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The Best Nail Gun For Your Project

The Best Nail Gun For Your Project

Specifications Summary - Finish Nailer

  • Finish nail gun because it is most versatile 
  • Angle is likely not critical for most homeowners so 20 or 34 degrees is great
  • 15 gauge nails
  • Straight clip
  • Cordless unless you own an air compressor

Product Recommendations - Finish Nailer

What is a nailer used for?

Ready to add some crown molding to your dining room or living room?  Maybe you have just installed some new flooring and you are ready to put those new baseboards back on the wall.  Have you seen all those DIY TV shows and have finally decided that you need a shiplap or tongue and groove wall?  While your power drill-driver is a fantastic tool, screws are not going to work for any of these projects.  And, do you really want to hammer a few hundred nails or more to get that shiplap up?  You could do that but I bet it takes you three times as long and you end up with a lot of bent nails and some sore fingers after hitting them with your hammer.  The solution to all of this and many other projects is a nail gun.  This amazing power tool will shoot nails and brads of all sizes almost as fast as you can pull the trigger.  Certain nail guns can handle large framing nails that you would use while framing a wall or building a treehouse for your kids.  Other nail guns can shoot tiny little brads or staples for crafting projects or picture frame building.  Depending on your project, the size of the nail and therefore the type nail gun that you need will differ and I will explain those differences in the next section.

Nailer features

The first and probably most important feature to understand about nail guns is the type of nail gun that you need.  There are three primary types of nail gun that as a novice DIY’er you need to know about.  There is a brad nailer, a finish nailer and a framing nailer.  There are specialty nailers as well for applications like flooring, roofing or nailing into concrete but those are specialized tools that I would not expect a new homeowner to need right away.  That is why I am only going to focus on the brad, finishing and framing nailers that I mentioned as these nail guns can be used for a variety of projects and will be more versatile for you as a homeowner.

- Brad Nail Gun - 

The brad nailer is best for light duty projects that do not require a significant amount of holding power from your nail.  Brad nails are very thin and short so they are ideal for using on delicate or thin pieces of wood.  Some brad nails will make such a small hole when they are driven into the material that you may not even need to repair the holes with wood filler.  This is what makes a brad nailer ideal for crafting projects or small carpentry projects that will not require a lot of holding power.  For instance, you could use your brad nailer for attaching thin bead board or trim to a wall.  Just be sure your brad is long enough to get through the wood, the drywall and into the wood stud behind the drywall.  

Brad Nailer

Used for smaller applications where a lot of holding power is not necessary.

- Finish Nail Gun -

A finish nailer on the other hand uses a heavier gauge nail and therefore can withstand much more holding power than the brad nailer.  Finish nails are still quite thin and will not make a large hole where they are driven into the wood, but the hole will be large enough in diameter that you will likely want to cover it with wood putty.  Finish nail guns are ideal for hanging crown molding, baseboards, shiplap and tongue and groove boards.  They are also great for furniture and cabinet building.  In my opinion, if you only want to buy one nail gun then the finish nailer gives you the most versatility around the house.

Finish Nailer

The most versatile of the nail gun varieties.

- Framing Nail Gun -

The framing nailer as it name implies, is made for framing 2x4 walls with large diameter, heavy gauge nails.  The nails used in these nail guns have the best holding power which is why they are needed to construct the walls of your home.  You will want a framing nailer if you plan to build an addition to your house or want to add a wall somewhere.  They will also come in quite handy if you decide to build your own fence, add a deck to your home or build that tree house your kids have been bugging you about.  One feature specific to framing nailers is that some models allow you to shoot clipped head nails while other models will only shoot full round head nails.  If you picture the head of a large nail you see it as a complete circle.  Clipped head nails have a portion of that round head clipped off so that it is no longer a complete circle.  The advantage of this is that you can fit more nails in the clip of your nail gun.  The downside of the clipped head is that you lose holding power.  Holding power is critical when you are framing a wall so it is imperative that you understand your local building codes first prior to buying a nailer that fires clipped head nails.  The last thing you want is to get your new wall framed up just to have the local inspector reject all your work because your clipped head nails do not meet the proper code.

