Brad Nailer vs Finish Nailer: Key Differences Explained

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Last Updated on April 16, 2024 by John Patterson

Brad Nailer vs Finish Nailer

When deciding what’s better in the brad nailer vs. finish nailer difference, figuring out which one wins won’t be a simple task. Every buyer will have his winning features and tool types.

While it is pretty easy to understand which nail gun does what, you may struggle a bit if you do not know what you need. Do you know what is a brad nailer and finish nailer? Well, we have described the dissimilarities here.

Brad Nailer vs. Finish Nailer 

Brad nailers and finish nailers are very different yet somewhat similar. For some people, brad nailer vs. finish nailer differences will be critical. We talk about operators who know exactly what they want from their power tools. They have wrapped their heads around the subject and know which would suit them best.

But if you won’t be doing some particular jobs and want to get a tool for whatever reason, you might find the brad nailer and finish nailer comparison quite confusing. Not in the matter of “so what’s the difference” but in the matter of “which one should I pick”?

We have prepared a little matching of brad and finish nailers. Hopefully, it will clarify which nail gun type you should go for. We will focus on what’s different and not so crucial, so you fully understand the difference between nail guns.

Best Brad Nailer Comparison Chart

Brad Nailer vs. Finish Nailer: Nail size

Nail size is the main thing differentiating brad nail guns and finish nailers. Brad nail guns take 18-gauge nails (also called brads, hence the tool’s name), while finish nail guns primarily work with 16-gauge nails.

Some finish nail guns drive 15-gauge nails. The logic behind all those gauge numbers is that the higher the number, the thinner the nail is, so 15-gauge nails are thicker than 16-gauge, and 16-gauge nails are thicker than 18-gauge brads.

Nail thickness directly affects the range of applications the nail gun could be used efficiently. The thickest nails can do something that thin nails cannot, and vice versa. Generally, the thicker the nail, the stronger and denser materials it can go through without bending.

Additionally, thicker nails have more oversized nail heads, meaning they would leave more giant holes in the material. And the bigger the holes, the more noticeable they become, so you need to putty them to make the workpiece look tidier.

So what does this all mean regarding finish nailers and brad nailers? The thing is that 16- or 15-gauge finish nailers work better with heavier materials, while 18-gauge brad nailers would be much more suitable for more delicate materials, which thicker nails would damage.

So it turns out that brad nail guns are best for weaker elements, and finish nail guns can go through much harder pieces. Besides, the stronger finish nails can hold heavier workpieces in place, unlike brads.

Another feature of nails is their length, but it will be the same with either finish or brad nailers. While length is essential, it is not the factor making the nail guns different. The length determines how deep the nail can go, while the width shows how heavy materials the nail can pierce and hold in place.

Brad Nailer vs. Finish Nailer: Functions

From the standpoint of functions, brad and finish nail guns do not have some specific features distinguishing one from the other. You can’t just look at a nail gun and say, “It has X feature; it surely is a brad nail gun!”

The features would vary between different nail guns but not types of power tools. Although it is more likely that you see a particular feature in one or the other type.

For example, because brad nail guns are much more precise and are praised for their overall better accuracy, you could find many more brad nailers with only sequential mode than finish nail guns.

The sequential mode allows for more precision by driving one brand simultaneously. This would make more sense with brad nailers, although we cannot say that finish nail guns do not need accuracy.

Some of the features are more related to the tool’s power source than the nails’ thickness. Pneumatic tools typically have a rear exhaust to drive oil away, while electric nailers don’t have it because it is unnecessary. Another such feature is the swiveling hose attachment.

As for other functions, there is nothing that could indeed indicate the type of tool. Even the magazine capacity is the same, which makes not so much sense because you could fit more thin brads than finished nails in the same magazine, right?

Strangely, that’s not the case. You will typically see tools with around 100 nail capacity, regardless of the type. Some tools can accept more, while others take less.

So, when people choose between brad or finish nail guns, they do not do so because of some exclusive features. People know what each power tool is capable of and pick what is required the most. We advise you not to focus on the features and instead look into your needs when comparing a brad nailer and a finishing nailer.

Best Finish Nailer Comparison Chart

Difference between Brad Nailer and Finish Nailer

Brad Nailer vs. Finish Nailer: Differences in Usage

Because the 16- and 15-gauge nails of finish nailers are significant, there are much more suitable for working on thicker and more substantial materials. The solid and bulky nails driven by your finishing nailer will deal with the task of keeping a massive piece of wood in place correctly.

Additionally, the more rigid nails are less likely to bend when you try to drive them into thicker woods, baseboards, home improvement, and other vital materials.

