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The Difference Between Brad Nails and Finish Nails

If you're starting your next construction project, you may be wondering what the difference is between brad nails and finish nails. It's important to understand the difference so that you know which one is appropriate for your next job. The short answer is: it depends. The type of woodworking task and holding power required will determine which type of nail you'll end up using.

Telling the two types of nails apart may be a bit difficult, and some even use the two terms interchangeably. However, these two nail types are not the same. With a little knowledge, you'll not only be able to distinguish them, but also be educated as to which is the best to use for your next construction or DIY project. In this article, we're going to cover the differences between the two nails, their gauge sizes, their common uses, and which one you should use, depending on the situation.

Brad Nails vs Finish Nails

One of the easiest ways to tell the difference between brad nails and finish nails is by their gauge number. A nail's gauge (diameter), is sized by numbers going up from largest to smallest. For example, a finish nail with a 15-gauge is actually larger and thicker than a 18-gauge brad nail. Also, be sure to note that a finish nail can be found from 16 to 10-gauges, whereas most brad nails are quite thin, typically at an 18-guage wire.

What is a Brad Nail?

Brad nails (sometimes called brads), are designed from a fine, 18-gauge wire. They are a thinner nail than the finish nail, (as indicated by a higher gauge number), which means that they overall have less holding strength. Trying to drive brad nails by hand is a difficult and frustrating process. You can more easily install brad nails using a pneumatic nail gun. However, some of the benefits of brad nails is that they have a small head, which makes them easier to hide in wood trim or paneling. In addition, their slender design is excellent for preventing splitting fragile materials.

Pneumatic Nail Guns for Brad & Finish Nails

Best Uses for Brad Nails

  • Thinner types of lumber, such as plywood and fiberboard
  • Decorative or narrow trim
  • Shoe molding
  • Quarter-round molding
  • Wherever an easy-to-hide nail is desired

Types of Brad Nails

There are various types of brad nails available on the market. They come in several different material options, namely galvanized, stainless steel, aluminum, and copper.

Galvanized brad nails are durable and strong, although they tend to be more expensive. However, galvanized nails are less prone to corrosion, making them a good choice if you prefer to invest in nails that will last longer. Stainless steel brad nails are a great choice for slate and tile materials.

If you are installing thin metal or siding, your best bet are aluminum brad nails. Aluminum nails are great at penetrating surfaces without bending. Finally, copper brad nails are particularly a good choice for wood materials. One thing to note on copper brad nails, though, is that they are not as strong or durable as the other types of brad nails mentioned here.

What is a Finish Nail?

Next, we'll cover finish nails. Finish nails (or finishing nails), feature 15 or 16-gauge steel wire. This makes them thicker and stronger when compared with brad nails. If you are working with large applications with thick material, the versatile finishing nail is going to be your best bet. For example, if you're installing cabinets or baseboards, use finish nails to fasten your wood effectively. The holding strength of these nails make them an excellent choice for many different types of carpentry projects.

A couple drawbacks to the finish nail: unlike the brad nail, you'll have to cover the spots left from the holes that they'll inevitably leave. Also, they will be much more prone to splitting thinner or more delicate pieces of wood. This means that you'll have to consider which nail will best be suited to your project, to ensure that splitting wood doesn't occur during installation.

Best Uses for Finish Nails

  • Interior and exterior trim
  • Window and door casing
  • Baseboards and crown molding
  • Stair treads and risers
  • Cabinets
  • General light carpentry

Types of Finish Nails

As stated earlier in the article, finish nails come in 10-gauge, 11-gauge, 12-gauge, 13-gauage, 14-gauge, 15-gauge, and 16-guage sizes. The largest and thickest of these is the 10-gauge, and each finish nail that increases in number is a thinner nail. We recommend using a pneumatic nail gun to properly install your finishing nails.

As with brad nails, different types of finish nails come in various corrosion coatings to help improve longevity. Finish nails are commonly available in the following finishes: bright, galvanized, hardened galvanized, and stainless steel.

Installing Brad & Finish Nails: Pneumatic Nail Guns

Pneumatic nail guns can help you install your brad or finish nail with ease and accuracy. Ideal for quite a few applications, we'll cover some of the most common ones here:

  • 15-Gauge: Pneumatic nailers for the 15-gauge are great for use on the outer nail on casing through drywall. It is also appropriate for base trim or other types of large trim, and even door jamb installation.
  • 16-Gauge: Also good for the outer nail on casing through drywall, the 16-gauge works great for base trim and other types of large trim.
  • 18-Gauge: The pneumatic nail gun for 18-gauge brad nails is appropriate for use for medium to small casings, as well as low-profile crown molding.
  • 21-Gauge: Pneumatic nailers for 21-gauge are great for small painted or stained moldings.
  • 23-Gauge: The 23-gauge is also appropriate for small painted or stained moldings. Particularly, it is good for holding materials together when adhesive sets.

In Conclusion

As covered in the article, there are quite a few differences (and a few similarities) between brad and finishing nails. Understanding their differences and similarities will help you in knowing which to choose when installing trim, casing, crown molding, cabinets, and others. Jake Sales is a trusted online source of brad and finish nails. Please browse our online inventory to get the proper gauge of nail you need for your carpentry project. Questions? Please contact us today at (406) 752-5253.