Few power tools can save you time like a finish nailer. These handy tools replace the arduous act of driving nails into finished carpentry, which involves the tedious process of manually hammering small finish nails using a nail set to prevent damaging the wood.
A finish nailer makes the process of installing molding and trim or building cabinetry much easier. A nailer consists of a nail gun that holds a magazine of 100 or more finish nails. A mechanism inside the gun uses gas, electricity, or compressed air to fire a piston that propels the nail out of the gun and into the wood. The best finish nailer can drive 15-gauge nails up to 2.5 inches long into the hardest of woods.
If you’re in the market for a finish nail gun, read on to learn more about what features you should look for in these useful tools. And don’t miss the list of some of the top finish nailers on the market.
- BEST OVERALL: Metabo HPT Finish Nailer, 15 Gauge, Pneumatic, Angled
- BEST PNEUMATIC: Senco 4G0001N FinishPro 42XP Finish Nailer
- BEST ELECTRIC: PORTER-CABLE 20V MAX Finish Nailer, Straight, 16GA
- BEST GAS: Paslode, Cordless Finish Nailer, 902400, 16 Gauge
- BEST STRAIGHT: NuMax SFN64 Pneumatic 16-Gauge Straight Finish Nailer
- BEST ANGLED: Makita AF635 15 Gauge, 2-1/2” Angled Finish Nailer
Types of Finish Nailers
The three types of finish nail guns use different power sources to drive nails. Read on to learn more about each type’s pros and cons to determine which one is right for you.
Pneumatic nailers are the lightest and fastest option when it comes to finish nailers. They consist of a handheld nail gun that connects to an air compressor via a high-pressure hose. These nailers use an air compressor, so the gun itself is much lighter than electric or gas guns, which carry their power source with them. This makes them much easier to handle. Pneumatic nailers are one of the fastest options and allow you to fire nails rapidly.
The downside to pneumatic nailers is less portability, since they require you to tote an air compressor along with the nailer. That compressor, in turn, needs a power source to operate. In addition, since they are powered by an air compressor, they can be noisy.
Electric finish nailers are relatively newer than gas and pneumatic nailers. They feature an 18-volt battery that powers a small air compressor in the head. When the trigger is pressed, that air is released, moving a metal pin that drives the nail from the nailer into the wood. Battery-powered nail guns also allow for rapid fire and little maintenance.
As they are significantly heavier, due to the battery’s weight, they can be more difficult to handle.
However, since they do not require an air compressor, they are more portable than pneumatic finish nailers. They’re also more convenient than gas finish nailers, whereas they don’t require you to purchase disposable fuel cells. As an added perk, their batteries are often interchangeable with the batteries in other cordless tools from the same manufacturer.
Cordless gas nailers run off of a rechargeable battery and a fuel cell that creates a small explosion inside the combustion chamber in the gun, moving a piston that drives the nail from the nailer into the wood. Gas nail guns are lightweight and require no cord, making them easy to handle. They use propane gas, so they do release exhaust with each shot; this can be unpleasant, especially when working indoors. With both a battery and a fuel cell, they do require significant upkeep—the battery must be charged periodically, and the fuel cell will need to be replaced about every 1,000 nails.
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Finish Nailer
You should consider various factors when shopping for a finish nail gun, including power, gauge, shape, and weight.
Power determines what size finish nail a finish nailer can handle. Although battery-powered nailers offer the most convenience, they cannot match the power of compressed air. Most battery-powered nailers can drive 16-gauge nails up to 2.5 inches into softwood. The most powerful pneumatic nailers can drive thicker 15-gauge nails up to 2.5 inches into hardwood.
Corded vs. Cordless
Convenience is the main difference when it comes to corded and cordless nailers. Pneumatic nailers are less convenient, because they require an air compressor and hoses. And, of course, the air compressor needs a power source as well. This limits mobility at the work site, as well as making your finish nailer harder to transport.
Cordless nailers are much more convenient. However, they do have their downsides. Gas nailers require the purchase of disposable fuel cells, which means recurring costs and inconvenient trips to the store mid-project. Though battery-powered nailers last a long time on a single charge, they are significantly heavier than the smaller pneumatic guns.