Framing Coil Nailer

Used for heavy duty applications where the holding power of a large nail is required.

 - Degree's ? -

As you are shopping for a nail gun you will notice that a lot of the product descriptions will say something like “34 degree framing nailer” or “21 degree finish nailer” or possibly “straight nailer.”  What this is referring to is the angle at which the nail clip of the nail gun is protruding back towards the handle.  This in turn determines which nails you will have to purchase.  In other words, if you purchase a 34 degree gun, you will likely have to buy nails that are collated at 34 degrees as any other angle will not work.  There are some nail guns that will allow you to use nails collated at slightly different angles.  For instance, a 21 degree nail gun may be able to shoot nails from 20-22 degrees.  You just need to read the product specifications closely once you have chosen a nail gun.  An angled magazine allows your nail gun to fit in a smaller space which may become important if you plan to do a lot of framing.  A straight nailer is a nail gun whose nail clip is not angled and comes straight down from the end of the gun.  Most brad nailers will have straight clips.  The most common angles for a finish nailer are straight, 20, 21 and 34 degrees.  Framing nailers are most abundant in 21 degree and 30 degree angles.  The greater the angle the tighter the space you can work in so I would suggest buying an angled gun as opposed to a straight gun so you do not get caught in a situation where your straight magazine will not fit where you need to be.

- Strip or Coil -

Some nail guns will can be purchased with nail magazines that are round and will hold a coil of nails instead of a strip of nails.  You can find some finish nailers with this option but it is more common in framing nailers.  The benefit of a coil clip is that it can hold a lot more nails than a strip.  For instance, a coil can hold maybe 300 nails while a strip will be less than 100.  That means a lot less reloading.  The offset to that is all the added weight of those extra 200 plus nails.  Personally, for us homeowners and DIY’ers I would stick with a strip style magazine and leave the coils to the pros who need to fire off thousands of nails every day. 

 - Gauge -

You will also notice that most brad and finish nailers will list the gauge (thickness) of nail that it is capable of firing.  The smaller the gauge value, the thicker the nail although even the heaviest nails in these categories are still quite thin.  Just about all brad nailers shoot 18 gauge brad nails which may or may not have a head on them.  Additionally, a majority of finish nailers will shoot nails between 15 and 18 gauge.  I personally own and would recommend buying a 15 gauge finish nailer as the heavier gauge nail will be stronger and will have more holding power.  Furthermore, framing nailers will not generally advertise a nail gauge as most will accept nails in a range of thicknesses.  Be sure to read the product specifications before buying any nails for your new framing nailer.

- Lighten your load with cordless - 

A majority of nail guns are powered by compressed air but cordless (battery powered) nail guns are becoming more common in the market place.  I have to say that a cordless nailer sounds very appealing due to the fact that you will not need a noisy air compressor or a long air hose to lug around.  As with all other corded versus cordless tools, there is a cost premium for going with the more convenient cordless tool.  More importantly, consider that most cordless nailers are capable of firing 800 to 2000 nails or brads on a single charge.  This is more than sufficient for a small project but could become an issue on a bigger job especially if you do not have a backup battery.  

Want to save a lot of time?  I have provided some product suggestions here to make life easier.

Nail gun prices

If you already have an air compressor, then buying a compressed air powered nailer will be quite a bit cheaper than a cordless version.  If you do not own an air compressor then you must factor that cost into your decision as your tool will not work without one.  Keep in mind that you can rent air compressors and hoses if needed.


As usual, I prefer to buy a tool that comes with a carrying case or bag in order to make storage easier.  As such, you should be able to purchase an air powered brad nailer with a case for about $80 to $100.  A cordless brad nailer with a kit that includes a battery, charger and case will start at $300 while you could get the tool and case alone for as low as $200. 

