When it comes to installing trim around windows, doors, baseboards, crown molding, assembling cabinet parts or installing stair treads and risers, as you can see, one nail gun does not fit all. Each of these nailers covers a range of applications. In some cases there’s overlap, but more often than not—you’re not going to get the results you want by using one when the other is the better option.
The difference between them is the gauge nail that they shoot. The most common and readily available types are 15 gauge, 16 gauge, 18 gauge, and 23 gauge. The higher the number, the thinner the nail and the smaller the hole.
So, do you need them all, and which one should you choose if you can only buy one?
What Are 15-Gauge Nailers Used For?
15-gauge nailers shoot a thick nail between 1-1/4” to 2-1/2” long. They have substantial holding power thanks to the heavier head.
These nailers are a great option for large interior and exterior casing when nailing into studs (not the jamb), installing pre-hung doors, stair treads or risers, baseboard, and crown—things that require good holding power in the material that can be filled and painted or stained.
The hole is substantial compared to the other options. These nailers are available in pneumatic and cordless configurations.
How Much Do 15-Gauge Nailers Cost?
Expect to pay $270-$450 for a cordless tool-only or kit, depending upon the brand. Check out this 15-gauge nailer by Metabo, available for $319 on Amazon. Pneumatics (such as this model by Senco) cost around $170-$200 depending upon the brand.
The 16-Gauge Nailer is Versatile
16-gauge nailers shoot nails that are a little thinner than the 15 gauge and have a smaller head. Depending on the brand, these shoot nails from 3/4” to 2-1/2” inches long. They have good holding power and are a good general use gun.
Carpenters use them for a wide variety of tasks including interior trim, baseboard, and crown. You can do stair risers with them, and they’re a good option to nail down tongue and groove flooring like near a wall or in a closet where a flooring nailer won’t work. Most carpenters don’t install pre-hung doors with this gun. If you’re doing a lot of trim work and don’t want to own multiple guns, the 16-gauge is probably the most versatile. These nailers are available in pneumatic and cordless configurations.
How Much Do 16-Gauge Nailers Cost?
Expect to pay $200-$400 for a cordless tool-only or kit, depending upon the brand. Porter Cable sells one for $199 on Amazon. Pneumatics cost around $100-$200 depending upon the brand.
What Do You Use a Brad Nailer For?
18-gauge brad nailers shoot a thin nail between 3/8” to 2” depending on the model. They leave a smaller hole thanks to their small head and so are less likely to split thinner wood.
They’re the ideal nailer for attaching casing to window and door jambs because they’re less likely to blow out the connections. Stop moldings, Base shoe, cove moldings—smaller profiles are a good use here, as well as some chair rails, and a variety of woodworking projects. If you do some trim work and a fair amount of woodworking, the 18-gauge brad nailer is the one to have. These nailers are available in pneumatic and cordless configurations.
How Much Do Brad Nailers Cost?
Expect to pay $100-$440 for a cordless tool-only or kit, depending upon the brand. My Milwaukee model costs $279 on Amazon. Pneumatics cost around $60-$390 depending upon the brand.
What Is a 23-Gauge Pin Nailer?
Last but not least, is the 23-gauge pinner. These too are available in cordless and pneumatic options. This gun should be relegated to tasks like mitered returns or attaching thin moldings or other details to wood.
Because most of them fire headless pins or very small-headed pins, they’re often used in conjunction with glue and therefore end up typically acting as a temporary clamp. They’re also a good option for installing beads and thin stops. They don’t split wood and leave a barely noticeable hole that requires minimal to no filling. These nailers are available in pneumatic and cordless configurations.
How Much Do Pin Nailers Cost?
Expect to pay $130-$400 for a cordless tool-only or kit, depending upon the brand. Metabo features a model for $152 on Amazon. Pneumatics cost around $110-$240 depending upon the brand.
Pneumatic vs. Cordless
As I mentioned, all of these nailers are available in pneumatic or cordless configurations. The tried-and-true pneumatic uses compressed air to push a driver pin that sets the nail. Cordless nailers run on either a battery and gas cartridge or on just a battery.
How Do Pneumatic Nailers Work?
Pneumatic nail guns are the lightest, fastest, and, until recently, the most reliable.
They’re powered by compressed air that is delivered to the nailer through a hose from a compressor. Finish carpenters like them because of their weight and maneuverability – they’re not as bulky as cordless nailers and are typically well-balanced. They require some maintenance and can be refurbished without sending in for service.
How Do Cordless Nailers Work?
Cordless gas nailers evolved from pneumatics as carpenters looked for more convenience. They’ve been around for a long time, so the technology has become more reliable over the years. These nailers run on a rechargeable battery and fuel cartridge that creates a small explosion inside a combustion chamber which pushes the driver pin and sets the nail. These nailers are lightweight and reliable, though they can’t be fired rapidly like pneumatics.
They require more maintenance and upkeep cost. Some carpenters are put-off by the propane-like smell that is emitted with each shot. Runtime on these nailers is excellent and because there’s no air hose or compressor to haul around (and potentially trip over) they are convenient.
The latest cordless nailer technology relies solely on a battery, so there’s no gas cartridge to change out. With these nailers the driver mechanism is different than the other two styles – there’s compressed air or gas housed in the head and a piston that drives the pin down.
Depending upon the gauge nailer, they can be heavier than the gas and pneumatic options – but they are very fast and plenty powerful. They require no maintenance though when they are down, they need to be sent in for service. Though runtime is good with these nailers, the trade-off is the weight and sometimes balance of the tool depending upon the brand. These nailers are reliable and convenient.
You can buy pneumatic combo kits that include a compressor and one, two, or three nailers for $200-$400 depending upon the brand and configuration. These are a great option if you’re starting from scratch.
If you’re already invested in a battery platform, you will find each of these nailers available as tool-only or in kits that include a battery and charger. Prices vary widely depending upon the brand.