Straight vs. Angled
Both nailer types use a spring-loaded mechanism that applies pressure to the nails, automatically reloading a nail into the head after being fired. Many magazines feature open sides, which allow the operator to see how many nails are remaining. The difference between a straight and angled nailer is the shape of the nail magazines. A straight nailer has a magazine that is parallel to the surface you are nailing. With an angled nailer, the magazine comes up at an angle from the head of the nailer. Angled nailers include 21-degree and 35-degree nailers— the higher the number, the sharper the angle.
Though the shape of the nailer doesn’t affect the delivery of the nail, the angled position adds versatility by allowing you to fit the nailer into tighter spaces than a straight nailer. The steeper the angle, the more space the nailer saves. Nails for angle nailers are a bit more expensive and tend to have a larger gauge. While larger gauge nails do a better job of holding two pieces of wood tougher, it can be more of a chore to hide the nail head.
As its name suggests, finish nailers are designed for finish projects such as attaching trim, molding, and paneling. For this reason, they use smaller nails than their large framing nailer cousins. Finish nailers use 15-gauge or 16-gauge nails. Nailers that use 16-gauge nails are a little lighter and smaller than the larger 15-gauge variety. That said, the large 15-gauge nails will hold better than 16-gauge nails. Most finish nailers can handle nail sizes between 1.25-inch and 2.25-inch.
Nail Depth and Jamming
Most finish nailers include a depth adjuster dial. This dial allows you to set the amount of force the gun uses when driving the nail into the wood. If the depth adjustment is too low, the nail’s head will protrude from the wood’s surface. If it’s set too high, the nail will embed too deeply into the wood.
Setting the nail depth too low can also cause a nail gun to jam. Jamming occurs when there is not enough force to drive the nail into the material, causing it to kick back into the nailer’s head. Most nailers allow you to take the head apart to remove jammed nails.
Size and Weight
The size and weight of nailers varies depending on the type. Pneumatic finishing nailers weigh around 4 pounds, while a battery-powered finishing nailer may weigh twice that due to the weight of the battery and on-board compressor. A gas nailer, which includes batteries and a fuel cell, can weigh around 4 or 5 pounds. Most finish nailers are about 12 inches long by 12 inches wide.
Given that finish nailers fire nails into the wood at high speeds, they are inherently dangerous. Manufacturers add safety features to these guns to prevent the accidental firing of a nail. This includes a safety switch near the trigger that prevents the trigger from working when the switch is engaged. Most nailers also have a contact safety tip at the head of the nailer that must be compressed against an object for the nailer to fire. This feature prevents you from accidentally firing a nail gun into the air, like you could an actual gun.
Our Top Picks
The best finish nailer can handle up to 2.5-inch nails with high capacity magazines. Ahead, these recommendations include powerful nailers of all types. Take your pick from some of the best-known names in power tools.
This pneumatic nailer from Metabo, formerly Hitachi, offers unprecedented power coupled with some excellent, user features. With the power of compressed air behind it, this nailer fires heavier 15-gauge nails, which create sturdier connections than their smaller 16 gauge counterparts. A convenient switch allows the user to toggle between single shots and rapid contact nailing, for when you want to speed up the job. A depth dial allows for quick changes to nail-depth settings. It will drive nails up to 2.5 inches long.
Metabo also helps you keep your work area clean, thanks to an integrated duster that fires compressed air into the work space to clear away dust and debris from the work surface. With its angled clip and weight of just over 4 pounds, this lightweight nailer is easy to handle and fits into tight spaces. This pneumatic air gun requires a compressor and air hose, which are sold separately.
One of the first things you’ll notice about this pneumatic finish nailer from Senco is its durable construction. It features a magnesium housing designed to handle heavy-duty professional jobs. With an operating pressure between 70 and 120 PSI, this is one of the more powerful pneumatic nailers you can buy. It’s capable of driving 15-gauge finish nails up to 2.5 inches long into hardwoods.
