- Best Pneumatic Straight Finish Nailer
- Best Pneumatic Angled Finish Nailer
- Best Cordless Finish Nailer
Best Finish Nailer
Most finish carpenters work with two types of nailers, finish nailers and brad nailers. If you look at the door casing in your home, you’ll see there’s a row of nails close to the edge of the trim, by the door opening; these are done by a brad nailer. Then there’s another row of nails farther back and these have been done by a finish nailer. If you look closely, you’ll see the finish nailer made larger holes than the brad nailer did.
The longer finish nail is intended to go through the trim, drywall and well into the framing of the home. In contrast, the brads used on the edge of the door casing only have to go through the lip of the casing and directly into the door frame. Thus, the nails don’t need to be anywhere near as long nor do they have to structurally hold the trim since the finish nails going into the framing accomplish that.
For more information about how to select a good finish nailer, check out our buyer's guide listed below.
Best Pneumatic Straight Finish Nailer:
The pneumatic straight finish nailer is the basic tool of the finish carpenter with most baseboard and casing installed with one of these tools. It allows the finish carpenter to spend their time in measuring and cutting, rather than driving in nails one at a time. These are the standard by which other finish nailers are measured as both angled finished nailers and cordless finish nailers are always compared to the straight versions as these were the first of the finish nailer family.
However, that doesn’t mean designers and engineers have been sitting still or ignoring new models of straight finish nailers. Today’s pneumatic straight finish nailers are much better than those of yesteryear, including features and capabilities which were only a dream back then. More than anything, they are lighter and more comfortable to use than the old models.
One major change in the design of quality finish nailers which didn’t exist previously is they all have tool-free, quick open nosepieces. This allows bent or jammed nails to be removed quickly and easily without having to grab a set of hex keys. Considering that any time a finish nail bends when it hits the head of a framing or drywall nail, having this feature is well worth it for the time that it can save.
Of course, being pneumatic, these guns require an air compressor. That’s an inconvenience, at least compared to the cordless ones. However, they’re all lighter and smaller than cordless finish nailers so they’re much easier to use, especially after a long day of work.
There are two trigger modes used for these nailers. The first is sequential fire where you have to pull the trigger for each shot and bump fire in which you hold the trigger down and allow the gun to fire every time the safety is depressed. For most nailers, you have to switch triggers to change modes but a few models come with a selector switch, allowing you to switch back and forth between the two modes at a moments notice.
Some of the newer models are coming out with a dry-fire lockout since dry firing a nailer (firing without any nails in the magazine) can damage it. I’ve lost a couple of nailers to this problem, so I’m glad to see manufacturers are finding a solution. If it doesn’t have a dry-fire lockout, the nailer should at least have a window so you can see when your nail supply is running low.
Finally, depth of drive adjustment is another area where engineers have been improving these tools. Today’s depth of drive adjustment is almost always tool-free, making it easy to set the depth with a thumbwheel, rather than having to use tools.
Paslode may be an old dog in this market, but they know all the new tricks. This nailer has both the dry fire lockout that I like so much and the selectable trigger modes. Obviously, this old dog isn't napping. Read Full Review
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Hitachi has done something unique by adding a dust blower on this finish nailer. Just hit a button, and it will blow debris out of the area where you’re going to work. This one also has selectable trigger modes. Read Full Review
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Freeman stakes their claim for building air nailers that will last. The seven year warranty on this nailer means you aren't going to have to worry about it quitting on you, even with heavy use. Read Full Review
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DeWalt's nailer can be used either with or without oil, as you prefer. That gives you the opportunity to avoid oil splatters which could potentially damage the wood's finish. Read Full Review
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Best Pneumatic Angled Finish Nailer:
Today’s finish carpenter rarely uses a hammer because now they just that they have better ways of doing things. Mostly, that means using nailers.
There are several advantages a nailer has over the old hammer and nail routine, mostly in saving time and increasing productivity. There’s also the advantage of not having the risk of dimpling the wood with your hammer. However, there’s another strong reason to use nailers because they drive the nail so quickly the workpiece doesn’t have a chance to move. If you need really tight joints on trim, using a nailer will help ensure that you get them.
Originally, all nailers were pneumatic and today many are cordless electric. However, that doesn’t mean that there’s no place for pneumatic nailers anymore. While cordless nailers are convenient, they’re also considerably more expensive than pneumatic models. Granted, you have to buy an air compressor to use a pneumatic nailer but if you already have one, then the side-by-side cost comparison between pneumatic and cordless comes down in favor of pneumatic every time.
The other advantage pneumatic has over cordless is that most cordless require gas cartridges, making pneumatics less expensive to operate as well. They’re also lighter in weight with less operating mechanisms that can develop problems.