The price for such power and durability is less precise, and the overall roughness of the tool is. You won’t be able to work with more thin and delicate materials with any finish nailer. If you try to drive the big 16-gauge nails into a wooden trim, you will probably shatter it and render it useless.

Not to mention the lower accuracy of finish nailers. Additionally, the giant heads of finish nails will require you to putty the nail holes.

As for brad nailers, their advantages & disadvantages, as well as applications, mirror the ones of finish nailers. Brad nailers work with much thinner 18-gauge brads, which inevitably won’t damage less durable materials.

Also, handling a brad nailer is much more comfortable, resulting in a much higher precision level. That’s partly why brad nailers are better for delicate materials.

Overall, brad nailers are much more precision-driven, although most models come with a quick bump operation mode. Brad nailers can work quickly and accurately, although you will feel lower precision with the fast bump contact mode.

The main downside of brad nailers is that you cannot expect the thin and light brads to hold heavier materials. They are just not strong enough! Besides, 18-gauge brads probably won’t even go through thicker materials. Read what a Brad Nailer is and how to use it.

Pros and Cons

We do not consider the price difference an advantage or a disadvantage because, as we already said, price depends on the model’s features much more than its type. After all, they can manage different tasks and cannot substitute for each other.

Finish nailers

What We Liked
  • The much bigger nails allow finish nailers to work with more substantial and thicker materials.
  • Great for stricter nail driving projects.
What We Didn't Like
  • They are typically bulkier.
  • The more giant nails will destroy delicate materials.
  • The big nail heads will require you to cover the holes with putty.

Brad nailers

What We Liked
  • They are more compact.
  • Brad nailers are perfect for detailed work.
  • Thinner nails work much better with lighter and more delicate materials like wood trim.
  • They are much more precise thanks to the overall easiness of handling.
  • No need to put cover putties as the small heads of the brads do not leave visible holes.
What We Didn't Like
  • Won’t be capable of driving through thicker and more robust materials.
  • The nails will not securely hold heavier workpieces in place.

These pros and cons do not consider the tools’ power source. Whether the tool is pneumatic or electric, the features mentioned above will apply to the corresponding type. As for being either air- or battery-operated, both brad and finish nailers have the same upsides and downsides.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Question #1: Should I have a brad nailer and a finish nailer?

Answer: If you are working with heavy and delicate materials, you should definitely have both nail guns if you want to get good results. While buying two nail guns instead of one will obviously cost more, replacing damaged materials with improper tools could be much more expensive in the long run. If you want to avoid ruining your workpieces, consider buying both.

Question #2: Is there a point in buying an air tool and an air compressor?

Answer: Not if you will buy an air compressor for that air tool only. Why buy two devices if you could purchase just one? On the other hand, if you plan to get more air tools in the future, getting an air tool and an air compressor would make sense.

Question #3: I need both tools but can only afford one. Which one should I choose?

Answer: Buy the nail gun you need the most at the moment. For example, if installing a wooden trim is your most urgent task, you should go for a brad nailer.

You could also consider buying two cheap tools instead of one expensive one for the time being. Read our 23 gauge pin nailer guide if you need a pin nailer.

Click to read our Cordless vs. Pneumatic Nail gun: What’s The Best Choice?

In Conclusion

Now, you should see what we meant by “different yet similar.” There are things by which it is just impossible to instantly tell whether a nail gun is a brad or finish nailer. And those features are not the factors you should consider when choosing between the two nail guns.

What’s much more important is the kind of jobs you will be doing. Because brad nailers drive thinner 18-gauge brads, they would be better for more delicate materials.

On the other hand, finish nailers’ stronger 16- or 15-gauge nails can penetrate more rigid materials. If you know what tasks you will perform precisely, picking one or the other won’t be difficult.

Now you will not ask again what a brad nailer and a finish nailer aren’t, my friend.

But what could you do if you don’t have specific tasks? Well, the first thing to do is look into the jobs you will be doing. What do you need, precision, delicacy, penetration, and more power?

The correct answer would be to put the things in their places. What if you still do not know the answer? In this case, think about it; maybe you don’t need a nail gun.

We recommend you think thoroughly and research the brad nailer vs. finish nailer difference as much as possible. Only this way you will be able to buy what you need.

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About the author

John Patterson

Hi there! My name is John Patterson. I’m a meticulous guy who loves to deal with the perfect tools for various needs. No matter if it’s a woodworking tool or gardening tool or anything else, I don’t compromise the quality and usability. Since 2010 I’ve been testing different tools for different DIY and professional tasks. Later in 2015, I decided to share my knowledge with the world. I started by answering people in the forums and several Q/A sites like Quora. Then I founded this blog to aid others like you with my knowledge and experience.