With its large-capacity 104-nail magazine, you don’t have to worry about repeatedly stopping for reloads. Despite its heavy-duty construction, this nailer weighs just 4 pounds. This light weight, combined with its ergonomic grip, means you won’t wear out before you finish the job. This pneumatic nailer requires an air compressor and air hose.
There’s no more lugging around a compressor, fooling with hoses, or running to the store to purchase fuel cells with this battery-powered finish nailer from Porter-Cable. It features a 20-volt battery that powers a 16-gauge nailer capable of driving nails up to 2.5 inches long. A dial allows you to quickly make adjustments to nail depth without the need for a tool. With a capacity of up to 1,000 nails per charge, you don’t have to worry about running out of power.
Thanks to Porter-Cable’s lightweight battery, this is one of the lighter battery-powered nailers on the market, with a total weight of 6.5 pounds. This battery also works with Porter-Cable’s collection of battery-powered power tools. LED lights help illuminate the work area while letting you know when there is a firing error or if the battery is getting low.
Free yourself from that burdensome air compressor and keep things lightweight with this gas-powered finish nailer from Paslode. A propane fuel cell and 7-volt lithium ion battery provide enough juice for this nailer to drive up to 12,000 nails before needing a recharge or more fuel. It takes angled 16-gauge nails up to 2.5 inches long. This nailer requires no cords or air compressors, and, at just 4.5 pounds, it’s significantly lighter than battery-powered finish nailers.
With its angled profile, this nailer can get into tight corners, making it a suitable tool for installing trim and molding. An ergonomic grip helps you keep a tight hold, whether nailing from your knees or from a ladder.
With its durable and lightweight construction, this is an excellent option in a straight finish nailer. It features a 16-gauge capacity with enough power to drive nails up to 2.5 inches long. This design makes it suitable for trim and baseboards projects, cabinetwork, and other finish carpentry projects. It also has plenty of excellent, user features, including an adjuster for setting proper nail depth and a high-capacity magazine, which holds up to 100 nails.
A rubberized grip helps you keep a firm hold on this nailer, while an adjustable exhaust allows you to keep the air out of your face. This nailer is easy to handle, thanks to its lightweight design of just 4.5 pounds. As this is a pneumatic nailer, it does require an air compressor and air hose.
This formidable finish nailer from Makita features sturdy construction in a mighty pneumatic nailer. With a magnesium body and aluminum magazine, it’s tough enough to withstand the rigors of a job site, and its powerful motor can drive 15-gauge nails up to 2.5 inches long.
It also includes plenty of useful additional features, including a tool-free depth adjustment; a nail lock-out mechanism that prevents the nailer from accidentally firing; and a built-in air duster to clean off your work surface. The open-magazine design allows you to see just how many nails you have left in the chamber. At 4 pounds and with an angled design, enabling you to fit it into tight places, this nimble nailer is easy to use.
FAQs About Your New Finish Nailer
If you’re still trying to nail down a few concerns before making a purchase, look below for answers to the most common questions about nailers.
Q. Can a finish nailer be used for framing?
You cannot use a finish nailer for framing because they do not use large enough nails. The most powerful finish nailers are only capable of shooting 2.5-inch-long, 15-gauge nails. Framing requires 3.5-inch long, 16D nails, which have a much larger gauge than finish nails. A framing nailer can fire these larger nails.
Q. How do you use a finish nailer?
Use the following directions to operate a finish nailer safely and correctly:
- Load the nailer with finish nails by sliding the nails into the back of the magazine.
- Set the depth dial to the desired nail depth. Keep in mind you’ll want to use a higher setting for thicker material and hardwoods.
- As many finish nailers feature a safety that prevents the nailer from firing, make sure the safety is off, which will allow you to engage the trigger.
- Remember nailers feature a contact safety tip on the head that must be pressed down in order to fire the gun.
- Make sure to line the tip up with the area you wish to nail.
- Press the safety tip firmly onto the piece you want to nail, and then pull the trigger. This will drive the nail into the wood.
- Pull the nailer away from the wood to disengage the motor.
Q. Can a finish nailer use brad nails?
Finish nailers are only capable of firing 15- or 16-gauge nails. Since brads are 18 gauge, finish nailers cannot use brad nails. You will need a brad nailer to use brad nails.