Trim carpentry requires delicate skills, and the mark of a good craftsman is tight joints. But all trim is not created equal. Baseboards and door casings can be quite thick. The same nail that you choose for sturdy baseboards can shatter or split a delicate piece of trim. Choosing the right nailer is important.

One Size Doesn't Fit All

Professional trim carpenters and woodworkers typically have an array of different weapons, including finish nailers, brad nailers and pin nailers. The average weekend carpenter can't afford to purchase all of these. Purchase a nailer after determining what will be your most common application.

Gauge and Diameter

The gauge of a nail, brad or pin is actually a measure of its diameter, just like wire. The higher the number, the thinner it is; the lower the number, the thicker.

Nail Length

The longer the nail, the more likely it has a low number, or thicker gauge. For example; 15- and 16-gauge finish nails may be up to 2 1/2 inches in length. Nails with gauge sizes in the 20s can be as short as 5/8 inch.

Other Options

Pin Nailers

Consider pin nailers if you're serious about choosing a nail gun. Pin nailers are very similar to brad and finish nailers, allowing for more choices of size and application.

Framing Nailer

Framing nailers are at the other end of the scale; they're big and powerful enough to shoot through studs.

Compare and Compromise

If you're confused about which gun to buy, it's usually best to compromise, and get one that might work for the majority of your applications.

Starting From the Smallest

Pin Nailers

  • 23-gauge nails, the thinnest of all the nailers.
  • Lengths ranging from 5/8 inch to 1 1/2 inches.
  • Small, square head buries below the surface; easy to fill the hole.
  • Can be used for small, delicate moldings less than 1/4-inch thick.
  • Typically requires the use of glue to ensure the grip.
  • Physically lighter and smaller than other guns, so it's handy.
  • Precise, accurate.

Brad Nailers

  • 18-gauge nails, small to mid-range.
  • Typical lengths range from 1 1/4 to 2 inches in length.
  • T-shaped head that buries below the surface; bigger hole than a pin nail.
  • Use them for chair rails, picture frames, door casing trim up to 3/4 inch thick.
  • Glue advised, but can be used without glue
  • Physically bigger than a pin nailer.
  • Good for crown molding.

Finish Nailers

  • 15- and 16-gauge nails, medium.
  • Typical lengths ranging from 1 1/4-to-2 1/2 inches.
  • Large barrel-shaped head, may or may not bury below the surface, always requires filling.
  • More holding power than pin or brad nailers.
  • Physically larger and heavier.
  • Can shatter or split moldings less than 3/4-inch thick.
  • Angled head allows for angle shots.
  • Use them on bulky, thick trim without glue.
  • Good for baseboard.

Framing Nailers

  • 9-to-11 gauge, the thickest of all the nails.
  • Typicaly ranging from about 2-to-4 inches in length.
  • Large, flat head won't bury, and stays on the surface.
  • The most holding power of any fastener.
  • Largest and heaviest of all the guns.
  • Angled head allows for angle applications.
  • Heavy duty -- fast for structural studs and structural building.

Nail Gun Options

Nail guns have optional features, but they can differ from gun to gun. Look for specific differences that might be important to your application.

  • Spring-loaded firing mechanism.
  • Battery, electric or pneumatic operation.
  • Body configurations that makes it easier to get into tight spaces.
  • Increased nail length capacity.
  • Jam clearing. Nail guns may have a tendency to jam.
  • Nail size adjustment -- important feature.
  • Carrying case.

Nail Options

Look for nails with a layer of lubricant/glue. As the nail drives deep, the glue heats. When it cools, it bonds the nail to the wood, increasing the holding strength.