Brad Nail vs. Finish Nail

What’s the difference between brad nails and finish nails? Our expert lays out the differences and uses along with the pros and cons of each.

August 08, 2019

Photo by: Derek R. Trimble

Derek R. Trimble

You hear about these nails all the time. Sometimes people use the terms interchangeably, but there’s a big difference between a brad nail and a finish nail. You’ll find a ton of uses for both of them around your house and in your DIY projects. Here’s the lowdown on these great everyday nails.

It’s All About the Gauge Size

The diameter of any nail is referred to as its gauge, and those sizes are numbered in ascending order from largest to smallest. For example, a 10-gauge nail is actually bigger than an 18-gauge nail. Most brad nails are made from a very thin 18-gauge wire. Finishing nails typically range from 16 to 10-gauges and are much more robust than brad nails. Finishing nails also come in a wider variety of lengths than most brad nails do; some can be upwards of 3” in length.

When Should/Shouldn’t I Use a Brad Nail?

Brad nails are great for craft projects or any task that simply requires a minimal amount of holding strength. Brads are easily removed and leave very small holes, so they’re great for temporary applications as well. Brads also have the advantage of being very easy to conceal, and their light gauge does a good job of preventing wood from splitting. Brads are notoriously difficult to drive by hand. The small size makes them difficult to hold, and they’re prone to bending. This is problematic in tight spaces that prevent you from making a clean hit on the nail. Bending or missing a nail can cause damage to your project and leave you frustrated if you’re driving them by hand. It’s often more advantageous to drive brads with an electric or pneumatic nail gun.

When Should/Shouldn’t I Use a Finish Nail?

Finish nails are far more robust than brad nails, and they’re ideal for applications that require more strength and holding power. A finish nail is far more suitable for things like crown molding, paneling and cabinetry. Finish nails are much harder to remove than a brad nail, so they’re especially good for things like doorway trim that gets a lot of abuse. Finish nails also have the advantage of length. It’s possible to hang paneling over drywall and hit the studs with a finish nail of an appropriate length. Finish nails do require some extra attention because they almost always leave a small visible dimple in the surface. A nail punch is usually needed to drive the nail head just below the surface to allow for concealment. While this extra step adds some difficulty, the finish nail remains the preferred choice for larger trim and woodworking projects.

Will My Finish Nailer Accept Brad Nails?

Generally speaking, no. Most carpenters on any job site have dedicated nail guns for brads and for finish nails. Since their applications require slight differences in the shape of the nail gun, it’s not really possible to combine the two. Because of the difference in sizes and lengths, both nail guns need to operate at different strengths to allow for the nails to be driven neatly and safely. Both electric and pneumatic nail guns are available for each type of nail, and they’re widely available in local home stores.

Are Nail Guns Safe for Me to Use?

Absolutely, and a brad nailer or a finish nailer is a great place to start! Nail guns aren’t strictly for professionals, but it’s understandable why they might seem frightening. They can drive a nail with a tremendous amount of force, and the sound they make can be intimidating. Electric and pneumatic nail guns have numerous safety features and can be easily used by even the most novice homeowner. Lightweight nailers for brads and finish nails are a great and affordable addition to any homeowner’s tool kit.

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