Home » Brad Nailer vs Finish Nailer – The Ultimate Showdown

Brad Nailer vs Finish Nailer – The Ultimate Showdown

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One of the most popular power tool is a nailer. The two most common nailers used are the brad and finish nailers. Whenever you are in the middle of a woodworking project, you need a nailer to add the final touch to complete it.

However, it is important to know the difference and choose the right nailer to use in different situations. Brad and Finish nailers have a very similar look and working operation, although in reality they have some differences and are used for distinctive tasks.

The only way you can know the difference is by knowing, the characteristics of each nail gun. Otherwise, you might confuse many important basics when it comes to using them.

The experienced woodworkers might be aware of their differences but as a beginner it isn’t easy to understand them. In this guide I will share what is important for you to know about both of them in a Brad Nailer vs Finish Nailer showdown.

What is a Brad Nailer?

What is a Brad Nailer?

A brad nailer is used to fire 18 gauge fine brad nails into the wood to add a final touch and have a clean finish. The small nails are very hard to insert manually and this is why it’s a very important power tool for any home renovation project.

Brad nails are often thinner with small heads that are often invisible on any wood trim. It is typically a smaller version of a finish nailer and used to attach small moldings or lightweight trim to your projects.

Once driven into the wood, the brad nails are nearly invisible to the naked eye which means you won’t need to cover the holes before you start painting. The brad nail size varies from 5/8 to 2 1/2 inches.

The best thing about brad nailers and brad nails is that it can never split any wood trim no matter how lightweight it is. You can easily use it to attach any small wood trim to a wooden surface without any issue. Likewise, some brad nailers often accommodate staples unlike finish nailers, which use nails only.

Brad nailers are either electric or pneumatic. Pneumatic brad nailers are usually inexpensive though they need an air compressor to operate. If you don’t have it, make sure you add it’s cost as well. Electric brad nailers on the other hand are a bit expensive but they are powerful in their own way.

The Good

You can also use a brad nailer to temporarily, hold two glued pieces of wood or any other material you want to glue together. You can then opt to remove the brad nails with pliers, as they are very tiny and will not cause any damage to your material or wooden surface.

The Bad

The only downside is that the brad nails cannot go through walls and heavy wood materials including medium density fiberboard, MDF or plywood. For this, you will need a much stronger nail, which can only be fitted in a finish nailer. Moreover, it does not have much power hold as a finish nailer as it does not use actual nails but brads.

Don’t use a brad nailer to frame a stud wall as it doesn’t have much power and it uses small nails which can’t put the large pieces of wood together.


As for price, brad nailers are often sought after, making it highly competitive and readily available. This makes it less expensive and easy to get.

When to Use a Brad Nailer?

  • Fastening trim boards
  • Waynes Coating
  • Small craft projects (picture frames, birdhouses, toys for children)
  • Brad nails with adhesives to make cabinets, chairs etc.
  • Interlocking flooring projects
  • Building fences

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What is a Finish Nailer?

What is a Finish Nailer?

Finish nailers are often bigger than brad nailers and can accommodate nails of 14-16 gauges with a length of 1-2.5 inches. This allows you to store varied types of nails for a secure finish. They can easily split a wooden surface due to the level of grip power its nails have.

The nails used in a finish nailer are often big and headless and often make for a good finish as they disappear nicely on the wood surface. You can easily paint it over without any issue.

Nevertheless, if it does not bury in properly into the wood due to its large head, you can always fill the nail hole with spackling or wood putty, depending on the kind of project you are working on.

They create a much stronger hold and come in both straight and angled designs. They are available in pneumatic or cordless versions with the former being significantly powerful and lighter than the latter.

If you are working at a height, you should consider using a cordless framing nailer as you wouldn’t have to worry about the air hose.

The Good

Finish nailers are often designed to securely, hold nails even against a wall. They can work for loads of surfaces from wood to plaster. This is because they have a better surface grip due to nail strength and length.

The Bad

As much as, finish nailers can work with, crown molding and baseboard attachment projects. It is only ideal for these kinds of projects only if you are attaching them to a drywall and not a wooden surface. As they can split the woodwork for an ugly finish. Besides, brad nails often slip into walls and do not have a better grip.

Moreover, finish nailers are often used to finish a project, as the name suggests. Therefore, you will not be able to use its nails as temporary attachments like those that a brad nailer uses. You cannot remove them either as this will damage the woodwork, unlike a brad nail.

Finish Nailer vs Brad Nailer

Besides, finish nailers are highly versatile and can do the job of a brad nailer if it is fitted with the correct nail size. This gives it an upper hand over brad nailers, which are also versatile but cannot handle or hold thick wood or nail anything against the wall.


As for cost, finish nailers are generally affordable but some better-branded models often cost a lot more than brad nailers.

When to Use a Finish Nailer?

  • Building stud walls for the frame of a house
  • Door casings
  • Baseboards
  • Trim work for thick surfaces
  • Crown Molding

Nevertheless, a good carpenter always knows best and knows the need to have both tools on stand-by. It is a big investment but one that will prove worthy in the end.

Brad Nailer vs Finish Nailer: Safety Tips

Whenever you are dealing with power tools, you should always exercise safety and control while using either of them, small is not another word for safe.

  • Wear safety glasses to save your eyes from the nail just in case it rebounds off the something
  • Disconnect the air hose and shut down the compressor once you finish using the nailer
  • Buy a nailer with lockout lever if you have small children around, it prevents them from accidentally discharging it
  • Double check the nose guard and ensure it’s in place and working
  • Place your fingers on the trigger only when you are ready to drive a nail

Which One Should You Buy?

By now you must have a pretty good idea about both of the nailers and how they work.

Brad nailers would be great for thin surfaces and delicate projects while a finish nailer is better for tough jobs. I would recommend you to use a finish nailer for paneling, molding or shelving installation projects and a brad nailer for wooden chairs or creating toys for children.

Finish nails being larger offer great strength to anything and makes it last longer but can split thinner wood. While a brad nailer will work best for small trim work .

However, if you are a beginner, I’d a brad nailer as your first nail gun and learn using it perfectly and then move on to the heavy duty finish nailer.

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If you are a novice carpenter, you should learn the basics of using these two nail guns before buying them. You can always start with a small nail gun like a brad nailer before moving on to a finish nailer or any other type of nail gun.

There you have it, some basic differences between a brad nailer and a finish nailer. Therefore, no more confusion when it comes to purchasing or using either of these machines.

Moreover, always read the user manual to get a grip on use and maintenance. As much as they might work almost the same, there are bits of differences in them. So, always take care when using either of them.