The 10 Best Brad Nailers
This wiki has been updated 26 times since it was first published in April of 2015. Both DIY enthusiasts and professional construction crews will find one of these brad nailers perfect for their next project. Their small nail size and high speed prevents wood from splitting, making them ideal for building cabinetry, installing trim, securing window and door casings, and many arts and crafts projects. Always use caution when working with pressurized equipment. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
April 22, 2021:
After some careful deliberation, we decided to move through this round of updates without making any major changes. It looked like the last editor for this page did a nice job of putting together a healthy mix of battery-powered tools – like the DeWalt DCN680D1 and Makita XNB01Z – and pneumatic gear – like the Bostich Smart Point BTFP12233 and and Hitachi NT50AE2 – and we saw no need to make any new omissions.
We did, however, judge that although the Stanley TRE550Z and NuMax S2-118G2 may be worth a mention, for the benefit of homeowners and casual users who might appreciate the former’s corded convenience or the latter’s wallet-friendly price, they definitely belong lower down on our list than options like the Senco FinishPro 18MG or Porter-Cable PCC790LA — which may not be the best models on the market, but might still be considered by serious DIYers or budget-strung professionals. So, we shuffled our list accordingly.
If you don’t own an air compressor, or you just know that you can’t stand tripping over air hoses all day, then you might be better off browsing through our list of cordless brad nailers. And remember, brad nailers like the ones listed on this page are intended for use with 18-gauge nails; for work with 15- or 16-gauge nails, you’ll want to consult our list of finish nailers; for finessed applications with tiny, 20-gauge nails, you’ll want to check out our list of pin nailers; but, for bigger building jobs, a framing nailer is likely what you’re looking for.
February 07, 2020:
In terms of nail-driving ability, pneumatic models like the Hitachi NT50AE2 and the Makita AF505N have a clear advantage over electrical models. Their air-powered motors produce much greater force than electrical motors and they are often more adjustable since you can always adjust the output of the compressor (this might be useful to you depending on whether you work with a range of woods).
One thing you may notice when you're searching for a brad nailer is that electric options are very often much more expensive than pneumatic options. This is a bit misleading given that the power source is included when you buy an electric nailer, but not when you buy a pneumatic nailer - if you don't already have a compressor, remember that you'll need to invest in one to power your new tool. It gets more complicated when you take longevity into account since pneumatic tools are notoriously long-lived when compared to those that use electrical components. This may be somewhat mitigated by cordless options that use brushless motors like the DeWalt DCN680D1, which offers great performance without the long hoses or loud compressor noises.
Brad nailers and air compressors should be used with the utmost caution to avoid personal injury.
More Nail, Less Gun
Of course, nail guns aren't intended for violence, nor would we ever condone their use as such.
As it turns out, a nail gun makes a miserable weapon. Throughout the history of weapons development, one of the primary goals has been to increase the distance between you and your intended target, an accomplishment that both minimizes risk to your person and helps to decrease empathy for your enemy in times of war.
Modern nail guns, however, have little safety catches on their tips, which prevent you from firing off a single nail until you position the gun before the material you intend to fasten and depress the safety catch against it. As a safety feature, it's one of the things that makes these brad nailers incredibly safe and easy to use, even if it decreases their effectiveness as a means of self defense.
Of course, nail guns aren't intended for violence, nor would we ever condone their use as such. The function of a nail gun, however, is remarkably akin to the function of an automatic firearm in just about every way but the incendiary.
What made the German Luger an exceptionally useful pistol in the early 20th century was its self-feeding magazine, a long cartridge of bullets that fed upward into the chamber with each shot. These brad nailers utilize a similar mechanism, a spring-loaded cartridge that pushes the nails into a primed position for use.
Unlike a gun, however, which uses the small, contained explosion of gun powder to project its bullets outward, these brad nailers power their nails forward by one of two means: electric or pneumatic.
We can further divide electric nail guns into two categories depending on how they wind the heavy spring inside them. That spring is ultimately what drives the nail forward, as it's coiled around a piston with a pointed blade that makes contact with the head of the nail. Electric brad nailers wind this spring with either a motor or by the force of two positively polarized electromagnets.
Pneumatic brad nailers are the strongest of the bunch, as they draw the power that moves their pistons from compressed air. If you look at the images of these nailers, you'll notice a small nozzle that lives at the bottom of each gun's handle. That nozzle hooks into a compressor that runs at the other end of an air hose and provides the necessary pressure.
Filling Out The Shed
If we put our focus on budget at the outset, it's important to note that selecting a pneumatic brad nailer also means that you have to invest in an air compressor. If you've already got yourself a nice air compressor for other pneumatic tools in your collection, then this choice is a no-brainer.
You might also be at the outset of a tool collection, in which case you have to ask yourself what you want your outfit to look like, how you want it to function, etc.
On the other hand, if you're just beginning to build out your collection of tools, or if you have a vast collection of electrically-powered tools, your choice is a little more complicated. For example, if you already own electric tools by DeWalt, the company that puts out the only battery-operated brad nailer on our list, that might be your best bet simply because you already have batteries you might be able to exchange between tools.
You might also be at the outset of a tool collection, in which case you have to ask yourself what you want your outfit to look like, how you want it to function, etc. Air compression will provide more power and durability in the long haul, but adding a compressor to your work space might not be a viable use of your square feet. It's also worth noting that compressors can be terribly noisy while building pressure, a problem that does not exist with electric brad nailers.
A final consideration is a little more practical, and that's your immediate intended use. Most people don't go about researching brad nailers if there isn't a job on the horizon. Make sure the nailer you choose is strong enough to get the job done, but also that it's maneuverable enough.
If your upcoming construction project requires you to squeeze into some tough spaces in remote areas of a build, you can't get much use out of a giant pneumatic nailer attached to a hose. Something like the battery operated gun at number one will give you the most articulation on our list.
A Narrative Tough To Nail Down
When we look into the history of the nail gun, its comparison to automatic pistol designs isn't entirely unfounded. While gravity-fed nailing machines found use in construction applications dating back to the beginning of the 20th century, these were often one-off designs, cobbled together by crewmen on a particular site. They had no commercial viability.
One such cobbling is often credited to Morris S. Pynoos, an engineer who worked on Howard Hughes' infamous Spruce Goose aircraft. The story goes that Pynoos developed a gun that fired nails into the fuselage of the plane which were later removed once the glue between the plane's panels had set.
Another story, one that more closely connects to a nailer as a weapon, states that a group of World War II vets sitting around a Legion Hall one night dreamed up a nailer that could operate with the same ferocity as a machine gun. They put their collective minds to it, and introduced the first pneumatic nailers to the market in the mid-50s.