Best Brad Nailer
Of all the types of nailers on the market, brad nailers are the most common. If a woodworker has only one type of nailer, you can pretty much count on it being a brad nailer. That’s not just because they’re less expensive than the larger types of nailers, but also because they’re so versatile. These tools can be used for finish carpentry, cabinetry, and even furniture making.
The big question for most people is whether to buy a pneumatic brad nailer or a cordless one. Pneumatic nailers must be connected to an air compressor for power making them great for use in a workshop, but a little less convenient on a job site. On the other hand, the added convenience of a cordless will cost you more.
There are few features that differentiate pneumatic nailers although cordless ones do vary, especially in the manner in which the drive system works; choose wisely as some operate more consistently and controllably than others. For more information about selecting a brad nailer, check out our buyer's guide provided below.
Best Cordless Brad Nailer:
Not too long ago the only brad nailers you could find were pneumatic or corded electric. The electric never seemed to have enough power for the job, and were considered more of a hobbyists or maybe a crafts tool. On the other hand, the pneumatic nailers were the choice of professionals whether in finish carpentry, cabinetmaking, or even furniture making.
Unfortunately, using a pneumatic nailer meant hauling an air compressor around with you. While this isn't much of a problem when youre working in a shop or on a major project, it can be a real pain when youre just doing a little repair. Even worse, when you just put it away and then find something that you forgot to nail. Of course, the other problem is using the compressor when you dont have any electricity; that entails dragging a generator around as well.
That problem has been solved by the coming of the cordless brad nailer. These units are what the professionals use when they need to do a small job or a repair. In fact, they have become so popular that some carpenters are using them as their only nailer, and not even bothering to have a regular pneumatic nailer in their toolbox.
The one drawback to these nailers is that most require a gas cartridge in addition to the battery and of course the nails. This cartridge is what actually supplies the power to drive the fasteners in. When the trigger is pulled, a spark is produced, burning the gas in the cartridge. The burning gas expands driving the piston which actually drives the nail. Just as the next nail is automatically moved into position, the next gas charge is readied, preparing the tool for your next shot.
This is what to look for when looking at a cordless brad nailer:
How easy is it to use youre buying this tool for convenience, so you want to make sure its comfortable to use. Things like how heavy it is, how comfortable the handle is and how easy it is to load or adjust may not seem like a big deal when youre shopping, but they become a big deal when youre using the tool.
Battery life the same as with any cordless tool, battery life becomes a big deal. If you cant keep it charged, and are constantly having to change batteries, it ends up cutting into your work time. Most of the units today use Li-Ion rechargeable batteries, which provide much longer battery life and much faster recharge times.
Jam-proof on all of these units, I've checked other peoples reviews for this specific point. A tool that jams a lot isn't going to do anyone much good. I also looked at how easy it is to clear a jam.
By definition, 15 gauge nails are considered finishing nails and 18 gauge nails are considered brads. So, for this list, I've limited myself only to 18 gauge brads. In the cases of all these tools, the manufacturers make 15 gauge versions of the same tool.
Senco developed a whole new approach to cordless brad nailing when they came up with this one. With it, you don't have to replace those pesky gas charges, saving hassles and money. Read Full Review
Of all the "standard" cordless brad nailers (ones that require gas) I think that Hitachi has everyone beat. This unit is only 4 pounds. Coupled with the elastomer handle, that makes it very comfortable to use. Read Full Review
Overall this is an excellent tool, with everything well designed and working like it should. Passload is an old timer in the air tool market, known for quality tools. Read Full Review
This tool is also "gas free" like the Senco. DeWalt has done a really splendid job with their nosepiece design, allowing jam removal without any tools. A trip lock-off safety feature insures that the tool can't be fired when not in use. Read Full Review
Bostitch isn't as well known for their nailers as they are for office staplers; but they've been building them for years. This one has all the right features, including tool-free adjustments and jam clearing. Read Full Review
Best Pneumatic Brad Nailer:
Of all the types of nailers on the market, a brad nailer is probably the most useful and the first one most people buy. With it, you can work on anything from making picture frames to building cabinets, hanging trim to making furniture. With the range of brad sizes available and the compact size of these nailers, they’re a highly useful tool for a variety of work.
