When it comes to precise nailing, it can be difficult to choose between brad and finish nails. However, there is a difference – an important one. In this article, we’ll go over what you need to know.
Brad nails have a smaller gauge than finish nails making them suited for detail work. Finish nails are also small gauged nails; however, they are more robust than brad nails and pack more holding power.
Brad and finish nails may appear to have inconsequential differences; however, there isn’t much room for error when working with more delicate projects.
How to Choose Between Brad and Finish Nails
If you’re new to this topic, never fear. I’ll describe each of these nails, so you know what you’re dealing with.
After discussing the nature of the brad and finish nail, we will give you a few tips on how to choose between the two and some techniques to remember when using these fasteners.
Let’s start with these three points:
- What’s a brad nail?
- What’s a finish nail?
- Pros and cons of brad nails
- Pros and cons of finish nails
See below for more details.
What’s a Brad Nail?
A brad nail is a small gauge nail typically loaded into a nail gun and driven with an air compressor.
Most brad nails are listed as having an 18 gauge diameter. A note on gauge: the higher the number, the smaller the nail.
It’s a little strange, but that’s how it works. This is similar to shotguns if you’re a sharpshooter – the smaller the gauge, the larger the barrel. If you’re a nurse, IV needles are also listed this way; 14 gauge needles are large, 24 gauge needles are small. Eventually, you get used to it!
Most people will use a brad nail for securing a project that will also be held with wood glue, like picture frames. Brad nails leave a very small print, making them ideal for more delicate work where you want to avoid splitting your board.
Now let’s go over finish nails.
What’s a Finish Nail?
Finish nails are also typically loaded into a nail gun and driven with air pressure. These days, there are battery-powered nail guns as well that don’t require a compressor.
Finish nails are slightly larger than brad nails, coming in around 15-16 gauge. Finish nails are more suited for projects that still require a small imprint but require slightly more holding power, like crown molding and cabinetry.
You may find that a finish nail works better on projects that require stronger joints or more angled (or “toe-nailed) driving. We will get into the pros and cons of these nails below.
Note: You may wonder, can I drive these nails in with a hammer? Technically, you could drive these small nails with a hammer; however, the likelihood of bending the nail is greatly increased due to the unpredictable nature of a hammer strike. If you decide to use a regular hammer, be sure to practice.
Pros and Cons of Brad Nails
This section will help you decide where brad nails excel and where they fall short.
Pros: Brad nails are small and leave a tiny imprint. Their thin gauge allows them to give you some holding power without causing an ugly mark in your project.
Brad nails are also fairly easy to remove if you needed to pull them out. Though they can secure your material, they are not so permanent that you couldn’t get them out.
Brad nails are unlikely to split the grain of your wood. We’ve all reached for the wrong-sized nail, hoping it wouldn’t split the wood, only to be disappointed when we hear that CRACK. With brads, you shouldn’t have to worry.
After painting your project, you’ll hardly notice brad nails are there!
Cons: Brad nails can be flimsy. This can prevent them from penetrating vertically into your wood. Woodworkers have reported the nails being pushed horizontally when they contact density in the wood.
Brad nails are not made to hold a large structure. Brad nails are small enough to be easily bent with the human hand. If you are planning on using a bunch of them to provide structural support, then you’re going to be disappointed. They are designed for more delicate work.
Brad nails can be driven too far into your top board. Due to their small profile, brad nails can easily pass through your top board. When this happens, the nail has virtually no holding power.
Now let’s discuss the pros and cons of finish nails.
The Pros and Cons of Finish Nails
Finish nails have similar characteristics to brad nails; however, they’re longer and sturdier. Let’s talk about their pros and cons.
Pros: Finish nails are good for those projects that need a bit more strength than brad nails. Slightly larger gauge nails will work for projects like birdhouses and small boxes.
Though they are slightly more robust than brad nails, finish nails still have a very small imprint. This allows them to be hidden with paint while providing better holding power.
Finish nails are less likely to be misdirected by a dense grain of wood. This means they can be used for more angle work and can be driven into harder woods.
Cons: Finish nails are more likely to split delicate wood. If you have an extra small piece of trim or the wood you’re working with is especially dry and brittle, you might want to reach for your bard nails.
Finish nails will be more difficult to conceal than brad nails. You will need to analyze your project and weigh the benefits of strength versus style.
Finish nails won’t be very easy to remove. These nails will have a tighter grip than brad nails. If you have trim that you know you’ll want to remove now and then, it may be worth considering brad nails.
Alright, now let’s go over some common mistakes people make when using brad and finish nails.
How to Avoid Mistakes When Using Brad and Finish Nails
Brad and finish nails can be handy little things. But if you don’t know how to use them, you’re going to run into issues.
Let’s go over several common mistakes people make when using these nails, and how you can fix them:
- Too much angle when driving the nail
- Overshooting the nails
- Improperly positioning your nail gun
- Denting or bruising your wood
We’ll explain more below.
Why Brad and Finish Nails Don’t Love Angles
Most carpenters recommend only angling your brad nails about 20 degrees. This isn’t very much.
Well, brad nails are small. If you try to drive them into the wood at a steep angle, they can end up glancing off the top of the board like a stone skipping on the lake. This is dangerous. Watch out for sharp angles.
Finish nails can tolerate a steeper angle as they have a thicker gauge.
How to Avoid Overshooting Your Brad and Finish Nails
Have you ever glued something only to come back days later and find the glue failed to adhere? A similar issue happens when you overshoot your nails. You lose all holding power.
Here’s how it happens.
Too much pressure is being released on the nail, causing it to blow through most of the top board. Instead of holding onto the whole board, the nail might only be grasping a quarter of the fibers.
To fix this, dial back the pressure you’re using, and consider adjusting the controls on your nail gun. Do a few practice runs on a scrap before nailing your final project.
How to Position Your Nail Gun While Using Brad and Finish Nails
Most woodworkers recommend you position your nail gun perpendicular to the board you’re driving the nail.
This will keep your nails traveling straight into the wood. You want to give your nails the best holding power possible. Since not all brad and finish nails are perfectly round, the nail will be stronger when stressed in one direction than when stressed in another.
Imagine a two-by-four. It can easily hold a person’s weight on their long side but risk breaking when flipped to their flat side. This is similar to brad and finish nails.
How to Prevent Denting or Bruising Your Wood with a Nail Gun
The goal, especially with brad and finish nails, is to have a clean final project. However, your project won’t be clean if there are a bunch of dents and dings around your nails.
How do you avoid this?
Resist the urge to smash the tip of the nail gun into your project. Instead, use a steady hand, position the nail gun, and fire the nail. You don’t want to bang the nail gun around.
If you use a hammer for your finish nails, be sure to focus and don’t rush. Aim to strike the center of the nail and use appropriate pressure.