16 vs. 18 Gauge Nailer: Key Differences to Know

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As a newbie in woodwork projects, you may find it difficult to understand the differences between a 16 vs. 18 gauge nailer. For professional reasons, you must understand how these tools work and how to use them. 

Not to worry, in this guide, we will explain to you all the key differences you need to know.

Nailer “Gauge” Explained

In simple terms, gauge means how thick the fastener is. It is also defined as the number of nails that are lined up. This means that a 16-gauge nail is thicker and stronger than an 18-gauge brad. For clarity, ‌we can say that the lower the gauge number, the thicker the nail.

What are Brad Nails?

Brads nails have a slender profile which they make for 18-gauge steel. It will have a higher gauge if they design a super thin nail. Therefore, it is safe to say that a higher gauge number means a thinner nail.

A brad nail is ideal for wood trimming and paneling. This is because they are pretty good for projects with a small diameter. Also, as compared to finish nailers, they have smaller head that are less likely to split thinner wood.

brad nailer

As a woodworker, brad nailers help you achieve a clean finish and a subtle appearance. This is because it create holes in the wood before you paint it. They are ideal for fibreboard and plywood projects, and you can use a brad nailer to work with them.

What are Finish Nails?

Finish nails are known to be composed of 15 to 16-gauge steel wire. The major difference between a brad and finish nail is the diameter. The former has a slightly thicker diameter, giving them a stronger grip on the brad.

Furthermore, we use these nails for heftier applications. These include projects involving cabinets and baseboards. You cannot use them for delicate projects, as they may ruin the wood trim. 

Although they have similar features to the brad nails, they are only useful for specific purposes. These nails are stronger, their nails are headless, and they can make the surface blend with the wood.

Differences Between 16 and 18 Finish Nailers

Every pro or novice’s dream is to achieve quality results with their woodworking project. And as we all know, having the right fastener is critical to this. 

18 gauge finish nailer

Thus, it is important that you understand the basic differences between the multiple guns you use and what they offer. The key to achieving this is selecting the proper nail thickness, which we will elaborate in this comparison of a 16 vs. 18 gauge nailer:

What are 16-Gauge Finish Nailers?

16-gauge finish nailers are about 0.0635 inches thick, and they can hold better when compared to 18-gauge brads. They are the ideal finish nailer for projects involving thick pieces of wood. 

Therefore, they are favorites for cabinet, exterior trim work, door frames, flooring, casing, and chair rails woodwork projects. Although with several advantages, they also have notable drawbacks. 

16 gauge finish nailer

You cannot use them for delicate projects, they will split through small moldings, and they have larger heads which will leave noticeable hole you have to fill to give an excellent finish.

Pros

Cons

What are 18-Gauge Brad Nailers?

When it comes to fragile items, 18-gauge brad nailers are the best choice. Therefore, they are useful for paneling, trim molding, casing, and decorative molding. Their nail length is about 0.5 – 2.5 inches, with a thickness of 0.0475 inches.

Makita AF506 18G Brad Nailer Close up

With these nailers, you can achieve a complex finish with ease. In fact, because of their small heads, they leave little or no noticeable holes in your wood. 

This means you do not need to worry about filing or sanding. In fact, this is why they are good for dry lumber. The major drawback to using these nailers is that they have little holding power because of their thin shank.

Pros

Cons

Nails

A brad nailer shoot nails that are 18-gauge in size, while finish nail guns fires 15 or 16-gauge nails. The length of an 18- gauge brad nailer is about 0.0475, 0.720 inches for a 15- gauge, and 0.0625 inches for a 16-gauge.

Hole Size and Driving Capacity

These tools make different hole sizes in wood and have different driving capacities. Finish nails create larger holes that require you to sand or fill them to make the holes unnoticeable. 

However, brad nailers don’t. Although you might see little traces when working with thin or weak materials, you can conceal the holes with a putty.

Makita AF506 18G Brad Nailer

Strength

With strength or holding capacity, a 16-gauge nailer is your ideal choice. They are about 0.0635 inches thick, and they hold better. They will  give improved stability when compared to 18-gauge brad.

Battery or Air (Power Source)

If you dislike dealing with wires, you can count on using battery. It gives you the option of moving your nailer wherever you want. Also, it eliminates noise, so you don’t need an air compressor. However, it is of utmost importance that you ensure that the battery is fully charged.

If the battery is not charged or drained, this can affect your work. Therefore, it is essential to have a spare rechargeable battery. You can get lithium [1] or other types of batteries. 

