Checked and updated on March 9, 2021 by Aaron Barnett
Both bradders, and finishing guns are used to drive nails into relatively thin pieces of wood. They are commonly used for trimming, molding, and paneling, as well as roofing. It’s easy to think brad nailers and finishing nailers are the same tools, although they do similar jobs and can be used for similar tasks, they are however different.
Brad nailers or ‘bradders’ use thinner 18 gauge nails or ‘brads’, while finish nailers use thicker 16 or 15 gauge panel pins. The thinner nails used in bradders leave smaller holes that don’t need as much wood filler afterward. With finish nailers, it will be necessary to fill the bigger holes with wood putty to ensure a clean-looking finish.
Some builders have both a finishing gun and a bradder for different jobs, however, if you were to only pick one tool a finishing gun is the best choice with a bigger pin it has a stronger hold and can be used more widely.
Click here to read my review on the best finishing nailer.
When to use a brad nail gun
What is a brad nailer? Brad nailers are types of nail guns that are commonly used to drive ‘brads’ or tiny nails into wood. They are used for a wide range of woodworking tasks including:
Bradders are best suited for attaching light wood trim to heavier and larger pieces of wood. They use very thin 18-gauge nails, which typically measure only 0.0475 of an inch across, from ⅝” to 2” long.
This means for delicate light work they are very unlikely to cause any wood splitting even for small and thin pieces of softwood.
Brads are often used in place of 22- to 24-gauge fastenings. They are also a suitable fixing choice if you don’t want to have to fill the resulting holes with wood putty in some applications.
When to use a finishing nail gun
Like bradders, finishing nailers are also used for attaching moldings and trim boards to larger pieces of wood. However, they use slightly thicker 16-gauge pins that leave a more visible hole in the wood.
These holes will have to be filled with putty or wood filler before paint or a finish is applied to your wooden surface.
However, finishers are preferable when you need a stronger hold than what bradders can provide. This makes finishers the best overall choice if you are trying to decide on what to get if you only want to have one finishing nail gun.
Like bradders, finishing nailers are also an excellent choice if you don’t want to split or splinter the wood, you’re working with.
And because of the driving speed of an electric or gas-powered tool, the chance of wood splitting is much less than if the same sized nail was driven by hand.
Bradders vs. Finishing nailers
Bradders and finishing nailers share many physical characteristics and can be used for many of the same woodworking and building jobs. This is why many builders use them interchangeably and some people are often confused about the differences between both brad nailers and finish nailers.
Although you can use bradders and finishers for many of the same tasks, there are jobs for which one or the other is more appropriate.
You will generally want to use bradders when you don’t want to bother filling in holes with putty. Finish nailers are better suited most of the time for jobs where you need a stronger hold.
If you have to choose between finish nailers vs. brad nailers, I suggest going with an angled finisher. This is the most versatile option, allowing you to do general finishing jobs and is able to be used in tight corners.
If you want the best set-up with both tools, however, go for a cordless angled finisher and a straight air bradder.
These two tools will allow for the best range of all finishing jobs, from tight corner work to repetitive panel work where you need to pound a lot of nails consistently and quickly using compressed air.
3 Types of finishing nailers
Finish nails come in a few varieties, including angled and straight designs, gas and compressed air driven models, and cordless units. Angled nailers are the most versatile, working equally well for corner work and straight-ahead nailing.
Cordless models are the most convenient and portable compared to gas and compressed air driven units.
Angle finishers vs. Straight finishers
Finishing nailers come in two basic designs: straight and angled magazine models.
Straight magazine finishers are excellent for straightforward, repetitive work where you don’t need to squeeze into tight corners. They are also generally better balanced than angled finishers and are quicker to work with.
Angled finishers are better suited for working in tight spots and for driving in panel pins at an angle. They can also do straight-ahead nailing work, so if you had to choose just one, it would be better to go with an angled finisher.
