The finish nailer is arguably the most versatile of the many types of nail guns available. The nails they use provide more holding power than brad nailers, allowing them to fix baseboards, door casings, stair treads, and more. Lighter and easier to manage than framing nailers, they’re a solid choice for fixing flooring, cabinet assembly, and general carpentry.
Unlike pneumatic models, cordless finish nailers offer complete freedom of movement. Given their popularity, it’s no surprise that there’s plenty of choice in this tool category—so use this guide to cut through the marketing hype and find the best cordless finish nailer for your needs.
- BEST OVERALL: CRAFTSMAN V20 Cordless Finish Nailer Kit, 16GA
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Ryobi P325 One+ 18V Lithium Ion Battery Powered
- BEST ANGLED: DEWALT 20-Volt Max 16-Gauge Cordless Angled Finish
- BEST HEAVY-DUTY: Milwaukee M18 FUEL 18-Volt Lithium-Ion Cordless
What to Consider When Choosing Best Cordless Finish Nailer
While many aspects of these tools are similar, a number of features might make one more appropriate than another for a particular user. Read on for details and to form a comprehensive view of the best cordless finish nailer for various situations and projects.
Pneumatic vs. Cordless
There’s an ongoing debate about whether cordless tools match up to the performance of corded models. With finish nailers, however, the argument is different because there are no corded electric models; instead, the alternative to cordless is pneumatic finish nailers. These are powered by an air compressor, via a high-pressure hose connected to the tool.
Pneumatic finish nailers can be quite stiff, restricting movement, but they have their advantages. They are lighter, generally cheaper, and have no internal motor so they are very durable. Disadvantages are considerable too, however: There’s the cost of the compressor, a large piece of equipment that’s cumbersome to move around and requires an electrical power source. Compressors also demand regular maintenance. Finally, there’s the high-pressure hose, which is heavy and pricey. Cordless finish nailers therefore seem very convenient and are increasingly popular.
There are actually two types of cordless finish nailer. In addition to those that run entirely off battery power are models with a smaller battery and a gas cartridge (often just referred to as fuel). The battery creates a spark that ignites a small amount of gas, quite literally “firing’” the nail. This type of cordless finish nailer predates 100 percent battery-powered models, and they have been popular with professionals for some time. However, they are expensive and gas cartridges must be replaced regularly—on a daily basis in some professional environments. With the introduction of powerful battery-only finish nailers, often from the same manufacturer, there has been some decline in the use of gas models.
The main power source for cordless finish nailers is an 18 or 20 volt rechargeable lithium-ion battery. In real terms there is no difference between what appear to be different sizes. Twenty volts is the initial surge at startup, 18 volts is the power consumed during normal running (frequently termed nominal voltage). While 18V and 20V are effectively the same, it’s important to note that batteries from different brands are rarely interchangeable.
While voltage is an indication of the power available, batteries also have an Amp hour (Ah) rating. The higher the Ah, the longer the finish nailer will run. For example, a 4Ah battery will run for at least twice as long as a 2Ah model. DIYers might not mind taking a break while the battery recharges, but this will be an important factor for those who need to use a tool all day.
Manufacturers may give an estimate of how many nails can be driven per charge, but this will depend on the length of nail and the material being fixed. So real-world experience might be very different.
Cordless finish nailers are often supplied as a “bare tool,” batteries not included. This may offer a considerable savings if you already own similar batteries from other power tools. That said, it’s important to check compatibility. Manufacturers are much more aware of this now, but older models may not work, even if they appear to be the same capacity and from the same manufacturer. Buying a bare tool also gives the user the potential to buy off-brand batteries, which might be much cheaper. However, doing so may cause warranty issues, so take this strategy with caution.
Gas-powered cordless finish nailers also use a rechargeable battery, but of around 6V to 8V because the gas cartridge (also called a fuel cell or trim fuel) is providing the main drive. An indication of nails driven per cell is often given. Availability of alternative cells is worth looking into. At around $8 per 1,000 nails and upward, it can make a significant impact on contractor costs.
Magazine Type and Gauge
The nail magazines of finish nailers are either straight (at 90 degrees to the line of fire) or angled (some at 20 or 21 degrees, others between 30 and 35 degrees). Angled magazines offer greater versatility of nailing direction and are useful when fixing complex moldings and in tight corners. They can of course still be used at 90 degrees if held correctly.
However, nailing at 90 degrees is perhaps the more common task, and magazines at this angle make the job easier and quicker. Additionally, nails for angled magazines may be more expensive. Regardless of angle, magazine capacity is usually either 100 or 110 nails.
There can also be a difference in nail gauge (thickness). Finish nailers use either 15- or 16-gauge, the former being slightly thicker with larger heads and thus giving a stronger fix. Nail length can be anywhere from 1 to 3 inches, though it’s important to check the tool as few finish nailers can accommodate the full range of sizes.
Nail Depth and Jamming
It takes considerably more force to punch a finish nail into hardwood than it does softwood. Manufactured boards also have varying densities. To deal with different materials, cordless finish nailers have variable depth adjustment. This allows for more or less power to be applied. Adjustment is almost always tool-free, performed by either thumb wheel or slider, but check ease of use if possible when shopping, particularly if you prefer to wear gloves while working.
Nail jams are frustrating but inevitable with every nailer. The tool is seldom at fault; it’s more likely to be a small piece of dirt in the mechanism or a slightly distorted nail. Clearing the jam is again usually a tool-free task, but as with depth adjustment it is worth checking the actual mechanism to see how easy it is.
