16 vs. 18 Gauge Nailer: Which Is The Best?
One of the largest considerations you need to make when purchasing a nail gun is the gauge or size of the nail it shoots. If you’re a trim carpenter, you may want one or multiple guns that shoot 15- to 23-gauge nails. However, if you only plan on investing in a multi-purpose nail gun, things can get a bit more complicated.
The size of a nail is measured in gauges which indicate the diameter of the nail. Similar to electrical wires, a higher gauge means a thinner nail. The length of the nail also matters, but since most finish nailers can fire nails between 2 and 2-1/2 inches long, it doesn’t play such a tremendous factor in your purchase decision.
Two common nail sizes for nailers are 16- and 18-gauge. In this article, we’re going to discuss why size matters (hehe) and which of the two would be the better overall nail to choose.
What are 16-Gauge Nails?
Of the two nail sizes, we’re going to talk about; the 16-gauge nail is the larger one. The diameter of this nail is 1/16 of an inch wide which is still rather small, but there’s a noticeable difference when comparing this to 18- and especially 23-gauge nails.
Why Use this Nail?
Essentially, thicker nails offer better support and improved stability. Connecting two boards together with 16-gauge nails should keep your project from collapsing, especially when paired together with wood glue.
The most common type of nail gun that utilizes 16-gauge nails is the finish nailer. This gun is mostly used to install boards and crown molding where the workpiece is directly attached to drywall. You will need extra holding power of thick 16-gauge nails to keep your pieces in place.
Basically, if you want your pieces to stay in place and remain there, a finish nailer with 16-gauge nails is what you want. If you’re looking for something to temporarily hold boards together or attach super-delicate trim, then we recommend opting for an 18-gauge brad gun.
Reasons Not to Use 16-Gauge Nails
There are two main reasons not to use 16-gauge nails. The first is if you’re working exclusively with extremely thin boards or crown molding and don’t want to risk producing splits and cracks. Even though the thickness of a 16-gauge nail is only 1/16 of an inch, firing one of these nails through light trim could cause it to break.
Another reason why 16-gauge nails may not be the right match for you is that you’re currently in the middle of a woodworking project and don’t want to nail anything down permanently. A 16-gauge ail shot from a finish nailer is meant to stay in the board until the end of time. These headless nails will be impossible to pull out using the claw of a hammer.
What are 18-Gauge Nails?
The diameter of this nail is less than 2/64 of an inch. If you were to hold one between two fingers, you could actually end up bending it with hardly any force. These are more delicate than their 16-gauge counterparts, but their thinness plays a vital role in attaching trim and crown molding.
Why Use this Nail?
The thin diameter of 18-gauge nails significantly reduces the risk of cracking or splitting thin boards or pieces of trim. There’s hardly any contact made so firing one of these nails through thin, dry lumber should hardly leave a mark.
18-gauge nails are commonly used in brad nailers – a type of nail gun that is meant to provide temporary holding power between boards for gluing purposes or fire nails through delicate workpieces. If you wish to remove the brad nails after completing a task, then simply pull the boards apart with your fingers.
One of the greatest benefits of using 18-gauge nails is that they won’t leave a visible hole in your precious workpiece. Up close, you can tell that one of these nails is there, but from a distance, the surface will appear seamless. In addition, since 18-gauge nails won’t leave a gaping hole, you don’t have to mess around with wood putty to plug them up. These nails are more for appearance than for structural integrity.
Reasons Not to Use 18-Gauge Nails
Like 16-gauge nails, 18-gauge nails aren’t a blanket solution for all of your nailing needs. The first downside of 18-gauge nails is that their thin size means there’s hardly any support. You need to be conscious of how heavy your workpiece is and whether this nail can hold it in place. Attaching crown molding to drywall can is OK since it’s super light and super thin, but anything larger and thicker than that might be problematic.
Another downside is that these nails aren’t designed to penetrate through dense materials. MDF boards are something you should avoid firing 18-gauge nails into since they’ll bend and won’t stick, regardless of how powerful your air compressor’s settings are.
16-Gauge vs. 18-Gauge – Which to Get
In our opinion, if you don’t work with crown molding and delicate trim on a regular basis, then stick to a finish nailer and 16-gauge nails.
First, they offer a tremendous amount of support for such a thin nail. You’ll need to hammer your boards to tear them away from the nail.
Second, even though they’re considerably thicker than 18-gauge nails, they also don’t leave a wide hole in their wake. From a distance, you’ll hardly notice that they’re even there to hold your structure together. A little wood putty should cover any places where the nail was shot in too deep.
Third, because of their size, they can be used to hold thick, dense pieces of wood together with little trouble. It may take a while to get the ail in at the right depth, but it’s possible to do (unlike with an 18-gauge brad gun).
16- and 18-gauge nails are some of the most widely used nails in nail guns. 16-gauge nails are fired by finish nailers, whereas 18-gauge nails are shot from a brad nailer. Both of these nail guns serve different purposes, and it all comes down to the holding power of their respective nails. The more versatile type of nail to use is 16-gauge which can support and penetrate thick boards and hold them in place permanently. Only get/rent an 18-gauge brad nailer if you’re attaching trim molding and other delicate trim pieces.
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