How To Choose A Nail Gun

Porter Cable Combo KitThe Handyguys discuss what nailer you use when. A pneumatic nailer takes much of the work of driving nails and saves you time. With one pull of the trigger, the nail is set flush or below the surface of the work. Nailers allow for one handed operation which frees up your other hand for positioning the work. A nailer can also get into tight or awkward locations where it would be virtually impossible to swing a hammer. There are nailers for interior trim, crown molding, chair rail, craft projects, woodworking, framing, building a deck or roofing. There are many many specialty nailers designed for specific jobs.

In this show we address a few questions about nailers from one of our fans Eddie. Eddie wrote us and asked.

I am doing a complete kitchen remodel as you may remember. To help me in this I got a set of 4 Campbell Hausfeld nail guns from Lowe’s. Now my dad owned nail guns and I saw him use them. But I was never allowed to use them very much and don’t know much about them. ( I know they are dangerous and that you have to oil them, usually with an oiler place in line on the air hose)

I need a resource for learning about these machines and the finer points of using them. What kind of maintenance? What kind of nails they are capable of using? Are there just one or two sizes per gun? When do I choose which gun? I have some common sense but don’t have enough experience or education to know what question to ask.

This is quite a question! Eddie, we have dedicated this entire show to your questions. You asked the right questions.

EDIT – We created this video November 2012 called Selecting a Pneumatic Nailer, Watch it here

First a run down of the most common nailguns

18g Brad nailer

Brad Nailer

  • Used for small trim, interior molding, baseboards, paneling, crafts and come cabinetry.
  • Different models support different lengths of nails between 5/8″ and 2″ in length.
  • Brad Nailers for sale on Amazon
16g finish nailer
16g finish nailer
  • Use for trim work, interior molding, baseboards, paneling and smaller crowns.
  • These can shoot nails up to 2 1/2″ in length. Although they can shoot a longer nail than an 18g nailer they also leave a bigger hole.
  • 16ga Finish Nailers for sale at Amazon
15g angled finish nailer

15g Angled Finish Nailer

  • Use for trim work, moldings, baseboards, crown molding.
  • The 15g angled finish nailer shoot a larger nail up to 2 1/2″ or more on some models. The nail has the greatest holding power of all the finish nailers but also leaves the largest hole to fill.
  • 15g angled finish nailers at Amazon
Framing Nailer

framing nailer

  • Use for framing, sheathing, wood siding, fence building, carpentry.
  • The nails come in two varieties. Clipped head and round head. The clipped head nailers can hold more nails but are not allowed in all jurisdictions. Round head nailers hold fewer nails but are not restricted by some building codes. Often the manufacture will build a larger magazine to accommodate the round head nails and not sacrifice on capacity but the gun may be a little larger.
  • Framing Nailers at Amazon
Narrow Crown Stapler


  • Use for furniture, cabinet assembly, some carpentry, floor underlayment, upholstery and crafts.
  • The staples are usually between 5/8″ up to 1 1/2″ on some models.
  • Narrow Crown Staplers on Amazon
Pin Nailer

Pin Nailer

  • Use for furniture building, small moldings and holding pieces while the glue dries.
  • The pins can go up to 2″ or more in length but the nailers that support the very Long lengths are very expensive. A typical pin nailer supports nails up to 1 1/2″ in length.
  • Pinners on Amazon
Roofing Nailer

Roofing Nailer


Most pneumatic nail guns need to be oiled. You mention an in-line oiler. This option probably didn’t come with your kit. They can be added to facilitate automatic oiling of your tools. The disadvantage is you will have oil in your hose which is really bad if you are going to use the compressor for spraying paint. Most people will usually just add a few drips of tool oil in the air inlet before using the tool.


Be sure to read an follow all the instructions that came with your kit. Safety glasses are a must.


Paul had a really random tip to wrap up the show. Door stoppers, get the spring loaded ones, not the solid ones. You have to listen to the show to understand why.

Note – Haiti Earthquake Disaster Response

If you are considering supporting relief efforts in the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti please consider making a donation to an organization that both Handyguy Brian and Paul have personally worked with. The Presbyterian Church of America’s mission to North America disaster response team. Click this link to support their efforts in this time of need.