Manufacturers may include a few fine points that might make a tool better suited to your projects and work style.
- Safety is a key issue with these tools, and the best cordless finish nailers all have a tip that prevents firing unless depressed against the workpiece. That means it can’t accidentally fire nails into the air.
- All finish nailers fire when the tip is in contact with the workpiece and the trigger is pulled. This is called sequential firing. Many also offer bump firing (or continuous firing) that fires a nail when the tip makes contact with the workpiece. It’s a rapid way of working and particularly useful with long pieces of trim or flooring. However, it does take a while to become acclimated to the weight of the gun and the degree of bounce as it fires. Sequential firing is slower but allows for greater precision, especially in less experienced hands.
- The weight of the cordless finish nailer may not mean much to the occasional DIYer but can have an impact on a pro using the tool for long periods. Gas finished nailers are lightest, starting at about 4.5 pounds. Battery-powered models run from about 5.5 lbs. but most are 8 to 12 pounds.
- Although all cordless finish nailers have non-marring tips to protect the workpiece, damage can occur if the tool is fired when the magazine is empty. Better models have a trigger lockout that prevents this.
- LED work lights can illuminate dark corners and also come in handy if there’s no power in part of a work site. Some models also use a light to offer fault indication.
Our Top Picks
Armed with a solid understanding of the technical aspects that separate these versatile tools, it’s time to check out some products. These top picks come from leading brands and demonstrate the kind of performance and durability their well-known manufacturers are known for. Each is representative of the best cordless finish nailers in their respective category.
This Craftsman choice has the popular straight magazine, taking 100 16-gauge nails. It sequentially fires nails from 1 to 2 ½ inches long, and a starter pack of 100 2-inch and 100
2 ½-inch nails comes with the kit.
Tool-free depth adjustment and jam clearing have easy-to-use controls. The included 2Ah battery is rated to drive 375 2-inch nails per charge, which is less than some competitors, but swapping in a more powerful battery would make a considerable performance improvement. At a fraction over 9 pounds, the weight is fairly reasonable. Twin LEDs provide illumination.
Although marketed more toward the DIYer, this Ryobi cordless finish nailer has a feature set that would impress most pros. The straight magazine takes 100 16-gauge nails with lengths from ¾ inch to 2 ½ inches. The Ryobi is one of few tools in this price range that offers both sequential and bump firing. It has tool-free depth setting and jam clearing, and also benefits from dry firing lockout.
As is common with cordless finish nailers, the Ryobi is sold as a bare tool, no battery included. This gives buyers the option to choose anywhere from a low-cost 2Ah model to a 9Ah high-performance unit. Using the midrange 4Ah battery, the tool will fire up to 800 nails per charge.
Interestingly, the included LED lights use a separate switch so they can be turned on without risk of firing the nailer. The tool itself weighs 6 pounds, and depending on battery will still be a fairly lightweight 7.5 or 8 pounds.
Though a tool of exceptional quality aimed at the professional, those with less experience should not be deterred, as the DeWalt cordless finish nailer has many easy-to-use features. The magazine is angled at 20 degrees for easy access to awkward areas and shapes. It takes 110 16-gauge nails from 1 ½ to 2 ½ inches. A selector switch allows quick change from sequential to bump firing. Depth adjustment and jam clearing are tool-free, the latter a particularly fast and fuss-free mechanism. The DeWalt also offers dry fire lockout.
It’s sold as a bare tool, and while the manufacturer lists 800 shots per charge, product details omit which battery achieves this. There are also twin LEDs for illumination and diagnostic alerts. Weight (with battery) is about 8 pounds.
The heavy-duty Milwaukee angled cordless finish nailer fires 15-gauge nails that are not only thicker than 16-gauge but also have a substantially larger head. This gives excellent holding power for heavy-duty tasks. Indeed, it can fire 2 ½-inch nails into solid oak.
The magazine is angled at 34 degrees, providing great accessibility in tight spots. Capacity is 100 nails, from 1 ¼ inch to 2 ½ inches long, which can be fired sequentially or with bump action. An unusual feature is the nail quantity indicator that makes it easy to see when the tool runs low, though dry fire lockout will prevent damage. Depth and jam clearing are tool-free.
The Milwaukee cordless finish nailer is supplied with a 2Ah battery with a useful charge indicator (higher capacity models are available). It weighs 12 pounds—indicative of its high-performance nature—and comes with a durable canvas carry bag.
FAQs About Cordless Finish Nailers
The in-depth look at the technical specifications of cordless finish nailers above explains many aspects of these versatile tools. However, there may be some specific areas that need clarification when it comes to different types of nailers. The following provides answers to questions that crop up regularly.
Q. Can a finish nailer be used for framing?
No, it’s not recommended. Framing nails are longer and thicker than finish nails to provide a stronger fix. A 15-gauge cordless finish nailer comes close, but you’re better off using a framing nailer.
Q. How do you use a finish nailer?
It’s basically as easy as resting the tip of the tool against the workpiece and pulling the trigger. Check out the helpful article here to improve technique and results.
Q. Can a finish nailer use brad nails?
No. Brad nails are thinner at 18-gauge. Finish nails are 15- or 16-gauge with a more prominent head. As a result, brad and finish nails are not interchangeable.
Q. How do I maintain my cordless finish nailer?
Regular cleaning will reduce jamming caused by trapped dirt. Lubrication should ensure the mechanism functions properly. Manufacturers provide maintenance instructions, and following them will extend the working life of your tool.