Gas vs. Cordless Finishers
Like many power tools, finish nailers come in gas-powered and cordless models. Gas-powered nailers have the advantage of longer runtimes and more powerful motors, making them the weapon of choice for professional woodworkers. Unlike pneumatic nailers, they also don’t need air compressors or hoses.
For home or DIY use, however, I would recommend going for a cordless finish nailer.
They are quick, convenient, and easy to operate, and you don’t have to deal with gas canisters or unpleasant fumes. You also don’t need to have a power outlet nearby, which means you can work in remote locations or job sites if necessary.
Compressed air vs. Cordless Finishers
If the choice comes down between a compressed air nailer and a cordless model, I would go for the cordless every time.
Compressed air nailers can be pretty powerful, especially for heavy-duty jobs where you need to drive a lot of nails quickly over a long period. They are perfect for doing wall panel work, for example.
But most home and DIY projects don’t require as much consistent power as what a compressed air nailer can put out. Besides, lugging around a huge air compressor can get old pretty quickly.
Unless you are working on a professional job site with a large crew, it is almost always better to go for the convenience of a cordless nailer.
3 Types of bradders
Most commercially available bradders are straight rather than angled. They are better suited for general molding and trimming work than driving nails at an angle or working in tight spots.
For home finishing and repairs, a cordless bradder is usually preferable to gas. But compressed air-driven models sometimes have their upside for professionals.
Straight magazine bradders
The vast majority of bradders are straight magazine designs. This makes them better suited for straight-ahead nailing jobs rather than for corner work or driving nails at an angle.
Bradders are commonly used for attaching moldings and trims, and for paneling work wherein you don’t want to bother filling in nail holes with wood putty. Or for delicate T/G edge on cedar panels that are prone to splitting.
Gas vs. Cordless bradders
Like finishing nailers, bradders come in gas-driven and cordless models as well. Pretty much all the same pros and cons apply when choosing between the two types.
Although gas-powered models usually have a slight power disadvantage, many newer cordless bradders can deliver more consistent performance, as gas quality can vary from shot to shot.
This means the cordless tool option is less prone to jamming with a nail half in your trim providing more consistent results.
Of course, going cordless means you won’t have to deal with breathing in gas fumes as well. They are also quieter and more of a breeze to use without having to purchase and change the gas, which expires reasonably shortly as well.
Cordless bradders are more convenient, reliable, and need less maintenance.
Compressed air vs. Cordless bradders
When choosing between compressed air and a cordless model, compressed air bradders have a slight edge over cordless units. They are better suited for high-volume repetitive work, such as paneling and ceiling work.
They are especially useful for cedar paneling or when you have to drive a lot of brads on a strict schedule.
Keep in mind that you will have to lug an air compressor around if you opt for an air-driven model. If you want a more convenient solution and don’t mind a slightly slower performance dip, you might be able to make do with a cordless bradder for all your DIY jobs.
The trouble with gas-powered finishing and brad guns
Gas-powered tools are among the most popular nail driving tools around. For heavy-duty jobs, where you need consistency and sheer power, for big nails, gas wins for portability but for finishers and bradders the cordless option is still lightweight and gives much more constant shooting.
A gas bradder or finisher at home, for DIY tasks on the building site, has a few disadvantages. The fumes they produce can be smelly and could possibly pose a health risk. They are also prone to jamming because of the inconstancy of the gas and this can often damage the surface of your workpiece, and be incredibly frustrating.
Not to mention that gas expires, and the hot combustion will require much more maintenance on the tool in the future compared to air or a cordless model.
Paslode makes some of the best framing nail guns when it comes to being light-weight and value for money, but when it comes to finishing work a cordless bradder is a far better choice.
Cordless finishers and bradders and are much more preferable for home, DIY, and professional use. Most are still pretty lightweight even with the battery pack because it’s a small tool anyway.
Cordless finishers are far easier to use because of the consistent power and less maintenance, not to mention quieter operation.
