Brad Nailer vs Finish Nailer

Brad nailers use 18 gauge nails called “brad” nails. Being thinner nails, they are best suited for small trim jobs and smooth finishing projects. The finish nailers, however, use 15 or 16 gauge nails and offer more penetrating power to work with.

Brad Nailer vs Finish Nailer

Brad Nailer vs Finish Nailer

Both types of nailers have their own merits and demerits. The job and purpose are what decide which one is the best suited to a particular scenario. Let’s dive deep in brad nailer vs finish nailer.

Brad Nailer

A brad nailer uses brad nails that are formed from a fine, 18 gauge wire. Therefore, they are thinner and smaller in diameter. For projects like detailed woodwork and trim, contractors and weekend warriors use this nailer to do the job smoothly.

An average brad nail has a gauge of 18 and 0.0475 inches of cross-section, which is quite small. Having a smaller head and diameter also implies that these 18 gauge nails have less holding strength.

However, this exact fact is what makes them useful for certain woodwork projects. The brad nails are easier to conceal and you won’t need to make use of carpenter’s putty. Hence, brad nailers are just as important as other nailers to keep around your tool shed.

Finish Nailer

Finish nailers, on the other hand, use finish nails that are made from 15 or 16 gauge wire. Lesser gauge number means a thicker nail, in other words, greater holding power. The finish nailer is a more suitable choice where you have to do larger trims.

Finish nailers come in both angled and straight varieties. Owing to its greater driving force, these nailers are not appropriate for small trim jobs. Besides, the larger diameter of the head leaves a noticeable hole in the wood surface which needs concealing.

Points of Comparison

The following points will help you better understand what factors differ between these two nails and in what way.

Gauge Size

If you are a weekend enthusiast looking to buy your first nail gun, you will see yourself pondering upon the term “gauge”. The easiest way to describe is that it is the number of nails lined up in an inch side by side. Therefore, brad nailers can fit 18 nails into one inch. On the other hand, finish nailers can fit only 15 or 16 nails per inch.

So, it becomes clear that brad nails are thinner than finish nails. In other words, the lower the gauge number, the thicker the nail is.

Hole Size

The finish nails have a shank thickness of approximately 0.0625 inches and are supplied in 1-3.5 inches. The thicker size of the nail allows it to hold trims better. However, these nails are thick enough to split small moldings. Another downside is that the finish nails have a larger head diameter. As a result, they leave bigger holes that need to be filled with carpenter’s putty.

The brad nails having a thickness of typically 0.0475 inches are in complete contrast. Being thinner nails, they are more suitable for detailed woodworking projects. These nails generate lesser power but leave smaller holes that you won’t need to fill.


When it comes to raw holding power, there is no competition for the finish nailers. They offer more holding power for jobs like heavy or thick trimming and such. Brad nailer is not suitable for this type of job as the brad nails are much thinner.

Using the brad nailer regardless will cause the trim or molding to eventually fall apart. Therefore, in the case of hardwood or thick plywood where you need more power, a finish nailer is better suited. The brad nails do not have enough holding power to handle that sort of wood.


Finish nailers offer more versatility compared to brad nailers as finish nailers come in both angled and straight magazines. Angled finish nailer helps you reach corner stud. Another big advantage is that you can use a finish with a wide range of materials.

On the other hand, the biggest advantage with a brad nailer is that some of them accommodate staples besides brad nails. However, these nailers do not come with an angled magazine.

Brad Nail vs Finish Nail

It should be clear by now that brad nails and finish nails are completely different from each other. The brad nails are generally 18 gauge nails that are thin and have a smaller head diameter. 

Due to the low profile, the brad nails are much desired for projects where you need a peerless finish. These nails are indispensable for smaller trim projects.

On the other hand, finish nails are typically 15 or 16 gauge nails. The smaller gauge number indicates a thicker nail size. Owing to the larger thickness of the wire, finish nails offer more holding power. 

Therefore, finish nails are used for larger and heavier projects like crown moldings and baseboards. However, the risks of using these nails often involve wood splitting and forming imperfections on the wood surface.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I use my brad nailer for plywood?

Brad nailers are not ideal for thick woods as the nails are not thick enough to hold trims. Plywood typically has large width. Therefore, a brad nailer won’t have enough strength to go through thick plywood.

Should I get a 16 gauge or 18 gauge nailer?

The 16 gauge finish nailers are for heavy projects such as crown moldings and baseboards. Whereas, the 18 gauge brad nailers are for thinner woods and clean finishing purposes. You should choose your nailer depending on the type of job you frequently do.


Whether it is a finish nailer or a brad nailer, the fact that both of these tools are indispensable in carpentry projects remains unchanged. Both have their advantages over the other, but their unique features are what make them desirable in different scenarios.

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