Best Finish Nailers

Updated December 2019
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

16 Models Considered
68 Hours Researched
1 Experts Interviewed
88 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Shopping guide for best finish nailers

Last Updated December 2019

A finish nailer is one of the more versatile types of this kind of fixing tool that include framing nailers, roofing nailers, flooring nailers, and brad nailers. It can be used for cabinetmaking and furniture assembly, door and window framing, as well as installing a variety of trims. If you’re a DIYer, it’s a great addition to your home tool set.

The versatility of the tool means that there are dozens of finish nailers to choose from, with a broad range of prices, different power options, and a number of useful features to consider.

In the following buying guide, we delve into these topics in more detail and look at the things you’ll want to consider when looking for the right tool and best value for your woodworking needs. Take a look at our favorites, too, which showcase some of the top models in terms of cost and performance.

Finish nailers are virtually maintenance-free. Dust yours with a brush before you put it away, and lubricate it occasionally following the manufacturer’s instructions.

Key considerations

Types of nailers

It’s important that you choose the right nailer for the job, so here’s a quick recap of the different types.

  • Roofing and framing nailers: The biggest nailers are designed for affixing roof shingles, framing timbers for house building, and putting up partition walls, among other tasks. They often use large coiled magazines of nails that look much like regular nails with a round head.

  • Flooring nailers: These are very job-specific tools. They’re similar in size to framing nailers, but they work upside down. Most have a long handle so you don’t have to bend so much when fixing floorboards. The nails are flat steel strips with a cleat to provide a positive hold.

  • Finish nailers: These are the middleweights and, as mentioned, the great all-rounders. It’s the nail gun you’ll find in most home tool kits because it has the widest range of uses. The 15- or 16-gauge nails are thin steel strips with a narrow head.

  • Brad nailers: These are similar to finish nailers but used for very light trim, upholstery, and picture framing. A brad nailer is often combined with a stapler. The nails (brads) are almost headless, with a thickness of usually 18 gauge.

  • Pin nailers: These are even lighter-duty than brad nailers. With a nail thickness of just 23 gauge (much like a straight pin used for sewing), they’re only normally used for a temporary hold, often while glue sets. These guns are rarer now with the greater variety of contact adhesives available.

  • Palm nailers: These small tools can fit in tight corners, which is particularly useful in places where you can’t swing a hammer. They take just one nail at a time, but they can take regular nails rather than the steel strips used in a finish nailer.

Power

You have two choices when it comes to power supply for finish nailers: pneumatic or cordless.

  • Pneumatic: Air-powered tools have been around a lot longer than their cordless counterparts. They’re popular with professionals because an air compressor provides lots of consistent power, and there’s no motor on the gun itself, so it’s lighter (four or five pounds), less complex (and thus more durable), and cheaper.

    The big drawback is the air hose, which can be cumbersome and restrict freedom of movement. That has more of an impact if you’re crawling around on top of a building with a roofing nailer, but it can still a bit of a nuisance with a finish nailer. Check that hose fittings are compatible. One-quarter-inch national pipe thread standard is common. While the tool itself is virtually maintenance-free, the air compressor needs to be checked regularly. One solution is nailers that run off compressed gas cartridges, but these are very expensive.

  • Cordless: The obvious alternative to the issues with a pneumatic tool is battery power. While early cordless finish nailers were criticized for poor performance, improvements in motor and battery technology have led to powerful tools that are increasingly popular, though for all-day work it’s still advisable to invest in a spare battery. Look for a brushless motor rather than a brush motor. The latter are cheaper, but the brushless motor makes much more efficient use of the available battery power.

    The main drawback to a cordless tool is the weight — it has both a motor and battery on board. Some cordless models weigh over eight pounds. If you’re only using it for an hour, that’s not going to make a big difference, but it could prove tiring if you’re hefting it all day.

Comparing costs

Price is also a consideration, but it very much depends on usage. Cordless finish nailers can easily be twice the price of pneumatic models, but if you don’t have an air compressor, the cost of that also needs to be taken into account. For home/DIY use, an entry-level nailer and compressor combination will still be considerably cheaper than a cordless model. At the pro level, the differences are much smaller. The convenience of cordless might just tip the balance.

DID YOU KNOW?

The fastest-acting finish nailers have “bump” activation. They fire a nail every time you bump the nose against the material.

Finish nailer features

Magazine: Finish nailers have either a straight or angled magazine. The angled models make it easier to get the nose of the gun into confined areas. It’s important to buy the right nails — they aren’t interchangeable.