How long does Paslode gas last?
The most common gas cells are made by Paslode, which is an international tool manufacturing firm founded in 1935.
Paslode fuel cells also have built-in metering valve systems, which prolong their usable lives even further. Even so, it is a good idea to check the “Best Used Before” date on the bottom of the can upon purchase. So you don’t clog up your tool, or deal with misfires, and jamming.
How many nails will a Paslode fuel shoot?
A Paslode finish nailer runs on a fuel cell that can drive as many as 1,250 to 1,300 nails, which is plenty for home and DIY use. Paslode sells boxes of brads containing 2,000 pins each, which comes with fuel cells as well. This means that you are more likely to run out of nails long before you run low on gas.
Just make sure you order the appropriate straight or angled pins to suit your tool, and also check the gauge.
Paslode also recommends purchasing a carton of nails without fuel cells after every fifth box you consume so that you can use up the excess gas.
Who makes the best cordless finishers?
Unsurprisingly, the companies that make the best power tools make the best finishers as well. DeWalt, Makita, Bostitch, and Milwaukee are some of the most respected names in the power tool industry, and their cordless finishers are among the best in the business.
DeWalt is known for its accurate and versatile finishing nailers that provide the strongest holding power. Makita, for its part, is known for its compact units that deliver outstanding performance.
Bostitch has some excellent finishers that have features such as tool-free depth adjustment controls and mode select switches. As for Milwaukee, their finishers are unparalleled for runtime and tool life but generally come are a higher price for the brand.
Who makes the best bradders?
The companies that make the best finishers make the best bradders as well. Companies such as DeWalt, Makita, Hitachi, and Bostitch are known for their bradders that deliver excellent performance and proven reliability.
DeWalt bradders are compatible with all of DeWalt’s 20V MAX batteries, and they have useful multi-function LED lights as well. They also have a low nail lockout feature that prevents dry firing, thereby protecting the surface of the workpiece, where a Paslode might half shoot a nail.
Makita bradders are among the most versatile, accommodating nails from 5/8” to 2” in length. Hitachi bradders are known for their long runtimes and portable design, while Bostitch bradders are known for their excellent feel and balance.
16 Gauge vs. 18 gauge
When discussing nailers and bradders, the subject of nail “gauges” will frequently come up. For molding, trimming, and finishing purposes, the most commonly used gauges are 15, 16, and 18.
These numbers represent the number of nails in an inch. You could fit 16 16-gauge nails in an inch, and 18 18-gauge nails in an inch.
Therefore, the higher the gauge is, the thinner the nail. This might seem counterintuitive, but it is essential for choosing the best nailer or bradder for you.
DeWalt has a stronger 15 gauge finishing gun
DeWalt is known for the strongest holding finishing nailers on the market. In particular, the DeWalt DCN650B angled finishing nailer 15Ga is a powerhouse nailer that can handle even heavy-duty jobs with ease.
The DeWalt DCN650B is actually a battery-powered nailer, which makes it a more convenient option over gas-driven or air-compressed models.
Its micro-nose design enhances accuracy by giving you a clear line of sight, so you always hit the mark when driving nails into your paneling.
The DeWalt DCN650B also comes with a useful LED light that allows you to see your work clearly while providing essential diagnostic information.
Nailers and bradders are some of the most useful finishing tools you could have in your toolbox.
Although they aren’t designed to handle an exceedingly varied array of tasks, what they can do they do very well.
If you have to drive a lot of small pins for a finishing job, a good finishing nailer or bradder will let you get the job done much quicker and cleaner than by hand with only your trusty hammer.
Ideally, you should have an angled finisher and a straight air bradder. This pair will give you the best combination of power, speed, and versatility. But if you can only afford one, I suggest you go for an angled finisher.
This will let you handle more general nailing work and let you work in tight spots as well. A bradder alone won’t give you the holding power you will often need.
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