49 thoughts on “How To Choose A Nail Gun

  1. Yes, this compressor is operating correctly. Some compressors operate with
    automatic stop/start controls, which shut the compressor off when the proper pressure is reached.
    Other compressors have constant speed controls which uses a pneumatic (air) control line connected to a device
    which will hold the intake valves open to prevent
    more air pressure from building up once the desired pressure
    has been reached. This type of compressor will run in an
    “idle” mode when it has reached the proper pressure, and it will go back to normal compression
    mode when the pressure drops. Also, some larger compressors have the ability to bleed
    off the pressure from the top of the cylinder upon shutting down, so that the compressor motor will not have
    to start up under a large load. Unless you are simply talking about a loose fitting,
    there does not seem to be a problem with your machine.

  2. Thanks guys
    I am a real newbie at this. I have a fence around our half acre property that needs to be renailed and repainted, and we have an underground sprinkling system that needs to blown out each year so it made sense to buy a 30 gallon compressor to do all three jobs. Your rundown on the types of nailers convinces me that a 15 gauge angle nailer is what I need for the fence.

  3. Not sure if you updated your video but the part about the door stop (spring loaded vs solid) wasn’t included. Coincidentally I do use the spring variety. I’m just curious why you prefer these.
    Thank you! Loved the show regarding air tools. You answered a lot of my questions.

    1. The discussion about door stops is in the audio podcast which you can click on at the top of this post. The video was added later when we began filming videos.

  4. One other thing: While shopping for compressors, nail guns and whatnot, I noticed that a variety of manufacturers also produce and sell nails for their guns. Am I as the end consumer required to purchase the brand name nails for the corresponding nail gun I buy, or can I just purchase what I need dictated by type and length of nail regardless of who manufactures the nail?

    1. You can purchase any brand of nail as long as it is the required size/length/angle/etc. Your owners manual will tell you the variety of nails that will fit your nail gun.

  5. I got a lot of info from the podcast. I’m a new homeowner I have to replace my banister rail on my steps what would be the best nailer to use

    1. I’m assuming this is inside, not a deck.
      Usually handrails are held together with screws that are hidden.

      The balusters or bannisters are usually set into recessed mortises in the stair tread and handrails and held with glue. Sometimes a very small nail is used to hold things while the glue dries but the primary strength comes from the mortise and tenon joint and the glue. That small nail is at most an 18g nail and more recently a pin nail.

      Building handrails with ballusters is a very specialized skill and is usually reserved for the most experienced master carpenters. If I misunderstood what you are trying to do please let me know.

  6. Hi, I am a newbie to nail guns and my immediate need is for a gun that will fasten 1/2″ foam blueboard to joists in my attic. A 1 inch round head nail would seem sufficient. I would prefer one that is electric or battery operated if such a animal exists?

    Are there any nailers beside the large frame nailers that could handle smaller 1 to 2 inch round head nails?

    Or am I stuck with a stapler for smaller nailing jobs?

  7. What type & brand of oil do you use for an in line lubricator for the Freeman nail gun set of tools mentioned above?

    1. It depends on the length of nail you need and maybe the height of the baseboard. When dealing with real wood that will be stained I try and use the smallest nail possible but that will still hold. 18G nailer if possible, you may not get enough lenth if the baseboards are thick or you have deep plaster behind. You may need to go to 16g or 15g. Make sure your nailer also has a no mar tip.

  8. I have a few projects this summer and I’m looking to get a nail gun that can do them all build a fence, a big shed and build a unusual deck all made up of lumber I get for free from my employer. 3×3(oak) 2×4(pine HT) 3×4 (oak ruff cut) and mostly 2×3 (pine HT). All lumber they just pitch Budgets tight one so need to make a smart choice. Need a gun that can do the summers worth of jobs any suggestions

    1. I would probably get a framing nailer. Some framing nailers can handle between 1 1/2″ and 3 1/2″ nails. You can use small ring shank nails for the fence and larger nails for the decking. I have a Porter Cable one that has been really reliable although the smallest length nail mine can take is 2″ . Its not the cheapest but its never given me trouble. The Bostich can handle 1 1/2 in nails if you need to go that short for something. The Bostich is a great nailer.

