Finish Nailers: An Overview

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Summary: Get more info on finish nailers, including an overview of different types, what they do and safety features. Pneumatic brad nailer/finish staplers are best suited for finish work, as they're smaller versions of traditional finish nailers. Pneumatic brad nailer/finish staplers can do work on delicate areas like trim and cabinetry without the risk of using too much power and damaging your work pieces.

MIKE: Now all you have to do is find that first one, line it up. Okay, we're 16". Shoot another one.

It's going to be a little more expensive up front, and it's going to be a little more expensive to run.

BARNABY: Hey, what's up? Barnaby here. So you want to know more about finish nailers. There are all different types right here, driving all sorts of different nails through the wood. Joining me now is my compadre in construction, Mike Johnson.

MIKE: Hey there.

BARNABY: Twenty years in the business.

MIKE: Something like that.

BARNABY: Something like that. Still wearing his safety glasses.

MIKE: Yes. Safety first.

BARNABY: Yes. Well, I'll tell you what. Let's talk about it. Because we've got pin. We've got crown. We've got brad. We've got finish. We've got staples. We've got all sorts of stuff. And then we've got different fuel systems, be it air or electric and gas. So let's just do it, okay?

MIKE: Yeah. For the fun of it all.

BARNABY: Down here at pin central. These are out.

MIKE: Pin nails.

BARNABY: Yeah, what are these for specifically?

MIKE: Pin nails are really tiny. These things are neat for shooting small pieces of wood together, and something where you don't want to see the nail hole. These are great. I use these on fireplaces and stuff, mantles where I'm doing delicate work and stuff.


MIKE: You're basically going to hold the wood until the glue dries.

BARNABY: Okay. And not put a big hole in the wood in the process.

MIKE: Yep. And not put the hole.

BARNABY: Yeah. Now it's interesting, because we start down here at the 23 gauge, and they have a couple different features here. We've got a tool belt clip right here.

MIKE: They're handy.

BARNABY: This one does not have it.


BARNABY: We've got the stiff sort of interface between the air hose. And then this one's articulated.

MIKE: Isn't that fantastic?

BARNABY: You think that's a big thing?

MIKE: You know, it's never stopped me. I don't have the articulating on a lot of mine, and it hasn't really bothered me. Of course, I've never actually used the articulating. Maybe I would use it and find out that I could not live without it.

BARNABY: It's a whole new frontier for you. Well, it would certainly free up the hose.

MIKE: Yeah.

BARNABY: Especially cooler situations where the hose is stiff. Okay, so then we come from the 23 down to the 18 gauge. So what's the difference?

MIKE: It's actually up to the 18 gauge.


MIKE: This is a larger nail. I use that for a lot of shoe, and cord around. I use a long 18 gauge brad for baseboard sometimes. Some places where I really don't want to have a larger hole, like some of the finish nails will have.

BARNABY: Okay. But then we've got the straight and the angle.

MIKE: Oh yeah.

BARNABY: Describe the difference there.

MIKE: Straight and angled. They're easy to see the difference between them.


MIKE: The straight is going to give you nails in a straight line.


MIKE: That's one of the things. I mean you're going to get bigger nails that way. Not always advantageous to have the bigger nail. An angled nailer, one of the nicest things about it, is you have got a little more flexibility as far as getting into tight spots with it. You've got more ability to spin it around where you need to have the nail. Sometimes more visibility. So you can make an argument for more accurate placement sometimes.

BARNABY: Okay. And so we pop up from the finish pinners right here up to the world of the crown and the brad/crown combo.

MIKE: Yeah, brad/crown combo.


MIKE: I don't have one of those yet.

BARNABY: Oh, I know you're looking at it with great desire. But let's talk about the use of a brad.

MIKE: It's just a smaller nail than the finish nail. It's a little bit larger than the pin nail. The crown and the staple, those are nice for holding things a little bit better. So just a different application. I use those staples a lot on the backs of cabinets to hold those cabinet backs on. You know, just some place where I'm not going to mind a bigger hole in the project, and still want a lot of holding power.

BARNABY: Absolutely. Almost double the holding power, right?

MIKE: Exactly.

BARNABY: Pronged. And then on the top we've got an interesting thing, the adjustable exhaust. So you're not just blowing it back into your face?

MIKE: Yeah. You know, sometimes you've got to get in a kind of weird position to get that nail in, and once in a while that thing will either be blowing dust back at you, or be blowing directly at you. Being able to spin that out of the way. You don't use it every day, but when you need it, it's kind of nice to have.

BARNABY: So now we're moving up into the big boys, the 15 and 18 gauge nailers. Let's talk about what you'd use these for.

MIKE: These are finish nailers. So we're getting into, again, the same step we made from pin nailers to brad nailers, we're now making from brad to finish, where you're getting a little bit bigger nail, a little bit longer nail, and the ability to put longer stock together. And this is a nice finish nailer. This thing is super lightweight. It's magnesium. Space metals.

BARNABY: Yeah, let me see that.

MIKE: Check it out.

BARNABY: Boy, for the size that is quite light.

MIKE: That's incredible isn't it?


MIKE: So lots of little features on it. It's got one that's really kind of cool back here I like. This right here, you snap this thing out, and now it's 16" from tip to tip. And what that's good for is, say for instance you're putting base on. You put your baseboard up, and you either had to mark out your baseboard, mark out your wall, carry a stud finder, tap on the wall. Somehow you've got to find that stud back there. And assuming we've framed everything correctly, and it's all 16" on center, now all you have to do is find that first one, line it up. Okay, we're 16", shoot another one. So that's a neat little feature there that you could use a lot. It's got an LED light on it.

BARNABY: And it's oil free, I see.

MIKE: Oil free, which is kind of a nice feature. You never have to worry about shooting oil.

BARNABY: Okay. And now we got from the air to the different alternative fuel systems. This one's got a battery and a fuel canister, right?

MIKE: Yes.

BARNABY: So let's talk about the need for that.

MIKE: So if you want to get away from hauling around a compressor and a hose with you, you're going to get into something this, like an impulse nailer or a gas nailer here. This guy's going to use fuel, and a battery, like you said. It's going to be a little more expensive up front, and it's going to be a little more expensive to run. But I've got one of these. When I go into a house where I'm just going to do a little bit of work.


MIKE: I'm going to put a little bit of base on, a little bit of shoe on. I don't want to carry all that stuff in with me. I don't want to have to have the hose dragging through the house. I don't want to have to have the customer listen to the compressor run. Just shoot that a couple times and we're all done.

BARNABY: Okay. And then we have the other alternative, and that is an 18 volt ion lithium battery platform. How does that work?

MIKE: This is the Senco answer to the cordless. And we're getting away from all fuels with this thing. So basically it's all battery powered. And what you've got is, you've got a nitrogen cylinder in here. And what happens when you pull the trigger is this thing is going to use a motor, and electric motor to compress that nitrogen. It's got a plunger in there that compresses it. And then it's just going to let it all go and you fire that nail right off. So you never have anything to refill, other than recharge that battery.

BARNABY: Okay. So, from the 23 up to the 18, the 15 right here, gosh, there's a lot to consider when it comes to finish nailers. Right? But you're in the right spot for that with the category overview. Gives you a sense of what's available, and what's different about each one. But also we have the tool comparison engine, where you can stack them up side by side, specs by spec, and we'll direct you to the best price of the day. Or, added benefit.

MIKE: Bonus.

BARNABY: You put all tools into the hands of real people. They go out and use them in the field, then come back into this workshop studio and tell us what they liked and didn't like about the tool. So that's what we do here at