While cordless electric nailers are fast taking over the professional nailer market, there’s still a place for pneumatic ones. There are two basic advantages in buying a pneumatic nailer over an electric one in that they’re less expensive and more compact. If nailing in a place where you have air readily available or you only use the nailer from time to time, then you really don’t have a need a cordless nailer.
While these could be considered a carpenter’s tool (such as installing trim) they get a lot of use in cabinet and furniture shops as well. In fact, along with wood glue, the brad nailer is the number one way that cabinet shops put pieces together.
There are three categories of “finish” type nailers, of which brad nailers are included:
- Brad nailers - accept 18 gauge nails from 5/8” long up to 2” long
- Finish nailers - use 15 or 16 gauge nails up to 2-1/2” long
- Pin nailers - utilize 26 gauge nails
Of the three, brad nailers are the most common and the most versatile. Finish nailers use too large a diameter nail for concealing in cabinetry and furniture. Pin nailers are only for holding wood together while glue dries as the pins are headless. Brad nailers are a true finishing nail.
One of the great advantages of using a brad nailer over nailing things by hand is that pieces of a project are much less likely to move when attached with a brad nailer than they are if nailed by hand. That helps improve the quality of your projects while saving you time as well.
So, what do you need to look for in a pneumatic brad nailer?
- Nail size – While most can use brads up to 2-inches long, not all can.
- Oil free – Eliminate the problem of the oil splattering on the woodwork from the exhaust and staining it.
- Tool-free nose – Most quality nailers have easy-open nosepieces for pulling out jammed nails.
- Selectable trigger actuation – Allows you to choose between sequential or bump fire modes. Some require replacing the trigger for this, some have a switch on-board.
- Depth control – Pretty much all air nailers have some sort of depth control. The better ones have a thumbwheel which is easy to operate rather than having to adjust a rod.
- Low-nail indicator – Since dry firing isn’t good for a nailer, a window in the side of the magazine lets you know when you are almost out of nails.
- Magnesium housing – Housings are either aluminum or magnesium. The magnesium ones are both lighter and stronger than the aluminum ones.
- Piston catch – An internal catch, which helps ensure consistent stroke on every shot.
It’s a good idea to avoid brad nailers which are combination nailer/stapler. While they work great, they have a larger anvil (the metal piece that pushes the brad into the wood). If you’re trying to sink the brad below the surface to make it easier to fill, the wider anvil makes a larger mark to fill. If you’re only working on projects that don’t need to be finished, that’s not a problem. But for projects that need to be stained and varnished, it’s very obvious.
The Senco brad nailer is maintenance free, which means that you don't have to oil it. That's a real advantage, especially in protecting your work from getting stained. Read Full Review
Hitachi has a depth of drive dial, making setting the shot penetration much easier. The trigger is mode selectable without removing and replacing it. Read Full Review
This upgraded version of Porter-Cable's brad nailer has increased range, allowing use of brads up to 2" long, Other than that, it's very much like the BN138 that it replaced. Read Full Review
Makita's quality and attention to detail comes through on this brad nailer. In addition to the rubber pad on the nosepiece, it has rubber bumpers on the side, to prevent the gun from marring your work. Read Full Review
Brad Nailer Buyer's Guide
Brad nailers are similar to finish nailers; in fact, they're sufficiently similar that they are often mistaken as being small finish nailers. That's not that bad a comparison, as they are often used for finish carpentry, alongside regular finish nailers. When you see door and window casing that is nailed with smaller nails along the opening edge and larger nails along the back edge, the smaller nails are from a brad nailer. That's because the carpenter used a brad nailer for the opening edge, which uses 18 gauge nails and a finish nailer for the back edge which uses 15 or 16 gauge.
Brad nail ranging from 3/4" up to 2". The nailers are designed for use with brads up to 2" long, but those are a bit hard to find. They also tend to bend a lot, especially when driven into dense hardwoods. An 18 gauge nail isn't very big in diameter.
