Woodworkers all over the world use different kinds of nailers in both the build and finish phases of their projects. Brad and Finish nailers often have similar appearances, which leads to some people using them interchangeably.
That’s too bad—if you know the differences between these two tools you can do more in the shop and create better pieces.
Brad nailers are meant for delicate work. They use small nails called “brad nails,” which are shorter, thinner, and have a smaller head than both standard and finish nails. Brad nailers typically use 18-gauge brad nails. The number in front of “gauge” refers to how thin the nail is, and the higher the number, the narrower the nail.
Brad nailers are great for when you don’t want to use wood putty, because they leave holes that, in many cases, are small enough that they don’t need to be covered up. These small holes make them good for doing finishing touches on a project, like attaching trim or molding to a cabinet.
These tools aren’t great for heavy-duty work. First, brad nails are quite small, and can’t hold the same weight as a heavier, thicker nail. Second, brad nailer aren’t as powerful as other kinds of nailers, which means that they typically won’t be able to drive nails into harder woods. Plywood, for example, is probably too hard for most brad nailers.
Overall, brad nailers are best for finishing work. They can’t drive load-bearing nails or use with heavy woods. However, they excel in doing cosmetic work, and may not require the use of wood putty.
Our Favorite Brad Nailer:
Finish Nailers use larger nails than brad nailers and tend to come with more power. You’ll generally find models that use 14, 15, or 16-gauge nails and up to 2.5 inches long. Because it uses thicker nails and has more power, it is less likely that you’ll bend the nail while driving it.
These larger nails have more holding power, so you’re going to be able to do projects with heavier woods and bigger pieces. Finish nailers are commonly used to attach trim, including baseboards and crown molding, as well as in the assembly of cabinetry.
However, this extra power and nail size makes finish nailers unsuitable for more delicate work. If you’re working with softer woods, there’s a chance that you’d split it with a finish nailer, which ruins the piece.
Larger nails make larger holes. These larger holes are very visible, so you’re going to have to fill them with wood putty. Using wood putty to seal holes creates the highest-quality finish, but it also means that you’re going to have to pay for wood putty and other tools for its application.
Overall, finish nailers are versatile tools good for many kinds of work, but excelling in cabinetry and molding, since they fully sink the nails into the surface and can be covered with wood putty, leading to a great look when you finish the project.
Our Favorite Finish Nailer:
Neither the brad nailer nor the finish nailer is objectively better than the other. Which model you get should depend on what kinds of projects you need to do. If you’re working with smaller, lighter, cosmetic pieces, then a brad nailer should suit you just fine. If you’re instead working with bigger, heavier, or structural pieces, then you’re going to need a finishing nailer.
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Hi there! My name is Adam and I write for HealthyHandyman. I have a great passion for writing about everything related to tools, home improvement, and DIY. In my spare time, I'm either fishing, playing the guitar, or spending quality time with my beloved wife. You'll also often find me in my workshop working on some new project!