Nails: The length of nail that a finish nailer takes is commonly from 1.0 to 2.5 inches, though there are some variations, so you’ll want to check. Nails come in strips containing either 100 or 120 nails.

Firing: There are two methods of firing nails: sequential and bump.

  • Sequential is the normal method, firing each time you pull the trigger. This allows maximum accuracy when positioning the nail.

  • “Bump” is for rapid nailing when precision isn’t as important. Every time you bump the tip against the object, a nail fires. You don’t need to pull the trigger. A “no-mar” tip prevents damage to softwoods and delicate finishes. This can normally be removed if necessary.
     

Battery: You’ll see both 18-volt and 20-volt batteries in finish nailers, but there is no real difference. The start-up voltage is 20 volts, but 18 volts is what they run at. Batteries also have an ampere-hour rating (Ah), which tells you how long the unit can supply consistent power. The minimum should be 2.0 Ah, but we recommend buying the maximum you can afford.

Lights: Some cordless finish nailers have LED lights, which can be useful for working in dark corners.

Depth: Tool-free depth control is convenient.

Finish nailer prices

Inexpensive: The cheapest finish nailers are pneumatic, and you’ll find a number of perfectly reasonable tools that cost between $45 and $65. Of course, you do have to have a suitable compressor.

Mid-range: The middle ground, from $100 to $160, is packed with quality pneumatic tools of a professional standard from well-known brands. If you have the aforementioned compressor, you’re spoiled for choice.

Expensive: Cordless models start at close to $200, though that’s likely to be a bare tool or from one of the lesser-known manufacturers. For a full kit with battery and charger from a recognized brand, you’ll pay somewhere between $280 and $350.

EXPERT TIP

All nailers jam from time to time. Tool-free methods of clearing the nose make life a lot easier, but it won’t hurt to keep a pair of pliers and a screwdriver handy.


Staff  | BestReviews
EXPERT TIP

A built-in air duster on a pneumatic nailer is a very convenient extra for quickly clearing sawdust or light debris from the area to be fixed.


Staff  | BestReviews

Safety tips

  • Never point a nail gun at anyone, even in fun. A nail gun is not a toy.

  • Keep your free hand well away from the tip when you fire a nail. Whenever practical, use clamps or other means to hold the wood down, or tack it with a dab of glue.

  • Wear protective goggles. Protect your eyes just in case something causes a rebound. It may never happen, but why take the chance?

  • Shut off the nailer if it jams. Disconnect the air hose or battery before investigating the problem.

Other products we considered

The Valu-Air T64C 16-Gauge Pneumatic Finish Nailer is one of the cheapest models we looked at, but it’s certainly not short on features, and it has plenty of satisfied owners. About the only thing it lacks is bump firing. From a company with a tremendous reputation among professionals, the Senco FinishPro 42XP 15-Gauge Finish Nailer delivers the kind of power and durability that’s synonymous with the brand. The Never Lube technology means it’s practically maintenance-free. The Porter-Cable 20V MAX Cordless Finish Nailer is one of the most advanced on the market, with tool-free jam release and depth adjustment, plus a motor that compensates to meet demand. It’s pricey, but it’s also powerful and practical.

Sometimes cordless finish nailers are sold as “bare tools” — they don’t come with a battery or charger. If you already own cordless tools, you can save a considerable amount, but you do need to check compatibility carefully.

FAQ

Q. How safe are finish nailers?

A. You do need to be careful. Anything that can fire a nail through wood trim can make a mess of flesh and bone. That said, it’s highly unlikely that one will go off by accident. The tip has to be depressed and/or the trigger pulled for them to fire.

Q. What kind of nails does a finish nailer take?

A. They aren’t traditional nails in the sense that they don’t have a big flat head you hit with a hammer. They’re more like thin metal strips with a rectangular profile. The head is small so it can be sunk a little below the surface of the wood and easily hidden with filler or paint. Thickness is normally 15 or 16 gauge. Length varies from 1.0 to 2.5 inches, making it a very versatile tool.

Q. I already own an air compressor. How do I know if it’s powerful enough for a framing nailer?

A. You need to look for the cubic feet per minute (CFM) and pounds per square inch (psi) ratings of the nailer, and compare it with your air compressor. Most finish nailers run somewhere between 3 and 5 CFM at 90 psi. Some people will tell you that if your compressor doesn’t quite match the gun, it will probably still work. It might, but you have no way to tell how it will perform. It’s not something we would recommend.

The team that worked on this review
  • Bob
    Bob
    Writer
  • Bronwyn
    Bronwyn
    Editor
  • Heather
    Heather
    Chief Content Officer
  • Kyle
    Kyle
    Writer

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