Which Nailer is Right For You - a Toolstop Buying Guide

Quite often we get excited about big, tough and capable power tools. Tools like 2 kilo hammers, grinders, core cutters...

But in this guide we're getting exciting about tools that perform much more delicate tasks.

You see, once we've finished chipping concrete, drilling pilot holes into concrete blocks (which we've cut with our grinder), we then move into the finishing jobs. The jobs where we get to make things look nice and pretty.

And the tools in question will be brad nailers or finishing nailers.
Bosch GSK 18 V-LI 18V Cordless li-ion Brad Finishing Nailer

What's the Difference Between a Brad and Finishing Nailer?

Very simply it's all about the nails.

The term 'brad nailer' comes from the type of nail used in the tool. Brad nails are small, thin finishing nails that are usually headless or have narrow heads that allow them to be firmly embedded into the wood.

Brad nailers themselves come in a variety of forms. Look out for pneumatic options, electric powered or those that run off lithium-ion battery packs.

Finishing nailers can handle bigger nails, but as with brad nails, the head will be small and the hole created will be easy to fill.

Makita BPT351RFE LXT 18V Li-Ion Cordless 23 Gauge Pin Nailer

Who Should Use a Brad Nailer?

Essentially anyone who does finishing work and needs to affix wood without using screws or pre-drilling! Cabinet makers in particular benefit from brad nailers, as does anyone who needs to affix in a "blind spot".

Oftentimes joiners will fire in a brad nail while they're waiting for glue to dry as it allows the workpiece to be held in place while leaving only a small, easily-filled hole.

Think lightweight and minimal traffic. What we mean is, if you're only affixing a lightweight piece of finishing, or the piece won't be "handled" a lot, then a brad nailer will do the job.
Hitachi NT65GB Cordless Gas Finish Nailer

Who Should Use a Finishing Nailer?

A brad nail won't offer sufficient depth or width to hold all type of finishing pieces. For example, if you're affixing heavy moulding a brad nail will not suffice. In that case, you'll need a finishing nailer, the key difference, as mentioned above, is the size of nail it'll fire.

In simple terms, the heavier the finishing piece, the bigger the nail you'll need to affix it.

What to Look Out for When Buying a Nailer?

First off, what power source do you want to use, either to power the nailer itself or to drive the nails?


A pneumatic powered nail gun relies on compressed air, usually generated from a gas-powered compressor, to hammer the nails. The nailer will have an internal piston that draws air from the compressor on the up-stroke, then pushes it out on the down-stroke providing the "hammer" to drive the nail.

Good points:
Typically ably to drive larger nails into harder surfaces with ease.
Not-so-good points:
You're tethered to a cumbersome air compressor and the nailers can be a bit unweildy.

What are they like in action? Click below to see the heavier duty framing nailer from Makita, the AN902, at work.

This isn't a brad or finishing nailer, but it demonstrates what's involved with owning and using a pneumatic nailer.


A combustion powered nailer typically features an internal resevoir filled with flammable gas, normally in the form of a cartridge. An electronic control mechanism allows a little of this gas to flow into the combustion chamber. These nailers depend on a battery which provides a spark, igniting the gas and driving the piston.

Good points:
Typically ably to drive larger nails into harder surfaces with ease, without relying on an air supply.
Not-so-good points:

Additional cost of buying gas cannisters.

What are they like in action? Click below to see the Senco FN55AX F18 fusion cordless pneumatic finishing nailer unboxed.


An electric powered nail gun runs from either a corded or cordless power supply. Electric nailer relies an electric current passing through the solenoid and a magnetic field to drive the firing pin. It's complicated....

Good points:
No messing about with air compressors or gas canisters. And going cordless means you can work anywhere.
Not-so-good points:

Running off the mains and dealing with an electric cord. Downtime while rechargeing batteries.

What are they like in action? Click below to see the Bosch GSK 18 V-LIN 18V cordless nailer at work.

Other buying tips to consider:

  • The size of nails you'll be working with: will they fit in your nailer and does it have the power required to fire them?
  • What about adjustments? If you need your nails to be counter-sunk, can you adjust this depth on the nailer?
  • Off-site or on-site? Where the majority of your work be undertaken needs to be factored in. If you're going to be close to power points and air compressors or not
  • True finishing work? If so, look out for a non-marring rubber nose

Safety First

The very nature of any type of nail gun requires that we pay all due care and dilligence to our safey, and that of those around as while we work. Make sure you're wearing PPE, eye protection in particular, and pay attention to all trailing cables and cords.

When using a combustion powered nailer, be alert to the exhaust ports; make sure they aren't blocked and are, if possible, directed away from your face.

If you've found this brief overview guide to brad and finishing nailers useful, please share it using our Share buttons below! Or if you have any questions or comments, use our Comment section to get in touch.


steve on Thu, 13 Oct 2016 22:59:07 +0100 (Likes: 0 / Dislikes: 0

new at this, I want to nail asphalt shingles into a wooden roof.have tried hammer and nails, nails bend , hopelessly difficult, so need nail gun, So many types need advice, Want strong nail, no bendy types, good electric cable powered gun preferred . thanks

Brian Howard on Fri, 11 Dec 2015 06:46:58 +0000 (Likes: 0 / Dislikes: 0

Great post, it's very useful, thanks

candice lotter on Sat, 19 Sep 2015 11:11:43 +0100 (Likes: 0 / Dislikes: 0

Very informative however I'm still not exactly sure which one to buy. The prices range from £89.00 - £233.00 and ive been burnt in the past thinking the more expensive product is of higher quality. Im making pallet furniture, any suggestions on which will be good for the tough pallet oak? PLEASE!

Mukul Hossain on Sat, 15 Aug 2015 17:23:01 +0100 (Likes: 0 / Dislikes: 1

The article is very helpful for me. I have to know more about

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