Finish Nailer vs. Brad Nailer
To understand the important differences between a finish nailer and a brad nailer, it's helpful to better understand the differences between brads and finish nails to begin with.
Brads are small nails with a very small head, a slender diameter, and a short length. They are typically 18-22 gauge, and range from 5/8ths of an inch to 2 inches long.
They are a great choice for small, delicate jobs that don't require a lot of strength in fastening, particularly in small trim, and small projects like jewelry boxes and bird houses.
Advantages of Brad Nails
Because brad nails are so small and slim, they can easily be used for delicate jobs like attaching lightweight trim, particularly when working with thin or soft wood.
They are so thin that there is a much lower risk of splitting wood, and the small head often allows brads to be nearly invisible in the work, so they don't require wood putty to cover the hole and conceal the attachment.
Brads are also often used to hold wood securely in place long enough for glue to dry; because the brad holes are so tiny, they can be removed after pieces are glued together, and any holes can be concealed with just paint.
Finish nails are also quite slender, but they are bigger, longer, and have more of a head than brads. Finish nails are usually 14-16 gauge, and are usually 1 to 2 ½ inches long, so they make attachments that are longer lasting and more secure.
Advantages of Finish Nails
The small head of finish allows them to blend into the wood, although not as well as brads. Like brads, finish nails are often used in trim and molding.
Unlike brads, finish nails can be used to attach molding, baseboards, and heavy trim directly to drywall.
Because finish nails are longer, stronger, and have more of a head than brads, they create a stronger and more durable attachment, and can be used on wood that is harder, thicker, and more dense.
They are less likely to splinter wood than larger nails are, but are more likely to split and splinter than brads.
Because the larger heads of finish nails are more visible in the final work, most carpenters follow finish nails with wood putty to conceal them.
Finish Nailer vs. Brad Nailer
Once you understand the differences between brads and finish nails, the differences between finish nailers and brad nailers become more obvious.
Brad nailers are smaller, thinner, and have a smaller head. Because brads are used for more small scale, delicate projects, the small size of a brad nailer helps woodworkers access tight areas and corners, and place brads with precision.
Finish nailers are larger, more powerful, and more robust.
While they can be used for delicate trims on hand-crafted projects, they can also be used for baseboards, door and window casings, and other projects that need stronger, more durable attachments.
Most home hobbyists would find a finish nailer to be the more useful device, because finish nails can be used for small, delicate projects as well as more robust ones.
It's a more versatile tool for a variety of different woods and projects.
However, finish nailers are usually more expensive than brad nailers, so many hobbyists prefer the more affordable option.
Different Types of Nailers
Whether you want a finish nailer or a brad nailer, there are a few other features that make a big difference in your nailer:
Choose Your Gauge
For those looking for the most versatility, with the ability to use their nail gun on a wide variety of materials and projects, a 16 gauge finish nailer is an excellent choice.
It's a good compromise between nails that are slender enough to avoid splits and splinters, but strong enough for more robust attachments.
However, many woodworkers have specific woods and specific projects that need smaller or larger gauge nails.
Look for an Angled Magazine
Even if you don't need an angled magazine at the moment, it's always a good idea to choose a nailer that has that option.
Angled magazines make it easier to work in tight corners and make clean attachments.
Of course, the big differentiator in nail guns is how the gun is powered. Nail guns can be powered by a battery, giving you the convenience of a cordless brad nailer or finish nailer.
Or they can be powered pneumatically, by an air compressor, which gives more power.
There are a lot of options and factors when selecting the best nail gun power source for your needs, but here is a quick overview:
These nailers are powered by a battery pack. They offer cordless convenience, but are heavier to operate.
There are a huge range of power tool battery systems, and if you already have a power tool battery brand that you like, electric might be the perfect choice.
These nailers drive nails using the power of compressed air. They are lighter in the hand, and deliver more force, but have to be attached to an air compressor.
The cost of a compressor should be factored into the cost of the nail gun, if you don't have one already.
The truth is, most seasoned woodworkers and professionals don't use either nails or brads.
Most experienced carpenters use both finish nails and brads, depending on the wood, the project, and the finish they need for that particular job.
There are perfect applications for both brads and for finish nails, and both types of nailers are much faster and more effective than hammering nails by hand.
However, not everyone has the budget for every specialized tool they want, and not everyone has the space for limited specialized tools.
You will also need to choose the power supply that works best with your existing tools or equipment, as well as the woodworking projects you have in mind. Weigh your options and make the right choice for your needs.