  9. I have a list of projects I have been wanting to do at home. An entertainment center a small movable pantry and a bed. What type of nailer do I need for furniture projects?

    1. I rarely use a nailer when doing projects like you describe. if i do, its for small decorative moldings which would call for an 18g nailer or a pin nailer. I use a stapler for putting plywood backs on cabinets.

  10. Hi, we need to buy a nailer for multiple projects; roofing, decks, flooring, crown molding and general repair. We also need an air compressor. What do you suggest?

    Thank you.

    1. There isn’t one nailer that can do ALL these things. I would grab the Mac700 compressor as a good general purpose compressor. Its very quiet and light. I would then just get the best nailgun you can afford when you need it. Flooring nailers you can rent, roofing nailers I would also consider renting. Your basic nailgun arsenal would then just be a framing nailer, finish nailer and brad nailer. Good luck

  11. Thank you. We’ve done pretty much that, based on needs. We have 4 roofs to do , so got a good roof nailer and compressor.

    Thanks again. (Finished the first roof this weekend!)

  12. Hi! I’ve started following the trend of reusing pallet wood to build furniture. I was wondering what kind of nail gun you would recommend for these projects? would a brad be enough? or should I go with something else?

  13. I currently have a cordless Paslode framing that we use to build arbors and fence projects. However the smallest nail that we can use (2″ Galvanized) sometimes splits the bottom / top of the 1″x 8″ fence boards that are toe-nailed into the adjacent 2″ x 4″ redwood board. I haven’t tried taking a grinder to the bottom of the 2″ nails to create a flat spot and prevent splitting.

    Should I use a finishing nail gun with galvanized staples for this. Would perfer to use another Paslode gun.

    1. You are correct that a flat bottomed nail will help avoid splitting. I haven’t ever tried modifying nailed for a nailgun. I often will do it if I’m hand nailing. I did a bit of research. Maize nails makes a split resistant nail*A/siding/beveled-siding/hot-dip-galvanized-ring-shank-split-less-wood-siding-nails
      This link has many options.
      Here is the pasolade gun that supports those nails

      Good luck

  14. I haven’t checked in here for a while since I hought it was getting boring, but the last few posts are grest
    quality so I guess I will add you back to my everyday bloglist.
    You deserve it mmy friend 🙂

  15. I learned from your video that I need a Framing Nailer. HOW big? We are building a large barn where the horse stall walls are 2″ full cut oak boards. would I need more than a 3.5 length nail? how long of a nail do auto nailers use? Can I get a twist lock type nail? thanks for the info…

  16. What sort and brand of oil do you use for an in line lubricator for the Freeman nail firearm set of instruments said above? Furthermore, What is the expense of oil ?

  17. we are going to replace the fascia on our house, its the miratec, what kind of nail gun would you recommend. we are looking to buy cordless one. could specify framing, finish, ect. thank you.

    1. Check out

      From the manual it says
      Always use fasteners appropriate to the style of construction where the prefinished trim
      is installed. Fasteners must be equal or better in performance (such as nail withdrawal,
      bending strength and corrosion resistance) to 6d or 8d 16 gauge finish nails or headed
      nails, long enough to penetrate 1 1/4˝ into structural wood studs or studs and structural
      sheathing material. Use nails with corrosive resistance equivalent to hot dipped
      galvanized nails. For buildings utilizing steel studs, use ET&F fasteners: AST-075 for 4/4
      MiraTEC and AST-100 for 5/4 MiraTEC. For installations near oceans, large bodies of
      water or in high humidity climates, JELD-WEN, inc. recommends using stainless steel fasteners
      on MiraTEC prefinished trim. For these installations, do not use electro-galvanized
      fasteners, due to poor long term rust resistance.

      I would go with a framing nailer so I could use a “headed nail” as described. if I wanted a finish nail I would go with the 15g, not 16. It has better holding power.

