Brad Nailer vs. Finish Nailer: A Quick Comparison

Brad Nailer vs. Finish Nailer: A Quick Comparison

There are a lot of different nailers.

From pneumatic to air powered, portable power supply and heavy-duty high-voltage and beyond—you can find a lot of different nailers out there, but which one is right for you?

I would love to tell you that it doesn’t matter, but after working on the projects you’ve been apart of, we both know that wouldn’t be fair.

So it comes down to the ultimate showdown: brad nailer vs finish nailer. I’m not going to go too in-depth with the details. I just want to help you make a decision based on your needs from a subjective standpoint.

This is a hard-and-fast comparison between the two nailer types with no frills in between.

Brad Nailer vs. Finish Nailer: Different Uses

brad nailer and finish nailer comparison

Brad nailers have a higher gauge, meaning they require more pressure.

This can increase the cost, which we’ll talk about in a minute, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it has more uses than a finish nailer.

A finish nailer is used for, well, finishing something: you can use it on furniture, molding in your home, and other projects (you can even use a finish nailer on your roof). They have thicker nails, which can be better for holding certain things together.

Brad nailers use brads, which are basically just super thin nails. A thicker nail only does you so much good if it’s not deep enough in the wood you’re using, so for trims and lightweight indoor carpentry use, a brad nailer will give you a much stronger bond.

Finishing nailers can be used for the same thing, but they’re arguably better for installing hardwood flooring or framing for carpeting. Both nailers can be used, but finish nailers are generally better for this.

A brad nailer will not be your only nail gun, nor will a finish nailer: they’re both situational. Brad nails leave less visible nail head space, making them good for certain tasks, and finish nails need filling otherwise they’ll be left highly visible.

However, finish nailers are more versatile, while brad nailers cannot reach tight corners for many indoor tasks. If you’re a carpenter or have a professional construction job, you’re going to find yourself needing both types before long.

Brad Nailer vs. Finish Nailer: Average Cost

nailing window with brad nailer

I want to start this by saying that nobody is out there using a finish nailer for hardcore construction: they’re using it for molding and building furniture, and while they can be used for roofing, you generally use different gauges of nails (for manufacturer warranties and such on the roofing materials).

With that in mind, that you will probably use a brad nailer far more often than a finish nailer and for larger projects, the price difference can be fairly alarming.

While there are some technical differences between some of these, you can tell that some of the top brands on the market are using a similar percentage difference when it comes to pricing.

In general, a brad nailer is going to cost more because it’s a higher gauge and requires more compression.

Brad nailers have a tip at the end to project the nail, while many finish nailers have a flat end and lay flush with the lumber in front of you (which is why it’s hard to misuse them), but it does have a difference in how they’re manufactured.

Brad Nailer vs. Finish Nailer: Ease of Use

floor finishing with finish nailer

The clear frontrunner here in terms of ease of use has to be the finish nailer: you’re just not going to use an easier power tool.

Line it up flush with what you want, use the easy lining to find out where the nail is going to drive into, and press—you’re good to go.

That isn’t to say that brad nailers aren’t powerful and easy to use, by the way. Brad nailers use higher gauge nails, but because they are thinner, it’s slightly easier – though not by much – to bend the nails going in.

I think it would only happen in your first hour of use until you get the hang of it, but it is a bit easier.

Because a finish nailer isn’t meant to get down into the nitty gritty of your home, it doesn’t need to be as precise.

The design isn’t overly intricate, because it’s a simple application, such as nailing down base trim or crown molding. It doesn’t have to be overly involved or strenuous to do.

Brad Nailer vs. Finish Nailer: Power and Capabilities

Because brad nailers only use 18 gauge nails (actually they use brads), it’s going to require more power.

18 gauge just requires more power to shoot, right? In most cases, you would be right, but because these are so thin, they actually don’t need as much driving power to go through wood.

In fact, you’re going to see finish nailers are a bit less efficient, even though they’re using lower gauge nails. They typically use a 15 or 16 gauge nail, but because the metal is thicker and the mass is higher, they actually require more power to push.

So what does this mean?

It still means that the manufacturer and their methods are going to define if one very specific brad nailer is better than one very specific finish nailer, or vice versa. It comes down to how you make it.

The gauge and power consumption rule is generalized, meaning it’s not going to apply to the same brands even.

In terms of capability, you can’t fit an 18 gauge nail into a finish nailer. It just doesn’t fly: that’s when you need to go up to a brad nailer.

Capacity is a different story, because some finish nailers (also known as roofing nailers) can have 150-180+ nails in a circular drum, whereas a brad nailer is usually going to have a max capacity of 100 or so.

Brad Nailer vs. Finish Nailer: Overall Value/Times You Will Use It

construction worker with finish nailer

As I said before, you’re going to use both of these situationally.

You won’t be able  to perfectly determine if you will use a brad nailer more than a finish nailer if you’re a general contractor or carpenter: different situations will arise and it’s anybody’s guess.

Personally, I use a finish nailer more often for what I do, which is building furniture in my spare time.

Brad nailers will be better for adding molding, flooring, and window frame molding, whereas a finish nailer may be better for door frames and window frames.

Can I Put Brad Nails in a Finish Nailer?

No, and you can’t do it the other way around, either.

Because finish nailers use 15 and 16 gauge nails, they wouldn’t reach the necessary pressure to actually drive into wood from a brad nailer.

Likewise, a brad nail isn’t going to fit into your finish nailer, and if you try you could get it jammed. We all want to save money and just use what we have at hand, but if you run out of one gauge of nail, you have to replace it: don’t cross them.

Do Brad Nails Hold More Weight Than Finish Nails?

man repairing staircase with brad nailer

No, they do not.

You’ll notice that since brad nails are primarily used in trim and molding, as well as some hardwood flooring, they’re not holding much up. Gravity is helping to keep the floor down, and molding strips are extremely thin and lightweight.

But crown molding is a different story. Crown molding is generally pretty heavy, since you tend to use less pieces, so they’re heavier.

In that case, you would want to use finish nails. Quarter round and shoe molding will work best with a brad nailer, since a finish nailer would kind of be overkill for such a task.

It All Depends on the Job

Sometimes you’ll reach for the brad, sometimes for the finish nailer: it all depends on what you’re working on.

If you like to take on a lot of DIY projects and you work with your hands for a living, you could definitely justify getting both of these to master any situation you find yourself in.

Otherwise, based on their average prices, you might have to take it one at a time.

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