Framing Nailers vs. Finish Nailers: What’s the Difference?

  • December 4, 2018
framing nailers vs finish nailers

Image credit: CC0 Public Domain, Max Pixel

Framing nailers and finish nailers are both nail guns in the same way that pick-up trucks and sporty convertibles are both cars.  In a broad sense, they do the same jobs, but most users would not consider them entirely interchangeable.  So how are they different?

Framing Nailer = The Pick-up Truck

The framing nailer is the pick-up truck of nailers.  It is used for the tough jobs, the ones where sturdiness is paramount.  If you are framing a wall, building an addition, or adding a deck, you’ll want a framing nailer to hold together things like 2x4s.  The framing nails for your framing nailer will come in a choice of lengths, thicknesses, nail heads, and material, all of which can be matched to your specific task.  There are also more generic framing nails that function as “jack-of-all-trades” nails.  No one will ever see the results of your framing nailer so if it occasionally marks the wood your working with, it won’t matter.

framing nailer

Image credit: Lt. j.g. Jeromy L. Pittmann, Wikimedia

Finishing Nailer = The Convertible

The finishing nailer is the sporty convertible.  It is used for the pretty work, like fastening trim molding to doors and windows, assembling kitchen cabinets, or attaching wainscoting.  Finishing nails also come in a variety of sizes but they all have a small or barely-there nail head.  Finish nailers drive the nails so far into the wood that a small hole is intentionally left to be filled with a wood putty that matches the color of the finish.  A finish nailer and nails should leave little or no trace of their existence if used properly.

Is it really that big of a difference?

Does it really matter?  Yes!  If you use a framing nailer to attach your window trim, it will leave large, easily visible holes and/or nail heads in the wood, something you won’t be able to avoid seeing every time you look out the window.  Conversely, if you use a finishing nailer to build the frame of a wall, you might find that it collapses before you even try to hang drywall on it.


You wouldn’t use a chainsaw to trim a dowel, and you wouldn’t use a jigsaw to demolish a garage.  The moral of this story – like the story of many power tools – is to choose the right tool for the job.  Framing nailers are for the tough and dirty jobs, like your pick-up truck at a job site, and finishing nailers are for the jobs where looks matter, like your little red convertible on a date.

About the Author Adam Harris

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!