, such as building small wood furniture pieces.
- Attaching coves, stops, and rails.
As we’ve mentioned before, brad nails are an excellent choice when you want to avoid damaging your wood piece by splitting it or cracking it or when you want to leave unnoticeable nail holes. But are there any other advantages to it? Of course, there are, just as there are a few disadvantages as well.
So far, we’ve mentioned convenience and usefulness, but it’s also worth mentioning that these tools are also very beginner-friendly. They don’t weigh much and can be easily operated one-handed. You’ll have a free hand that you can use to secure the material in place while still being able to nail it precisely where you need it.
Moreover, they’re relatively inexpensive and are readily available from different power tool manufacturers because they’re quite popular and in high demand.
Brad nailers are indeed great tools, but they aren’t without their drawbacks. Since they’re specially designed for detailed and precise woodworking tasks, they’re unsuitable for heavy-duty projects that require a lot of power and strength.
To summarize it, the pros and cons of a brad nailer are:
What Is a Finish Nailer?
A finish nailer is another type of nail gun, but this one is bigger than a brad nailer and holds a magazine of 100 or more finish nails that are larger than brads. It can be powered by gas, electricity, or compressed air to drive 15 or 16 gauge nails that are 1 to 2.5 inches long into very hard lumber.
Since these nails are bigger and longer, they provide more holding power so that you can attach large or heavy pieces of trim such as baseboards, wide crown molding, or even cabinetry. If you were to use a brad nailer for these tasks, the wood piece would eventually separate from the surface it was attached to.
Finish nails have a larger diameter head than brads, so they leave significantly larger holes in the wood. They’re also headless to allow easy blending with the surface, but this also makes them harder to remove.
Trying to remove a finish nail will definitely damage the surface and leave behind a rather large hole. But if you’re sure of their placement and don’t need to remove them, you can just cover the holes by filling them with wood putty and painting them over without any issues.
Finish nailers can work on a wider variety of surfaces and materials than brad nailers, like plaster, plywood, MDF, baseboards, and so on. Since these tools will hold nails securely as they have more strength and length, they can be used for projects such as:
- Making furniture, building cabinets, and other carpentry jobs.
- Attaching large baseboards, crown molding, chair rails, and other types of trim as long as it’s not to a wooden surface as they can split the wood and leave an unpleasant finish.
- Installing hardwood floors.
- Setting up door and window casing.
Finish nailers are more versatile than Brad nailers and have a few more advantages as well. However, you need to carefully weigh them with the disadvantages as well before making any choice, especially if you’re trying to decide which tool to buy or rent.
Not only is this tool handy for various types of work, but if you have the right fasteners, some finish nailers can do almost everything that brad nailers do. We’ve mentioned you can use a finish nailer with a wide range of materials, but there are other pros to consider as well in the summary table.
As opposed to brad nailers, finish nailers are unsuitable for fixing thin trims and narrow boards as the nails are too thick and long and can easily damage and split the wood. Other than that, there are very few cons.
To summarize it, the pros and cons of a finish nailer are:
18 Gauge Brad Nailer Vs. 16 Gauge Finish Nailer
Let’s do a quick recap because these tools can’t be used interchangeably, no matter how similar they might look. The main differences between brad nailers vs finish nailers lie in the type of nails they use, the size of the hole said nails leave, the holding capacity or power the tools have, the purposes they’re meant for, the materials they can penetrate, and, of course, the price.
Nails are measured by their gauge, and the lower the number, the stronger they are, and the bigger their diameter or cross-sectional size is.
Brad nailers use 18 gauge brads that are very thin and small, whereas finish nailers work with either 16 gauge or 15 gauge nails.
While some people might think the size of the hole that the nail leaves is not really important, holes that are placed in a highly visible area might ruin the whole look of your project.
While both nailers obviously create holes as the nail is driven into the wood piece, they’re very different in size.
Brad nailers leave holes that are almost unnoticeable and rarely require any kind of filling unless the material is extremely thin or weak. Finish nailers, on the other hand, create holes that most often than not, will need you to use putty and fill them in. After that, you’ll have to sand away any excess putty and paint it over.
Having more or less power doesn’t necessarily make one or the other better, just suited for different purposes.
The finish nailer is definitely the more powerful of the two, you can safely secure heavy and thick trim, for example, without worrying about it falling away from the wall.
However, for projects that require precision, having a lot of power is actually inconvenient. This is why, even though they’re weaker, brad nailers are the best option for driving nails into softer and thinner pieces of wood.
As we’ve mentioned several times before, brad nailers are best suited for thin pieces of wood such as lightweight boards, trims, and molding because they won’t split or crack them. They’re quite useful for holding pieces together as the glue dries because the brads can be easily removed afterward.
Finish nailers, on the other hand, perform better when it comes to heavier tasks such as finishing furniture, cabinets, door casing, and other carpentry work. The tool is powerful enough to penetrate thicker lumber such as plywood, MDF, baseboards, and so on.
Prices vary a lot depending on the brand you go for, the power source of the nailer, and whether it includes any accessories. You can easily find both tools readily available at any hardware or home improvement store.
Amazon has a wide range of options you can choose from, so you can surely find one that fits within your budget. There are brad nailers for a low as $34 and as high as $300, and finish nailers from $50 to over $400.
Frequently Asked Questions about Brad Nailer vs Finish Nailer
Can I use brad nails for trim?
It depends, as “trim” can actually refer to a wide variety of finish moldings and materials. Finish nailers are a better option for door and window trim, whereas brand nailers are excellent for thin or decorative moldings.
Can I use a brad nailer for baseboards?
If you need to attach baseboard to walls, we recommend using a finish nailer because 15 gauge and 16 gauge nails are larger and have more holding power than 18 gauge brads. On the other hand, a brad nailer is perfect for attaching quarter-round and shoe molding to baseboards.
Can I use brad nails in a finish nailer?
No, you can’t. Think about it, brads are 18 gauge, while finish nailers are designed to use 16 gauge or 15 gauge. See where this is going? The finish nailer won’t be able to hold the brads properly, resulting in jams, a damaged nailer, and even injuries.
As with any kind of project, whether professional or DIY, you need to clearly identify your needs before you can buy the necessary tools. Luckily, after reading this guide, you can understand the distinctions between a brad nailer vs finish nailer better and can confidently pick the right one for you.
Do you need to attach thin trims or temporarily hold pieces together? Then go for a brad nailer.
Maybe you want to make furniture and build some cabinets or attach large baseboards and crown molding. In this case, a finish nailer is the tool you need.