If you already own cordless tools that will have a battery that is compatible with your brad nailer, then you would not need the kit.  Furthermore, if you own compatible batteries then it could be more cost effective to go with a cordless brad nailer because an air compressor will cost about $100 if you need to buy one along with your air powered brad nailer.

An air powered finish nailer with a carrying case will start at $160.  A cordless finish nailer kit with a battery, charger and case will start around $350 while the bare tool with a case will cost about $250.

Framing nailers are the most expensive of the bunch with air powered versions costing about $230 for a framing nailer and case.  Cordless framing nailer kits start at about $400 and the tool on its own will start around $300.  Again, expect to spend at least $100 for an air compressor to pair with your air powered framing nailer.

Best nail gun brands

As usual, if you search any of the major retailers you will find that there is no shortage of manufacturers producing nail guns.  In fact, most of these manufacturers compete with each other in just about every category of power tools.  Some of the manufacturers cater to the professional craftsman but offer product lines are geared toward homeowners and those interested in do-it-yourself projects.  Other manufacturers focus primarily on the homeowner market and try to offer a tool that is as inexpensive as they can possibly make it.  When it comes to tools, I am a strong believer in the old adage “you get what you pay for.”  I am not saying that the cheap product will not work or will break after a couple uses.  What I will say is that I would not have high expectations that the product is going to last for the long haul or survive being dropped off a ladder or put through fairly heavy use. If you are in a pinch and need something right away and you are just not ready to commit to spending some money on a top brand, then by all means get what you can.  But, I have spent the extra money on the premium brands and I have used tools of the lower end brands and I can say that I notice a difference in quality.

Here is a list (in no particular order) of what I consider to be the brands that offer the best quality, selection and durability of nail guns while also providing products that are affordable for users like us.

  • Milwaukee
  • DeWalt
  • Bosch
  • Ridgid
  • Hitachi
  • Makita
  • Senco
  • Paslode

I personally own tools made by Milwaukee, DeWalt, Hitachi and Ridgid and I have been extremely happy with their performance, durability and price.  I do not own any Bosch or Makita tools yet but I have read in many forums that people are very happy with these brands as well.  

If you are big on “Made in the U.S.A”, your brand options are very limited.  DeWalt is the only company I could find that will tell you specifically which products are manufactured in the United States.  These products are labeled with “Made In The USA With Global Materials.”  Keep in mind that not all DeWalt products are made in the U.S but at least they are willing to tell us which ones are.  Makita mentions that they have some manufacturing in the U.S as they have a plant in Georgia but they did not specify which products are produced there.  The same holds true for Stanley Bostitch, Senco and Paslode.  Senco states that all of their fasteners are made in the U.S but does not address where the nail guns are made.  The Paslode Canada site states that tools are manufactured in the U.S but they also have plants worldwide so I am not 100% sure if all of their nailers are produced here.

I could not find any DeWalt nailers that were labeled “Made In The USA With Global Materials.”  However, I did find one air compressor that is labeled as such.  Further research could prove that Paslode is the only choice for a “Made In The USA” nail gun.

Nail gun accessories

The primary accessories for your nail gun will be a compressor, hose and of course nails or brads depending on which type of nailer you purchase.  Compressors will cost about $100+ and a decent length air hose will cost about $15.  As mentioned previously, the brads and nails you buy are highly dependent on the type of nail gun that you purchased.  Brads and nails will be sold in boxes containing 1,000 or more pieces and have a wide range of prices depending on the size of brad/nail, the finish and the number of pieces in a box.  For example, 1,000 18 gauge brads may cost about $5 while a box of 5,000 galvanized framing nails will cost $70 or more.  If you are interested, Senco brand claims to manufacture all of their fasteners in the USA so if that is important to you, you may want to look for their nails to fit your nail gun.


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