The 10 Best Finish Nailers
This wiki has been updated 27 times since it was first published in April of 2015. There are a plethora of ways to put the finishing touches on a construction project, but when you need greater holding strength than a brad nailer can deliver, you'll want to step it up to one of these finish nailers. Ideal for both professional construction crews and do-it-yourself enthusiasts, our selections for this category will come in handy on all kinds of jobs. When users buy our independently chosen editorial choices, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
April 20, 2020:
During this round of updates, we removed the PowRyte Straight Air due to availability issues, and replaced it with the Ryobi P325 – a budget-friendly cordless model that might appeal to DIYers who already own 18-volt tools from the company. We also replaced the Hitachi NT65MA4 with the rebranded Metabo HPT NT65MA4, and eliminated the Porter-Cable PIN138 – noting that the 23-gauge nails this unit fires aren’t nearly heavy enough to qualify for this category – and replaced it with the 20-volt Porter-Cable PCC792LA.
A few considerations to keep nailed down for this category:
Batteries vs. Compressors: For the most parts, options ranked in this category will either be powered pneumatically – with a separately purchased air compressor, or electrically – with a proprietary lithium ion battery. While battery-powered models like the DeWalt DCN660B and Paslode 902400 tend to be heavier than pneumatic alternatives, and thereby more difficult to wield, pneumatic models like the Metabo HPT NT65MA4 and Makita AF635 have the disadvantage of always being tethered to an air hose.
While my tendency, despite the unfavorable price difference, would be to recommend a cordless option, some users – especially those who already own compressors and hoses – might decide that the hassle of changing batteries outweighs the headache of constantly tripping over hoses and hauling a compressor everywhere.
Bells and Whistles: While some pneumatic models – including the Metabo HPT NT65MA4 – have designs with integrated air dusters, others like the Ryobi P325 and Porter-Cable PCC792LA have built-in work lights. The Metabo HPT NT65MA4, as well as the Makita AF635, feature adjustable exhaust ports, and models like the Senco FinishPro and and Porter-Cable PCC792LA have convenient toolless latches that help users make quick work of bothersome jams.
Hardware: What size of nails do you need? While most selections in this category are adjustable-depth models that can accommodate numerous nail lengths, they tend to accommodate just one gauge of nail. The benefits of a larger nail is that they’re stronger, and thereby able to hold more weight. The downside of a larger nail is that they leave a larger blemish and, in some cases, can even split the material you’re working with. The size of nail you want depends entirely on your intended usage for the nailer, so make sure that you’re shopping in the right category before making a final purchase decision.
Semantics can get pretty muddy when it comes to this matter, with everything but a framing nailer sometimes referred to as a finish nailer, but for the most part, there’s four basic sizes of nail guns on the market:
framing nailers: As the name implies, these guns fire large nails that are suitable for framing and heavy-duty construction applications. They’re an absolute game changer for large projects, compared to the hammer-and-nail days of old, but they’re workhorses that’ll absolutely tear finish materials to pieces, which limits their usefulness.
finish nailers: These are the nailers you see ranked on this page. They fire 15- or 16-gauge nails suitable for most finishing applications, but are still powerful enough to split some thin or fragile materials. They also tend to leave a small divot in material that needs to be puttied over and sanded to keep things smooth.
brad nailers: These tools use 18-gauge nails. They’re a favorite among upholsterers and finish carpenters, because of how well they work for finessed applications. And, although they won’t hold as well as a finish nailer, the mark they leave on material is so slight that it normally won’t need to be puttied over.
pin nailers: Sometimes referred to as pinners, and reserved strictly for the most delicate of applications, these nailers, which include the Porter-Cable PIN138 that we removed during this round of updates, fire 20-gauge nails and smaller, and are intended for precise work.
Tools First If you're on the market for a nailer, but you're not too tool savvy, this buyer's guide from Tools First is a decent place to start. It briefly breaks down what the common kinds of nailer are, and succinctly describes some of the features that differentiate them. toolsfirst.com
A Brief History Of Nail Guns
In the mid-1950s, a group of friends in Winsted, Minnesota, were drinking beer and ruminating on how they could be drinking more beer if they only had more money.
An idea borrowed from the bloody trenches of WWII. A famous newsman potentially being held-up on a crowded train. And a perfectly-timed assist from the president of Skippy brand peanut butter.
