Nailers, whether electric or pneumatic, can save you a lot of time if you need to drive a lot of nails. While there are several types of nailers, two that are very commonly used are brand nailers and finish nailers.
At first glance, they might seem like exactly the same tools, just different in size. In reality, however, they are two separate tools that are used for very different purposes.
Brad Nailers and Finish Nailers: The Basics
Before looking at the differences between the tools and their various applications, let’s start by looking at what makes a brad nailer a brad nailer, and what makes a finish nailer a finish nailer.
DeWalt Brad Nailer Kit (DWFP12231)
A pneumatic brad nailer made by one of the world’s leading tool companies. Works with 18 gauge nails.
Makita AF635 15 Gauge Angled Finish Nailer
A pneumatic finish nailer made by my favorite power tool maker. Works with 15 gauge nails.
Generally, they are designed to work with 18 gauge nails. Gauge refers to the number of nails that will fit per inch. As such, the higher the gauge, the thinner the nail. These nails only have a very small head, oftentimes not considerably different in diameter from the rest of the nail.
Brad nailers are available in cordless, corded, as well as pneumatic versions.
They are more powerful than brad nailers and as such, they can create stronger connections between materials. They are also able to hold together thicker boards than brad nails can.
Similarly to brad nailers, finish nailers are available in electric (both corded and cordless) and pneumatic versions.
Brad Nailers vs. Finish Nailers: Which Are Better?
As mentioned in the introduction, the ideal type of nailer to use will depend on your exact situation. The pros and cons listed below will help you analyze your own situation and choose the better one for you.
The Pros and Cons of Brad Nailers
Let’s start with the main advantages of brad nailers:
- Can be used with thin boards: Since brad nailers use small, 18 gauge nails, you can use them with thinner boards without having to worry about splitting them.
- Can be used for temporary connections: You can connect boards that you plan to glue with brad nails while the glue dries. Once it is dry, you can either leave them in the wood or remove them – leaving almost no visible marks in either case.
- Clean work: The relatively low power of brad nailers combined with the small head of the nails results in nail holes that are almost invisible.
The disadvantages of brad nailers include:
- Weak connection: Because they are small, the nails used with brad nailers are fairly weak. As such, they are only suitable for permanent connections of very small boards.
- Can’t be used with stronger materials: The size of the nails, as well as the power of the nailers, also means that they cannot be used with stronger, harder to penetrate materials.
The Pros and Cons of Finish Nailers
To get a quick list of the pros and cons of finish nailers, you can simply take the list related to brad nailers I wrote out above, and reverse it. However, let’s look into it in a bit more detail.
Let’s start with the advantages of finish nailers:
- Stronger connection: Since finish nailers use thicker – and oftentimes longer – nails than brad nailers, they are able to provide a stronger connection between the boards you working with.
- Permanent connection: When joining boards with finish nails, it is not necessary to use glue or other ways to hold them together.
- Versatility: Because they are more powerful than brad nailers, finish nailers are suitable for a wider variety of purposes and work with a wider range of materials.
And now, let’s take a brief look at the disadvantages of finish nailers:
- Not ideal for thin materials: Because the nails are thick and the tool is powerful, they are likely to split thin boards and weak materials.
- Visible nail holes: Since finish nails have relatively large heads and are driven with significant power, they leave large nail holes that need to be filled if you are looking to achieve a clean finish.
Finally, let’s take a look at a couple of frequently encountered situations where you have a choice between using the two different types of nailers.
Brad Nailers vs. Finish Nailers for Baseboards, Trims, and Crown Molding
Whether you are looking to attach baseboards or trims, or do crown molding, you should opt for finish nailer and 15 or 16 gauge nails.
While, depending on the material you are using, you might be able to get away with using a brad nailer with smaller nails, those situations are not that common and the work might not last as long as it would have if you used larger nails driven with a finish nailer.
Brad Nailers vs. Finish Nailers for Furniture
When it comes to furniture, the ideal nailer for the task at hand will depend.
If you are building something small and out of relatively thin pieces of wood, a brad nailer might do the job just fine. In fact, it might be the ideal tool for the job as it will prevent the wood from splitting.
It will also be the perfect tool if you are looking for temporary joints to hold while your wood glue dries.
On the other hand, if you are using thicker, heavier boards, you will want to use a finish nailer for the maximum possible connection strength.
Both of the tools I talked about in this article are nailers – i.e. tools designed to drive nails – and work on the same principles. However, that is where their similarities end.
The main difference between the two is the type of nails each of them is designed to be used with. While brad nailers work with smaller, 18 gauge nails with very small heads, finish nailers use larger, 15 or 16 gauge nails.
Because of that difference, each of the tools is suitable for different purposes. Brad nailers are ideal for joining thinner boards and creating temporary joints. Finish nailers on the other hand, are ideal for use with thicker boards and creating permanent joints.