If you’re tackling some finish work in your home, these tools will help you nail the end results.
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The brad nailer is one of the tools that helped spur the DIY movement and made many projects accessible to home DIYers and pros alike. Brad nailers use smaller nails (18 gauge) that are less likely to split fine moldings, unlike a finish nailer’s larger 16-gauge nails. Brad nailers also have smaller noses, allowing DIYers to nail into the most intricate moldings without leaving a nailhead standing proud.
Homeowners and renters can now tackle trim, cabinet, and furniture projects without bruising their thumbnails or denting their workpieces with errant hammer blows. Shopping for the best brad nailer—one that is high-quality and suited to your project—will level up your results. This article will point you in the right direction when it comes to choosing the best brad nailer for your home trim and cabinet projects.
- BEST OVERALL: BOSTITCH Nail Gun, Brad Nailer, (BTFP12233)
- RUNNER-UP: Metabo HPT Brad Nailer
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: WEN 61721 18-Gauge Pneumatic Brad Nailer
- UPGRADE PICK: Makita XNB01Z 18V LXT Cordless 2″ Brad Nailer
- BEST PNEUMATIC: DEWALT Brad Nailer Kit, DWFP12231
- BEST ELECTRIC: DEWALT 5-in-1 Multi-tacker and Brad Nailer
- BEST CORDLESS: PORTER-CABLE 20V MAX Cordless Brad Nailer Kit
Types of Brad Nailers
There are two main types of brad nailers available for DIYers and pros: pneumatic and electric. Each style has its own pros and cons, and there are even sub-categories. Understanding how they work and the benefits and drawbacks of each will help you to choose the best brad nailer.
Pneumatic nailers use compressed air to drive a nail into a workpiece. They come in many styles, including framing and roofing nailers, finish nailers, brad nailers, and pin nailers.
The benefit of pneumatic nailers is that they’re generally less expensive than electric nailers. They’re relatively simple tools that the average user can service if they run into an issue. They do need oiling from time to time, but other than that, they hold up well with little attention.
The drawback of pneumatic nailers is that they need an air compressor and hose. Air compressors are loud and can be inconvenient, and the hose can be a tripping hazard in some scenarios. It can also limit the mobility and range a carpenter can reach with the nailgun.
Electric nailers, as the name suggests, use electricity to fire fasteners. They come in two varieties: corded and cordless.
Corded nailers require the user to plug the tool into an outlet or extension cord. The benefit is that the user will never have to worry about the battery dying and swapping power sources, so there’s less of a sap on workflow.
Cordless nailers use batteries, and their size and portability make them an excellent option for most homeowners. Since a homeowner isn’t likely to fire a thousand nails in the course of a day, a battery-operated cordless nailer is a smart purchase.
What to Look for When Buying a Brad Nailer
If you now have an idea of the best brad nailer for your needs, the following list will highlight some additional important considerations you should be aware of before deciding which brad nailer will work best for your trim, molding, or cabinet project.
Tool-Free Jam Release
Nail guns jam from time to time for many reasons. It could be that the user accidentally fed the wrong-sized nails into the magazine, the pressure isn’t correct, or the user pulled the trigger twice. Regardless of why jams happen, they can grind workflow to a halt.
Look for nailers with tool-free jam release. These nailers feature knurled or textured knobs that allow the user to take the mechanism apart by hand, clear the jam quickly, and screw it all back together. They won’t have to dig for a wrench or pair of pliers, allowing them to clear a jam from the top of a ladder or scaffold and keep working.
Depth of Drive
Nailers will react differently to certain materials. For instance, a nailer may drive a fastener straight through a piece of pine, leaving the head buried beneath the surface for a smooth finished product. That same nailer may then drive a fastener into a tougher material like oak, leaving the head of the nail standing proud on the surface by as much as 1/8-inch.
To help users dial in the correct drive depth, some nailers come with depth adjustments. They typically adjust with a thumbscrew, allowing the user to choose the perfect end result. However, keep in mind that some pneumatic nailers will fire differently depending on the compressor’s pressure.
