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Which Nailer is Right For You?

Posted by Katy | Toolstop on 1st Jan 2021

This Toolstop guide has been created to show you which nailer is best suited to you and the jobs you will be carrying out. What is a brad nailer vs finishing nailer? All is explained in this handy guide.

This Toolstop guide has been created to show you which nailer is best suited to you and the jobs you will be carrying out. What is a brad nailer vs finishing nailer? All is explained in this handy guide.

Which Nailer is Right For You?

What Nail Gun Do I Need?

Nail guns are an extremely popular power tool used in the construction and joinery trade to drive nails into wood or similar materials. There are a variety of different types available. In this Toolstop guide, we'll answer the commonly asked question "What's the difference between first fix and second fix nailers?" and explain which nailer is best suited to you and why.

The Difference Between 1st Fix and 2nd Fix Nail Guns

1st fix and 2nd fix nailers are designed to do different jobs. So when choosing one, it's important to know which applications each is best suited to. The one you opt for all depends on the situation at hand. Here's the difference between the two:

What is 1st fix?

First fix nail guns are also known as framing nailers. Their job is to complete rough woodwork and construction jobs such as framing, roofing & flooring. These nail guns are often more powerful and use larger, less discreet nails that will leave impressions in wood. They are intended for use in areas that aren’t going to be exposed upon completion of the project, but to create rigidity.

dewalt roofing nailer

What is 2nd Fix?

Second fix nail guns are also known as finishing nailers. They are used later on in your project to 'finish' it off. They use much smaller, more discreet nails than framing nailers so are perfect for completing delicate interior work where a clean finish is required. Typical applications for a 2nd fix nailer include door frames and skirting boards where you don't want the nails to be visible. Finishing nails cause less splitting in the wood and give a more refined finish. 2nd fix nailers often come as 'straight' or 'angled'. Angled nailers are better for use in tight, hard to reach areas.

It's worth noting that most tradesmen will require both types of nailer; a framing nailer for the tougher start up jobs and a finishing nailer to finish it off.

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

Brad nailers are a type of finishing nailer. 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.

18-gauge nails are used in a brad nail gun, whereas 16-gauge or 15-gauge nails are used in a standard finish nailer. 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.

When to use a Brad Nailer

Essentially anyone who does finishing work and needs to affix wood without using screws or pre-drilling can benefit from using a brad nailer. Cabinet makers and joiners in particular oftentimes 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.

Who Should Use a Finishing Nailer?

A brad nail won’t offer sufficient depth or width to hold all types of finishing pieces. For example, when affixing heavy moulding. In this case, you’ll need a finishing nailer, the key difference, as mentioned above, is the size of the nail it’ll fire. In simple terms, the heavier the finishing piece, the bigger the nail you’ll need to affix it.

What Other Nailers are Available?

We have covered the main types of nail guns available, but there are a few others that are essential in many trades. Here's what you need to know:

Roofing nailer - These heavy-duty nailers are similar to framing nailers. They drive nails into wood or other roofing materials at exceptionally fast speeds. A spring loaded roofing nailer uses springs to fire nails out of the chamber. It is typically only used by a professional to carry out roofing jobs.

Pin nailer - Pin nailers are a type of finish nailer, though they are much smaller in size than a standard model. They are used for finishing in carpentry projects and are compatible with 23-gauge headless nails. Pin nails have almost no holding power, therefore, as explained above, are a great option for holding materials in place until the glue dries. They can also be used for finishing work in carpentry.

Flooring Nailer - Flooring nailers are used for the fast and simple laying of tongue-and-groove floor boards. Simply hold the nailer against the edge of the board and use a nylon mallet to deliver a moderate blow to the plunger. This fires the nail in at the right angle and depth every time.

Staple gun - The staple gun is significantly different from a framing or finish nailer, though serves a similar purpose. They are generally used for upholstery projects and carpet fitting.

Things to Look out for When Buying a Nailer

Once you have considered all the points above, you should now consider what power source you want to use, either to power the nailer itself or to drive the nails.


A combustion powered nailer typically features an internal reservoir 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 able to drive larger nails into harder surfaces with ease, without relying on an air supply.

Not-so-good points: The additional cost of buying gas canisters.

What are they like in action? See the NR1890DC 18V Cordless Framing Nailer from HiKOKI for yourself:

Mains or Battery-powered

An electric powered nail gun runs from either a corded or cordless power supply. The electric nailer relies on 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. They have the ability to work at lower temperatures without having to worry about the gas.

Not-so-good points: Running off the mains and dealing with an electric cord. Downtime while recharging batteries.

A great example of a powerful second-fix cordless nailer is Dewalt’s DCN682N 18V Flooring Stapler. Watch it in action:

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 diligence to our safety, 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.

At Toolstop we stock a huge range of nail guns for professional use. We have cordless nailers, air nail guns and a variety of finishing nails to go with.

Shop Nail Guns at Toolstop:

Bosch 2608596132 CYL-1 Drill Bit For Masonry

Bosch 2608596132 CYL-1 Drill Bit For Masonry

Bosch 2608596132 CYL-1 Drill Bit For Masonry

Bosch 2608596132 CYL-1 Drill Bit For Masonry

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