There are two types of pneumatic finish nailers; straight and angled. We’ll look at straight nailers in another list. Of the two, angled nailers are a little bit larger, a little bit heavier and a little bit more expensive. However, they have one great advantage over straight ones as they can get into inside corners much easier. That’s especially important if you’re using your nailer to install crown molding.
It’s not unusual for a professional carpenter to have both straight and angled finish nailers. However, if you only buy one, then the angled finish nailer is the more versatile of the two.
Finish nailers come in two basic sizes; 15 or 16 gauge. The 16 gauge version drives a slightly smaller diameter nail which will leave a smaller hole to fill. On the other hand, the 15 gauge nails are somewhat stronger which is important if you are working with hardwood as the stronger nail is less likely to bend. For this list, I’ve picked all 15 gauge finish nailers, as I feel that the stronger nail gives you a real advantage.
Besides size and style (straight or angled; cordless or pneumatic), what should you look for in a finish nailer? More than anything, I’d say ease of use as some nailers just feel comfortably right in your hand, controls in easy to reach places, and handle extremely well. The other important issue to look for is them being jam-proof. If a nailer does jam, you want to be able to clear the jam quickly, so that you can keep on working.
A great combination of features makes this Hitachi my number one pick. It has an integral air duster for clearing off the work area which is something that nobody else is doing. It also has a selectable trigger, allowing you to switch between sequential and pump fire without changing out the trigger. Read Full Review
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Bostitch added some nice features to their upgraded angled finish nailer. The smaller nose makes it easier to place shots right where you want them. Read Full Review
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Senco made this nailer with an oil-free motor, eliminating the problem of oil splatters damaging the finish on a workpiece. It also has a magnesium housing to make it lighter and more ergonomic to work with. Read Full Review
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This is another oil-free design; this time from Porter Cable. They've also given this one an internal piston catch, which helps ensure full power with every shot. Read Full Review
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Best Cordless Finish Nailer:
Cordless nailers are rapidly inheriting the market from pneumatic models. Nowhere do we see this as much as with finish nailers, as they’re the ones most often used for small jobs where a carpenter may not want to have to set up a compressor just to drive a few nails. But, what starts out to be a “small job nailer” gradually becomes the carpenter’s favorite go-to.
The great thing about cordless nailers is their convenience. You can move anywhere around a project, with your nailer without worrying about dragging a hose with you. If you have to go to another room or even another floor, the nailer can go too. That convenience pays off in faster, efficient work and greater productivity.
Most cordless nailers work predominantly off of a gas charge. The battery is only providing enough power to run the controls and supply a spark to start the gas burning. The real power to drive the nail comes from the rapidly expanding gas.
Herein lies the drawback to cordless nailers. Not only are they more expensive to buy, but they’re more expensive to operate as well as the gas cartridges add to the overall operating cost. Nevertheless, that added cost doesn’t seem to be slowing sales down.
A few newer cordless finish nailers are now designed to work without gas cartridges where instead of burning gas, they work off of an internal gas charge. This gas charge drives the piston to set the nail, and a small motor recompresses the gas for the next shot. By working in this way, the cost of gas charges is totally eliminated. Although the battery doesn’t last for as many shots, it can still go several hours or even a whole day, before needed to be recharged.
Most cordless finish nailers are angled models which offer the added benefit of an angled magazine for getting into tight spaces. On top of that, the lack of an air hose also helps make these nailers great for working in tight areas. For some jobs, there’s just not enough room for the air hose to get into certain areas.
The biggest thing to look for in an air nailer is convenience. How simple is it to adjust shot depth, how easy is it to clear jams, does it have a selectable trigger, etc. When it comes down to it, convenience and ease of use are usually what makes the biggest difference between one nailer and another.
The other big issue is how well the nailer is designed for avoiding jams with most quality nailers are designed for this. Even in the event of a jam, easy open nosepieces allow jammed nails to be quickly and easily dealt with. A little oil in the nosepiece helps with jams too; a trick that most individuals never bother with. Be careful though, if you get too much oil in the nosepiece, you can end up staining your woodwork.
