Finish Nailer vs. Brad Nailer: What to Choose?
Woodworkers the world over will tell you that if you’re serious about your craft, then a nail gun is an absolute must-have tool. There’s no easier way to drive thousands of nails than with a nailer, and not just quickly but accurately as well. With the right type of nailer, you can fasten delicate trim work, connect large boards, and attach roof tiles.
Of course, the first step before doing any of this involves finding the right nailer. There are several types of nailers to choose from, making finding the appropriate nailer a bit of a challenge. The two most common types are finish nailers and brad nailers. Your first impression might be that they look identical, fire nails of identical lengths, so how do they differ?
That’s what we’re here to talk about. After reading this guide, you should have a basic idea of what finish nailers and brad nailers are, when to use each of them, and which of the two would benefit you more in your next woodworking project.
What are Finish Nailers?
The main thing that separates finish nailers and brad nailers is the type of nail each of them fires. From the tool’s name, you can correctly assume that finish nailers fire finish nails.
Between brads and finish nails, finish nails are the larger variety that provides more holding power. Finish nailers fire nails between 14- and 16-gauge thick with a maximum length of 2-1/2 inches. Like all nails fired from a nail gun, finish nails are headless so if, for any reason, the nail doesn’t penetrate the surface of your workpiece, driving it deeper with a hammer is not possible.
Finish Nailer Pros
The greatest benefit of finish nails is they provide a ton of holding power. Finish nails are meant to be used for final assembly when connecting boards. The nails should give your work enough structural integrity not to fail over time. The amount of holding power that finish nails provide will do well in fastening heavy pieces like wide crown molding, baseboards, and cabinetry.
Finish nailers also provide enough firing power to sink finish nails deep into the surface of your material. Very rarely will the nail ever bend or fail to penetrate your workpiece, which is a plus since you can’t sink them all the way by whacking the headless nail with a hammer.
Finish Nailer Cons
However, there are several drawbacks of using finish nails compared to other types of nail and nailers. First of which is the nail’s large thickness which leaves a visible hole when sunk. This means having to go over the area with wood putty or another concealer – something that could ruin the appearance of your work.
Another thing to consider regarding the wide girth is it has a higher risk of cracking more delicate pieces of trim. When working with softer, flimsier pieces, you should stick to using thin pins or brads.
What are Brad Nailers?
Essentially, any area where finish nails shouldn’t be used, brad nails will excel. For instance, fastening thin, delicate pieces of trim work on furniture should be done with thinner brads.
Brad nailers fire brad nails – 16- to 18-gauge nails – which have a ton of use in woodworking. Brad nails can be used to temporarily hold large boards in place while waiting for wood glue to cure, and they can even be used as a permanent fastener for thin work strips and trim.
Brad Nailer Pros
So we’ve already established that brad nails are considerably thinner than finish nails. The main benefit of brad nails is the minute hole it leaves after being fired into your workpiece. The hole is invisible from a distance, and you’d have to intentionally look for it from up close. Since brads leave very little holes in their wake, going over the area with wood putty is not necessary.
Even though thin brads do have limited holding power, this doesn’t diminish the effectiveness of brads in holding workpieces together. For more complicated woodworking projects, brads are the preferred nail of choice due to their effectiveness in holding most types of softwood together without leaving a gaping hole.
Brad Nailer Cons
But with thinness comes great ineffectiveness in a number of different applications. Firstly, if you work with hardwoods and plywood on a regular basis, you can ditch the brad nailer and stick to a finish nailer instead. Brad nails will simply bend, regardless of how much firing power your air compressor or the tool delivers.
In a nutshell, brads aren’t made for heavy-duty projects. They don’t provide sufficient holding power in keeping large boards properly fastened, which can ruin the finished product’s appearance. It’s better to conceal larger holes from finish nails with wood putty than to have your piece fall apart over time.
Finally, the length of the brad nail is insignificant in how much holding power each brad provides. Brads are ultimately used exclusively for trim work and temporarily holding boards together, and beyond these two applications, you’d be better off with a more powerful type of nailer.
Finish Nailer vs. Brad Nailer – Which should I get?
Between finish nailers and brad nailers, which would benefit you more? Well, it ultimately comes down to two things. First, what materials are you working with? And second, how allergic are you to wood putty? In our opinion, finish nailers are by far the better tool to have for several reasons: they have better holding power, the holes they leave after being sunken can easily be concealed by wood putty, and they have the strength to penetrate through some of the toughest types of woods available.
Brad nails, on the other hand, have limited functionality. They’re used mainly to fasten delicate pieces of trim and work as a temporarily connector between large boards. Other than these two applications, you’re not going to get much use out of a brad nailer.
That’s not to say that brads are bad. In fact, if you can use brads to align large boards prior to driving screws or while waiting for wood glue to cure. But for a more permanent solution without using too many different types of fasteners, a finish nailer is gun to get.