Running out of nails when you’re not paying attention isn’t the end of the world. However, firing an empty nailer against a workpiece can leave an unsightly mark that you’ll have to fill when the project is complete. Also, if you’re working above a cabinet, along the floor, or in a tight spot, it’s often difficult to tell when you’ve run out of nails.
Brad nailers with dry-lockout features let you know when you’re out of fasteners. The nose won’t depress, so you won’t be able to pull the trigger. This keeps you from unnecessarily marring your workpiece or thinking that you’ve fastened through the field of a trim piece only to find it falls over the second you walk away.
Exhaust Air Control
Adjustable exhaust ports can make a huge difference in how safe or comfortable a job can be. Look for brad nailers with exhaust air control settings that allow you to direct the exhaust port away from your face or a pile of compound dust above a cabinet.
By twisting the plastic covers on the rear of some brad nailers, you can point the burst of air away from your face, eyes, and ears. They keep you cleaner and safer, as you’re less likely to blow dust under your safety glasses and into your eyes.
Nailing Modes Control
Brad nailers work in one of two ways: single shot and automatic. While trim work is rarely a production-oriented project, there are reasons why you’d prefer one setting over another.
If you’re nailing a large workpiece to a stable sub-material, like wainscot frames over a plywood substrate, switching your brad nailer to automatic can help the job go faster. In this mode, the user holds the trigger down and bumps the nose against the workpiece to fire a nail.
For more intricate nailing, like small trim or crown molding, you’ll certainly want to switch the nailer to single-shot mode. You can position the nailer exactly where you want it by pressing the nose against the workpiece and adjusting as needed. Once you’re satisfied, you can pull the trigger and fire one nail.
Ease of Use
Since all nailers work similarly, the ease of use comes down to some finer details. The quality of the product matters, as poorly built nailers won’t function properly. The nose may jam when you press it into off-angled moldings, and fasteners may not drive as deeply as you need.
Also, how easy it is to load the nailer with a fresh set of brads makes a significant difference. You’re likely to refill the tool while kneeling or on the top of a ladder, so it should be as easy as possible to load. The best brad nailers typically allow you to feed a stick of brads into the magazine and then pull a spring-loaded latch down to feed them into the nailer.
Our Top Picks
This list of top picks for the best brad nailers was compiled using all of the key considerations listed above. There are electric and pneumatic options on the list, as well as some cordless options to improve your range and workflow. Choosing one of these brad nailers will ensure great results for your trim, molding, or cabinet projects.
If you’re looking for the best brad nailer overall, the BOSTITCH BTFP12233 is the way to go. This nailer fires 18-gauge brad nails between 5/8 and 2 1/8-inches long. It also features a tool-free jam release mechanism that allows the user to quickly and safely clear jams. The Smart Point nose tucks into some very tight spaces due to its reduced size and wedged shape. Users can adjust the fastener depth with BOSTITCH’s Dial-A-Depth system for the best control. It comes with a 1/4-inch fitting for air hoses, a hard carrying case, and extra tips. The BTFP12233 is an oilless brad nailer, meaning maintenance is relatively low, and it won’t spray oil on your workpiece or molding. You can also switch between single shots and bump-activation.
The NT50AE2 Brad Nailer from Metabo HPT is an excellent choice for those wanting a high-quality nailer with tool-less jam clearing and adjustments. This 18-gauge nailer can fire brads between 5/8 of an inch and 2 inches, a fine range for most remodeling and trim projects. It also features a 360-degree adjustable exhaust port to direct the air away from your face. The NT50AE2 features a reload indicator in the magazine that tells you when you’re low on brads with a quick glance. You can also quickly switch between single-shot mode and automatic bump-style firing. It comes with the fitting for an air hose, safety glasses, a hard case, and extra tips.
When it comes to tools that pack a lot of value into low-set price tags, WEN leads the way. The 61721 Brad Nailer is an 18-gauge nailer that fires 3/8-inch to 2-inch long brads, making it more versatile than some much more expensive nailers. It features a spring-loaded magazine, an adjustable depth-drive, and toolless jam clearing for the best ease of use a budget tool can offer. The exhaust port is adjustable, allowing you to steer it clear of your face or dusty surfaces. It is a little heavier than other options on the list, but not enough to outweigh the low price. WEN even includes a hard carrying case for safe storage and easy organization.