I've been impressed with this nailer ever since I first saw it. This was the first gasless, cordless air nailer on the market and it works incredibly well, providing a wealth of convenient features. Read Full Review
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DeWalt couldn't let Senco be the only one out there with a gasless, cordless finish nailer, so they came up with this one. Although much more bulky than the Senco, it's specifically designed for the high-volume worker, being able to shoot five nails per second. Read Full Review
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Although gas powered, this nailer allows you 2,000 shots per battery charge and 1,200 shots per gas cartridge. So you can keep working, without having to take time out to care for your tool. At only 4.2 pounds, operator fatigue is limited. Read Full Review
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This is essentially an upgraded version of Passlode's 900600, changing out the Ni-Cad battery for a Li-Ion one. That gives you more working time and less recharge time per cycle. Read Full Review
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Stanley Bostitch's contender weighs in at only 4.2 pounds, making it the lightest cordless finish nailer around. Coupled with the wrap-around padded handle, it's extremely comfortable to use. Read Full Review
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Finish Nailer Buyer's Guide
Of all the varieties of nailers, the ones that homeowners are most likely to buy are framing nailers and finish nailers. Actually, finish nailers fall into two different categories because there are two different types of nails used on architectural trim. While categorized differently, brad nailers are used extensively for finish work as well. In fact, a finish carpenter usually works with two nailers together: a finish nailer and a brad nailer.
Finish nailers can be broken down into pneumatic and cordless categories with pneumatic being the old faithful of the bunch. Up until the last ten years, cordless nailers were somewhat of a joke the last few years have seen them become powerful enough to be a real contender for the top spot. Actually, cordless finish nailers seem to be outselling pneumatic ones even though they’re priced higher. The added convenience of the cordless nailers overcomes the difference in price.
The difference between the finish and brad nailers is the size nails they use. Finish nailers are designed for either 15 or 16 gauge finish nails which are either 2" or 2-1/2 long. Brad nailers work with 18 gauge nails, which are usually no more than 1-1/2" long. The thicker finish nails are considerably stronger than the brad nails are. In fact, there’s a considerable strength difference between 15 and 16 gauge finish nails.
15 Gauge vs. 16 Gauge
16 gauge finish nailers are more traditional, and the 15 gauge ones are a newer addition to many companies’ lines. The thicker finish nail was chosen specifically for working with hardwood trim as some woods like oak are famous for bending nails, even when everything is done correctly. By going to a thicker nail, the chances of the nail bending are greatly reduced.
However, the larger diameter nail makes a larger hole for the painters to fill. Because of that, 16 gauge finish nailers are still used in many cases where less dense wood trim is installed. The smaller nail hole is easier to fill as well as to hide.
Straight vs. Angled Nailers
Finish nailers traditionally come in two varieties, straight and angled. This term refers to the position of the magazine, in relation to the nailer head. Angled finish nailers tend to be slightly larger than straight ones and also cost a bit more. But that's not the main deciding factor in choosing one over the other.
Most architectural trim can be installed with either nailer. However, you can't nail inside corners of cove molding with a straight finish nailer. In that case an angled nailer is required so that the gun will clear and the nose of the gun can be pressed against the wood.
It’s important to buy nails which will fit the gun to be used. Straight collated nails won't fit in a nailer with an angled magazine and vice-versa. Likewise, the nail gauge is important to prevent nails jamming in the tool since a larger diameter nail could cause permanent damage to a nailer.
Cordless nailers are gaining in popularity over the traditional pneumatic ones. The biggest advantage of any cordless nailer is convenience. You don't have to use a compressor or run a hose you have to drag around all day. Most cordless finish nailers use a gas cartridge to operate; gas is flash-burned in the cylinder, and the expanding gas pushes the piston to drive the nail.
There are a couple of finish nailers on the market now which don't use gas and instead operate by a motor that cocks the piston back after each shot. When the trigger is pressed, the piston is released and a strong spring drives it forward. The motor then engages to re-cock the nailer.
Selecting a Finish Nailer
Once the decisions about size and magazine configuration are made, it's time to move on to the smaller details of selecting a nailer. Most finish nailers today have tool-free nosepieces, which are held closed by an over-center spring latch. In the case of a jam, all that is needed is to flip the catch open and remove the bent nail. This is much easier than having to unscrew the nosepiece.
Another important feature which many people overlook is the nail gun's exhaust. With finish nailers it’s important that the gun's exhaust be away from the trim. If the exhaust were to blow any oil contained in the gun onto the trim, it would cause permanent spots which could not be removed in finishing, especially if the wood is set to be stained and varnished.
Most finish nailers today have selectable triggers so you can have the trigger set for bump-fire or sequential mode, depending upon your work preference. However, not all models have both selections internal to the gun. Many require the trigger be removed and replaced to change modes. In some cases, the second trigger is included with the gun, but occasionally it’s sold as a separate accessory.
Dry-fire Lock Out
One feature which I personally think is very important is a dry-fire lock out. This feature prevents the nailer from firing, when the magazine is empty. While most nailers have open magazines that let you see your nail supply, sometimes you might not pay attention to that. With the dry-fire lockout, you are saved the risk of damaging your nailer by firing it without any nails in it.