Some brad nailers also shoot narrow crown stapes in addition to brads. While having a tool that’s more versatile seems like a good idea, a lot depends upon how you plan on using the tool. The anvil (the part that pushes the brad) on a combination nailer/stapler is wider than one intended for a brad only nailer. When you’re using it to shoot brads and sinking them below the surface, the anvil will make a much bigger indentation than required for just the brad. This makes a larger area to fill which will be more obvious in the finished work.
Brad nailers are used for more than just architectural trim as they're also used extensively for furniture and cabinet making. Of all the different types of nailers on the market, these are probably the most versatile. However, the nails aren't strong enough for use in all applications; other than architectural trim, brads are best used when the pieces are also to be glued together.
Types of Brad Nailers Available
Brad nailers don't come in as much variety as finish nailers, as there’s no such thing as angled brad nailer since all of them are manufactured with straight magazines. This makes the overall size of the nailer smaller, which is especially important for cabinetmaking.
There is no real need for an angled brad nailer as angled finish nailers are made for use with cove molding. Brads aren't long enough for use with cove molding so no one has bothered creating one. About the only time when it might be considered useful would be some unusual cabinetry where the angles are less than 90 degrees.
So brad nailers come in both pneumatic and cordless varieties. Most of the cordless ones work like other cordless nailers, burning a gas to drive the piston. The one exception to this is the Senco Fusion, which is available in both a brad nailer and a straight finish nailer. Rather than using expanding gas to drive the piston, a spring is used and a motor "re-cocks" the nailer for the next shot.
Combination Brad Nailers
There is also a version of brad nailers that are combination nailers and staplers. These use a narrow crown staple, which is essentially like shooting two brads at once. While it does hold the wood together better than a normal brad nailer, the hole made in the wood for the staple crown is wider, requiring more filling.
The other problem with this type of brad nailer is that the anvil on a brad nailer/stapler is wider than that of a normal brad nailer to accommodate the width of the staple. That means if you’re using it for brads, you're still going to get the hole that you would get for using a staple. So, you're going to have the same problem with filling the holes that you would with staples.
If you are using the brad nailer/stapler where that hole is not a problem, such as in situations where the holes made by the nailer are hidden, then the wider anvil really doesn't affect the work that you are doing. In those cases, the more versatile tool might be a good choice.
Cordless Brad Nailers
Cordless nailers have been taking over more and more of the market, especially for trim carpenters who use them for installing door and window casing. They are especially convenient when there’s a need to work on a small project where electrical power isn’t available. The time saved by not having to set up a compressor or compressor and electrical generator quickly justifies the higher cost of a cordless nailer.
Although all cordless brad nailers essentially do the same thing, there’s some variety in the way they work. A few nailers have been developed which are gasless. This newer technology shows great promise and eliminates the need to buy gas cartridges, making them cheaper to use.
Most manufacturers of cordless nailers offer you the option of buying it with or without the batteries and charger. This allows a user who already has a number of cordless tools from a particular manufacturer to save money, by using the batteries that they already have between their various tools.
What to Look for in a Brad Nailer
Of all the types of nailers on the market, brad nailers are the most likely to jam, due to the smaller diameter of the nails used. Therefore, it is important that the nosepiece of the nailer open easily for removing bent brads.
Depth of Shot
Depth of shot adjustment is important for a brad nailer. Pretty much all of them have this feature and pretty much all of them are tool-free; however, some perform better and are easier to use than others. One major consideration with the depth of shot adjustment is consistency. This is difficult to obtain, as it depends on the air pressure and wood density as well. If you’re working with a wood where the density varies with the grain (such as oak) this can be a problem.
Pneumatic vs. Cordless
For most people, the biggest question comes down to whether they want to buy a cordless or pneumatic brad nailer. The cordless ones are much more convenient when using them for architectural trim, but the pneumatic ones are more convenient in a workshop setting.
Regardless of the type of brad nailer you buy, you want to be sure that the exhaust is away from the tool's nose. Most put the exhaust on the top of the head, with an adjustable exhaust port. This works well, but the best possible option is to have a rear exhaust so that the exhaust air or gas is going out the back of the gun, next to where the air inlet is.