Brad Nailer vs. Finish Nailer: What’s the Difference?

Kaitlyn Pacheco
Written by Kaitlyn Pacheco
Updated June 14, 2022
Carpenter using brad nailer for woodworking project
Photo: EdNurg / Adobe Stock


  • Both brad nail guns and finish nail guns can help to serve a variety of purposes and are beneficial for any handyperson to keep in their toolkit. 

  • While they may look similar, there are different functions between the two power tools—and depending on the type of home improvement or woodworking jobs you do, one will work better than the other. 

  • This guide will cover the difference between a brad nailer and a finish nailer to and assist you in choosing the best option for your DIY project.

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Brad Nailer Pros and Cons

Carpenter using brad nailer to attach pieces of wood together
Photo: kasarp / Adobe Stock

A brad nailer is a light-duty power tool that shoots out 18-gauge nails—also referred to as brads. Brad nailers are usually air-powered, or pneumatic, which means they need to be connected to an air compressor to use them. It’s important to note that other models can be powered with a canister of compressed air. 

Brad nailers are a smaller tool and easy to maneuver, and they are usually the best choice for more delicate projects or for a job that risks splitting the wood. Here are some of the most common uses for a brad nailer:

  • Trim work

  • Attaching decorative molding

  • Securing baseboards

  • Affixing paneling 

  • Small woodworking projects or attaching thin pieces of wood together, such as building a birdhouse

  • Fastening light picture frames to wall 

  • Temporarily joining an item together

  • Attaching casings to furniture

Brad Nail Gun Pros

  • Brad nailers are compact and easy to handle compared to finish nailers.

  • They work well for detailed work that requires precision, due to their design and maneuverability.

  • Brads are small, so they’re not visible, and don’t require patching upon completion of the project.

  • Due to their size, there’s no risk of splitting the wood if you’re using brads.

  • Brad nail guns require less force to use properly.

  • A brad nailer works as a substitute to glue to hold small items in place temporarily or join light pieces of wood together.

Brad Nail Gun Cons

  • A brad nailer can’t hold heavy items in place.

  • This type of nail gun can’t be used to join together thick or substantial materials

  • Certain types of brad nailers, such as pneumatic nailers, require additional accessories to operate, such as an air compressor.

  • They don’t provide as tight of a hold as finishing nails.

  • The nails can’t be countersunk because they don’t have a large nail head.

  • Brad nail guns can’t be used for heavy-duty construction jobs.

  • Brad nailers sometimes have difficulty driving through other materials outside of wood, such as MDF and some plywoods.

Finish Nailer Pros and Cons

Carpenter using finish nailer to affix window moldings
Photo: photovs / Getty Images

A finish nailer is a substantial power tool, used for projects that require more holding power. Like its name suggests, a finish nailer is used for attaching finishing materials—think affixing molding to the outside of a window frame or installing crown molding

This type of power tool requires a lower-gauge nail (15-gauge nails or 16-gauge nails), meaning the nail is thicker than 18-gauge brad nails. Keep in mind that while a finish nailer provides a secure hold through various materials, it’s not meant for structural joinery. Here are some common uses for finish nail guns:

  • Installing hardwood flooring

  • Affixing window and door casing

  • Building and installing cabinetry

  • Installing baseboards, crown molding, trim, and chair rails

Finish Nailer Pros

  • The larger nails used in a finish nailer mean that the nails can drive through thicker materials.

  • With a finish nailer, there’s a customizable ability to set the depth that the nails are shot at—so you don’t need to countersink the nails.

  • A finish nail gun can be used to drive through a variety of materials, including MDF and certain plywoods.

Finish Nailer Cons

  • Finish nailers are more cumbersome and bulkier than brad nailers.

  • The larger nails can’t be used for delicate or thin materials.

  • Finish nail guns also require additional accessories, such as an air compressor, to operate the power tool.

  • Larger nail holes will require you to patch over the nail heads with wood filler.

  • This type of nail gun is more expensive than most brad nailers.

  • Finish nails are more likely to split wood due to the thickness of the nail.

Brad Nailer vs. Finish Nailer

Ease of Use

Both brad nail guns and finish nail guns can be used by beginners and experts alike, and they both come in cordless options to make the job more convenient. However, brad nail guns are lighter, more compact, require less force, and are easier to maneuver. Keep in mind that both types of nail guns require an air compressor, in most cases.

Winner: Brad nail gun

Delicate Woodworking Jobs

For carpentry projects that require finer and more intricate work, such as attaching decorative trim, brad nail guns are the best option. This type of power tool shoots brads that are thinner and have a smaller nail head than finish nails, so there’s no risk of splitting the wood. 

Winner: Brad nail gun

Heavier-Duty Carpentry Projects

For DIY jobs that require more holding power, finish nail guns are the best choice. The thicker-gauged nails allow for more secure joinery compared to brads, and work better for woodworking projects that require a stronger hold, such as installing cabinetry or crown molding.

Winner: Finish nail gun


Finish nail guns can be used to shoot nails through a variety of materials besides wood, like MDF or certain plywoods. You can also use this type of nail gun for a variety of home improvement woodworking projects, making it an ideal first nail gun for beginners.

Winner: Finish nail gun


Even though brad and finish nail guns are similar, brad nailers are usually associated with a more budget-friendly price tag. On average, brad nail guns tend to cost 10 to 20% less than finish nail guns. 

Winner: Brad nail gun

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