Lithium batteries are susceptible to physical shocks and can break, while general batteries wear out easily. If you use your nailer often, you will need to keep buying batteries. However, if you cannot afford to buy batteries, ensure you charge your battery at all times.

Battery Power

If your shop is one without compressed air, or you hate dealing with a hose, your perfect choice is battery power. You can carry the hose wherever you need it without the hose tying to the gun.

Pneumatic Power

Using an air compressor gives you an endless stream of power. The only thing you will need to do is ensure that you keep loading the nails. Another advantage of this power source is it allows you to deal with a hose that makes it difficult to reach some areas

The drawbacks are that it is noisy and can create disturbances. Also, it requires lots of accessories, such as connectors, hoses, and fittings. This can incur additional expenses, especially if you are into mobile operation.

Overview of Features: 16 and 18 Gauge Nailers

 

Brad Nailer

Finish Nailer

Nail Type

18 gauge brad nail

15-gauge and 16-gauge nails

Capacity

Low holding capacity

High capacity compared to brad nailer

Hole Size

0.0475-inch

Maximum of 0.0720-inch

Suitability

Best for attaching thin trims as it does not split

Suitable for finishing different carpentry projects

Uses

Lightweight molding and boardings

Baseboards, plywood, MDF etc.

Loading a Finish Nailer and a Brad Nailer

Once you determine which nailer best suits your needs, you will need to load the tool before using it. Nailers work almost the same way, but they serve different purposes. Besides being useful tools, they are available in various sizes for various woodworking projects.

RYOBI

16-Gauge Nail Gun

There are two nailing directions on a finish nailer: straight and angled. The nailer’s style determines whether the unit holds the nails perpendicular or at a 20-degree angle. The 16- gauge nail gun can hold up to 100 strips of nails no longer than two and a half inches. 

What you need to do is place the tip of the finish nailer to the board. Carefully adjust to correctly position the nail. Double check if it’s fully set and loaded.

18-Gauge Nail Gun

18 gauge nails because of their smaller size studs are safer than a finish nail. However, be cautious because working with the tool can still result in injuries. Unlike a finish nailer, an 18-gauge brad nailer is frequently used to secure a small and thin piece of wood without splitting it. 

To avoid splitting the material, position the nailer far into the board. Check the splitting properties of the wood as well, as they differ from one another. 

Other Types of Gauge Nailers

Aside from finish and brad types, here are other gauge nailers you can use:

Framing Nailer

Framing Nail Gun

A framing nailer, or nail gun, is a handheld device that uses compressed air or electricity to drive nails at a high speed.

Flooring Nail Gun

These nailers differ from other types of nail guns, and they design uniquely to help you make groove floorboards and laying tongue. There are two types of flooring nailers: these are manual and pneumatic.

Roofing Nail Gun

Like framing nailers, roofing nailers are heavy-duty. Typically, they are used only by professional contractors, but DIY lovers and beginners may dabble with them. A roofing nailer will nail into roof materials efficiently.

Palm Nail Gun

A palm nailer is like a mini nail gun. They work like their full-size equivalents, but they are much smaller. Nail guns for palms have an adjustable strap that keeps them comfortable while using them.

palm nailer

Pin Nail Gun

The pin nailer is the tiniest finish nailer you can buy, and it is generally used for finishing carpentry projects. The tools are compatible with 23-gauge headless nails that resemble pins.

Siding Nail Gun

The purpose of a siding nailer is to install siding on the side of a house. The material is ideal for projects where you must join a non-wooden material to a wooden subject. Furthermore, these nailers have a lower velocity power and are ideal for working with softwoods.

Staple Gun

The staple gun differs from any other nailers we have listed, but it can still drive staples into a wide variety of materials. We use them for carpeting, upholstery, and home repair.

FAQ

Is it possible to use 18 gauge nails in a 16-gauge nailer?

Unfortunately, the answer is no. It would be best if you used the gauge nailer with the intended size.

Which nails should I use for crown molding?

You will need a 2″ finish nails to install a crown mold. This is ideal for this type of project.

Conclusion

As shown in this 18 vs. 16 gauge nailer comparison, these nailers serve different purposes as they differ in size. If you are working with thinner trims, such as paneling, your ideal choice is a 18 gauge nailer. 

However, if your wood project has to do with durable installs such as staircase, or crown molding, then your perfect choice is a 16 gauge nailer.

Robert Johnson is a woodworker who takes joy in sharing his passion for creating to the rest of the world. His brainchild, Sawinery, allowed him to do so as well as connect with other craftsmen. He has since built an enviable workshop for himself and an equally impressive online accomplishment: an extensive resource site serving old timers and novices alike.
Robert Johnson

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