  18. “I am working on a project where I need to hammer a lot of 17g wire nails into a board, I need the nails to protrude and not go all the way through the board. Is there a power tool I can use to make the hammering easier? I was thinking a drill but can not figure out if there is a drill bit one size smaller than my nails or a staple gun but not sure if any have a depth adjustment that will allow the nails to not go through the wood. My board is 1/2 inch thick

    1. If you could go to 16g or 18g nails you could use a regular ole pnumatic air gun. I am not aware of any that shoot 17g nails.
      Your challenge will be the depth settings. Wood has variable densities and nails will often set a little deeper or a little less deep depending on the board. This can even vary from location to location on one board. I would build a jig of some sort, something that would allow the nail to poke through but then hit a piece of metal and stop. You will need to do some testing and experimenting with pressure and depth adjustment to get it how you like it before moving to production.

  19. Guys,

    Love the site and video on Nailers..and compressor. I have a few questions:

    1) Is there a meaningful difference between an electric nailer and a pneumatic one in terms of power for a given size nailer? Or are the differences more about the systems approach and using multiple tools with the same power source?

    I am having my basement finished by a contractor. When it is done, I am going to be constructing a darkroom sink, worktable, and possible cabinet. These are not finish-grade items and they will be built with 2×4’s on a 4×4 post at each corner for the table with plywood surfaces and slats to finish off the surface. Other projects on my list are: redoing the screens on my porch and finishing some garage shelving.

    This leads to the other questions:

    1) Can I get by with using a 15g angled nailer for building the darkroom sink? I am not sure if it will do enough of the job with ring-shank nails that the framing nailer will perform.

    2) based on your videos, it seems that I should get a 15g angled, perhaps the 18G, and stapler for the screen job. If I need the framing capability, I can rent for a few days..

    does this sound correct based on my project descriptions?

    Lastly, If I am going to buy a compressor, I would also like to be able to blow out my sprinter system before the ground freezes..I have a small lawn (5k sq feet) and a relatively small 7-zone in-ground sprinkler system…do I need a much larger compressor for this compared to the Makita 700 you described in your video?

    Thanks again or the great site and information!

    George Pappas

    1. Thanks for your great questions!
      I haven’t used the electric nailers too much. A buddy has a Royobi 18g electric nailer. It seems to do a pretty decent job. The pasolade type are great but require fuel.
      As for your darkroom. I would use a nailer (15 or 18g) for the slats but probably use screws for the main supports. I would use an impact driver to install the screws. Screws hold better than nails and are easier to re-position if you make a mistake. For the screen job. The 18g nailer will be best for attaching screen molding, a pnumatic stapler is not really ideal for screens. Actually, I just did some screens last weekend, I used a mechanical stapler that can also shoot small brads. Its a two in one tool that is perfect for screen projects. This is the stapler I use for screen projects >>> The Mac700 should be fine for blowing out your sprinkler system but you may be limited to one zone at a time and will have to wait for the compressor to re-charge every so often. No biggie if you have time. A pro would use a larger compressor. Good luck and have fun.

  20. Hi
    i am going to start my basement and i was anxious to know what type/size of nailer and air compressor do i need for framing. if the nailer is 3 1/2 inch than
    what should be compressor capacity, HP, Psi, gallon etc.

    1. If its just one person doing framing and you are not super fast than almost any basic compressor will do. If using a smaller compressor, worst case you might need to pause for a couple seconds while the tank refills.
      The Handyguys really like the Makita MAC700 for most homeowner tasks.
      Its 2.6-gallon tank sustains an operating pressure of 130 PSI, and delivers 90 PSI (3.3 CFM).
      Here is our show on that compressor.

  21. I am framing external windows. The exterior wall is stucco over wood frame. What air gun would I use and what gauge nail? Would I use my 16 gauge finish nailer or framing nailer?

    1. I might actually want to use screws, pre-drilling the stucco. The concern is the stucco breaking or cracking. If that isn’t a concern. I would do at least a 15G finish nail or possibly framing nails (If the head is painted after install).

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