16 gauge nails vs 18 gauge nails compared

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You have probably heard a lot about these two nail types: 16 gauge nails vs 18 gauge- Maybe from a DIY blog or a carpentry forum.

Perhaps even when you are randomly browsing the web for carpentry or home renovation ideas.

Now, these two nail types can be very confusing when it comes to their various uses, and folks especially beginners struggle to differentiate them.

If this is your current problem, I will take you through a thorough analysis of these nails to help you get a clear picture of what projects you should use each nail gauge for.

Let us get started.

16 gauge nails vs 18 gauge nails compared

As you well know, when it comes to woodworking, picking the proper nail thickness is key to delivering quality projects.

So, let us now take a thorough look at both 16 gauge nails vs 18 gauge nails – we shall thereafter narrow down where you should use each nail type.

What are 16 gauge nails?

16 gauge nails are commonly called finish nails (together with 15 gauge nails).

You also need to know that they are fired using a nail gun known as a 16 gauge nailer.

I should add that depending on the brand, 16-ga nails come with lengths ranging from ¾” to 2 ½”.

In terms of diameter, they have a diameter of 0.063 inches.

What are 16 gauge nails used for?

The greatest advantage of 16-ga nails is their greater holding power (we shall later see that 18-ga nails have weaker hold because they’re thinner).

For that reason, you should use these nails for projects where holding power is your main concern such as:

  • Exterior trims.
  • Flooring projects.
  • Cabinet installation.
  • Chair rails installation.
  • Nailing staircases.

Keep in mind that these are just but some of their uses.

In fact, 16 gauge nails are very versatile hence they can be used in a lot more projects than we can list in this article.

16 gauge nails pros

  • Better holding power.
  • Penetrates thicker wood and MDF nicely.
  • Come in a variety of lengths.

16 gauge nails cons

  • Spits thin woods.
  • Leaves unsightly holes so you may need to fill them especially if you’re into decorative works.

Time now we look at 18 gauge nails…


What are 18 gauge nails?

18 gauge nails are commonly known as brad nails or simply brads.

Moving on, brads have a general width of 0.0475”.

And as concerns their typical length, brads come in varying lengths (from ½” to 2 ½”).

Here is what you should note above everything:

As they are thinner than 16 gauge nails, they are used on projects that require thinner sheets of wood (see a list of these projects below).

In other words, use them for woodworking applications and DIY jobs where 16 gauge nails are too big (and they might split the wood).

It is worth mentioning that you fire 18 gauge nails using an 18 gauge nailer like Porter-Cable cordless 18-gauge brad nailer.


What are 18 gauge nails used for?

When it comes to the uses of 18 gauge nails, they are also quite versatile and you can use brads in many, many instances where 16 gauge nails work.

But there is one standout difference: You should use 18 gauge nails whenever you’re working with thin sheets of wood being used and using the fatter 16 gauge nails could split the wood.

Below are examples of these projects:

  • Installing decorative moldings.
  • Hanging paneling- 18 gauge nails are the best nail gauge for paneling.
  • Making wooden toys.
  • Installing interior trims.
  • Skirting
  • Installing shoe molding.
  • Making custom-made presentation boxes.

18 gauge nails pros

Below are the two biggest advantages of using 18-ga brads:

  • They’re gentle on thin sheets of wood meaning they’re excellent for delicate works.
  • They do not require much filling of holes as the nail heads leave nearly un-noticeable holes (18 gauge nails have smaller heads than 16 gauge nails).

18 gauge nails cons

On the downside:

  • 18-ga nails do not penetrate MDF very well.
  • They’re unsuitable for projects that carry heavier weights- that is where you want maximum holding power (think of nailing staircases, nailing floor joists, etc.)

Summary of the major difference between 18 gauge and 16 gauge nails

The thing with these two nails is that you can actually use them interchangeably.

However, as I have mentioned above, it is important for you to note that 18 gauge nails work best on thinner sheets of wood that are delicate and easily splitter.

On the other hand, you should use 16 gauge nails on thicker sheets of wood that an 18 gauge nail may fail to penetrate or may not be strong enough to hold.

Also, 16 gauge nails require a greater amount of power in order to penetrate wood. This extra power contributes to their tendency to split thin wood pieces.

Still, the larger holes left behind by 16 gauge nails would require to be filled as they are easily visible.


16 gauge nails vs 18 gauge nails – Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

Can you use 16 gauge nails in an 18 gauge nailer?

The short answer is NO.

You see, a 16 gauge nailer is made to fire thick nails.

Consequently, when you try and use it to fire 18 gauge nails, depending on the brand type, two things could happen:

  • The nailer will jam as it will try and fire two nails at a go.
  • The nailer will fire 1 or 2 nails then jam.

So it is best not to use 16 gauge nails in an 18 gauge nailer.

Can a 16 gauge nail gun use 18 gauge nails?

Again the short answer is NO.

Here is why: We have learned that the 18 gauge nailer is made to hold and fire 18 gauge fasteners.

That being so, 16 gauge nails will simply not fit into an 18-gauge nailer since they are thicker than 18 gauge nails.

Which nails are bigger, 16 or 18 gauge?

The 16 gauge nails are fatter than the 18 gauge nails(0.063” vs 0.0475-inches).

The truth is if you look at the two, you will notice that 16 gauge nails are around 25% thicker than their 18 gauge nails rivals.

However, in terms of length, the two are nearly equal-16 gauge nails come in lengths of ¾” to 2 ½” whereas 18 gauge nails come in lengths of ½” to 2 ½”.

16 gauge nails vs 18 gauge – Recap

Just to remind you, 16 gauge nails are way thicker (0.063” vs 0.0475-inches)- remember the lower the no, the thicker the nail shank- so they are likely to crack/split thin sheets of wood.

The other main difference is the size of the holes each nail leaves behind- brad’s smaller heads mean a nearly un-noticeable hole so you have very little/no filling to do.

For these reasons, 16 gauge nails are mainly ideal for projects where a strong enough hold is necessary (because of a higher load capacity) while their 18-ga counterparts are majorly suitable for your decorative works.

Finally, these two nail types are versatile and can, at times, be used interchangeably depending on the thickness of the piece of wood being used.



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