Sound like the start of a paperback thriller? Actually, it's all part of the story of how the nail gun came into existence.
In the mid-1950s, a group of friends in Winsted, Minnesota, were drinking beer and ruminating on how they could be drinking more beer if they only had more money. One of the men, a carpenter named Reuben Miller, brought up the idea of an automatic nailer that would work like the machine guns the men had encountered in WWII.
Soon, Miller and two pals had developed and patented six workable models of their new nail gun. Now all they needed was money.
Fate would soon lend them a hand in that department. One day, the group met a man in a bar, and he grew interested when they discussed their nail gun prototype. They demonstrated their new invention, and the stranger — Jack Keuhn, president of Skippy Peanut Butter — was impressed enough to make an investment on the spot.
Later, while on a train ride to meet with a potential backer, the men — who had a knack for being in the right place at the right time, apparently — recognized famous newsman Douglas Edwards. Striking up a conversation, the men ended up showing the broadcaster their prized contraption, as well.
Unfortunately, railroad security mistook the prototype for a real gun. When the group demonstrated the gadget's true purpose, however, railroad officials recognized their mistake — and helped them secure a meeting with the Independent Nail Company.
After the meeting was over, however, the group turned down an offer from the company and chose to form their own corporation. It was at this point that their luck ran out, however, as they soon realized that their skill as inventors was far superior to their abilities as businessmen.
The company soon failed, and the bank foreclosed on all their assets — including their patents. These were sold at auction, where they were quickly snapped up by Bostitch, a Boston-based toolmaker. By 1965, Bostitch had released their own version of the pneumatic nailer, and today they are one of the giants in the industry.
While the wild ride may not have ended the way that Miller and friends would have liked, it certainly makes for a great story — and a reminder that, when faced with a golden opportunity, you really have to nail it.
Choosing Fhe Right Finish Nailer
Finish nailers are extremely useful tools, but they're not cheap, so it's important to do your homework before making a purchase.
First off, determine what size nails you'll need for your jobs. If you're a professional carpenter, you'll likely need a variety of nailers in different gauge sizes. On the other hand, if you're a weekend warrior, you'll likely find that a 15- or 16-gauge nail is versatile enough to accomplish most of the tasks you'll encounter.
First off, determine what size nails you'll need for your jobs.
You'll also need to decide how you'll want your gun to be powered. Most are pneumatic, meaning that you'll need some form of compressed air to fire the nails. However, there are also cordless electric options, which aren't as powerful, but are much easier to use in tight spaces.
Not all nail guns have the same firing mechanism, either. Some have bounce-fire triggers, which means that it will fire a nail every time you bump the nose into the surface. This is excellent for professionals who need to install a lot of fasteners quickly, but novices are probably better off with the traditional, sequential-firing triggers.
Beyond that, most of the differences are relatively inconsequential. If you really need on-gun nail storage, belt hooks, or attachments, then you can find models that sport those features. Don't allow a neat gizmo to charm you into buying an inferior nailer, however, as the important thing is how well it does the job.
Tips For Using A Finish Nailer
A finish nailer's primary job is to install molding or other trim quickly and easily. If you've ever had to hammer down a baseboard, then you already know how much of a pain that can be — and that's the frustration that a finish nailer can save you.
Also, a discreet nail or two can hold pieces together while you're waiting for glue to dry.
Of course, I would be remiss if I didn't remind you to observe proper safety protocol. Wear protective glasses at all times, and treat the nailer as you would a real gun (meaning, look before you shoot). Over 37,000 people visit the ER every year because of nail guns, so don't let yourself become a statistic.
Now that that's out of the way, I feel compelled to encourage you to use your nail gun as often as possible. You'll be amazed at all the uses you'll find for it, as it can make almost any woodworking job easier.
If you need to screw pieces of wood together, zipping a nail in there to hold them together makes the job much easier (and makes you less likely to stab yourself with a drill). Also, a discreet nail or two can hold pieces together while you're waiting for glue to dry.
They're also fantastic for nailing down hard-to-reach places, especially if you have a bump trigger. They can extend your reach by a foot or so, allowing you to fasten things down without constantly having to move your ladder or reposition your board.
Once you've got a finish nailer in your toolbox, you'll find yourself looking for reasons to use it — and more often than not, finding them. It's a great piece of equipment, and a must-have for any woodworker.