If you’re willing to invest in a more expensive brad nailer, the Makita XNB01Z 18V Cordless Brad Nailer is an excellent choice. This cordless brad nailer comes with a 5.0Ah 18V battery, firing 18-gauge brads between 5/8 and 2-inches long. The cordless design allows the user to take it anywhere and fire fasteners without a noisy air compressor. While the body of the nailer is larger than most pneumatic options, the micro nose fits in tiny crevices for fine and delicate work. It also features onboard LED lights to help you see in dark corners. While the styling is a bit unconventional, its lower center of gravity makes it easier to use than other models. One of the best parts of this brad nailer is that the battery charges in under 45 minutes, allowing you to charge it during a short break.
If you’re looking to arm your toolkit with the same nailer many pros prefer, the DWFP12231 brad nailer from DEWALT is the choice for you. This pneumatic brad nailer handles 18-gauge brads between 5/8 and 2 inches. It also has a tool-free jam release to clear jams quickly and easily. Depth of its drive can be adjusted without tools, and it features detents to snap into along the way, making your adjustments consistent and reliable. The maintenance-free design means you won’t spray the work surface with oil—a real benefit for pros. It comes with a hard case for protection, as well as a pair of safety glasses.
DIYers looking for versatility without a huge investment will find the 5-in-1 Multi-Tacker from DEWALT to be a great addition to their toolsets. The Multi-Tacker fires five different brad nails and staples, offering a great general-purpose tool. Not only can the Multi-Tacker handle trim work or moldings, but it will also tackle some upholstery work and DIY projects like picture framing. The corded-design means you don’t have to worry about charging batteries or your batteries dying in the middle of the project, but you will have to be mindful of the cord so you don’t trip over it. Other than the cord, the other drawback of the Multi-Tacker is that the nose is rather large compared to other options on the list, so it may not be the best choice for nailing into intricate molding details.
Not everyone wants to spend upgrade-level prices for a cordless brad nailer. The PCC790LA 20V MAX cordless brad nailer from PORTER-CABLE is a good choice for those folks, offering a lot of value. It uses 18-gauge brad nails in lengths between 5/8 and 2 inches. It features a tool-free jam release to allow the user to clear jammed brads quickly and safely. It also features a tool-free depth adjustment wheel with a view window, showing the user how deeply the adjustment is set. It also features LED lights for dark work areas. Best yet, the PORTER-CABLE is the lightest cordless battery-operated nailer in its class. It weighs significantly less than the DEWALT, but still more than the pneumatic option.
FAQs About Your New Brad Nailer
If one of the brad nailers listed above has caught your attention, you probably have some questions you’d like answered. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions by shoppers like you looking for the best brad nailer for their project. If you have more questions, reach out to the manufacturer’s customer service department for answers.
Q. How do you use a brad nailer?
To fire a brad nailer, make sure that it’s loaded with brads and hooked up to power or air. Then, with your finger off the trigger, press the nose of the nailer against the workpiece where you want to drive a nail. When you’re satisfied with the placement, squeeze and release the trigger.
Q. How do you load a brad nailer?
Most brad nailers load from the bottom of the magazine. Slide a stick of brads onto the bottom of the magazine, and pull the spring-loaded latch down past the brads to engage them with the nailer.
Q. What is the difference between a brad nailer and a finish nailer?
Finish nailers shoot thicker nails, in the 15- to 16-gauge range. Brad nailers use thinner nails that are less likely to split fine, delicate moldings. Also, brad nailers have smaller noses, which are easier to tuck into tight spots.
Q. Can you use a brad nailer for baseboards?
Brad nailers are suitable for baseboards. Most fire brads as long as 2 inches, which is enough to penetrate a 3/4-inch thick molding, 1/2-inch thick drywall, and bite into the framing lumber in the baseplate or wall studs.