Types of nails for nail guns and their uses explained

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In this article, we shall look at the various types of nails for nail guns and their uses.

We hope that it will help you choose the right nails for your nailer and project.

Let’s get started:

What type of nails do nail guns use? -Types of nails for nail guns

Before we look at the types of nails for nail guns and their specific uses, it’s worth mentioning that there is a variety of unique nail gun nail sizes with each designed for particular jobs.

To begin with, here is a summary of the most common nail gun nail sizes and the applications every fastener is recommended for:

Nail gun nails sizes

23-gauge nails (diameter is about 0.025”/0.64mm)

These are the finest nails (they’re pretty much pins) and are, for the most part, used to attach super delicate moldings as you wait for the glue to set/cure.

Common length range for 23ga nails: 1/2 – 2 inches

Quick Tip: Diameter of a nail simply refers to how thick its shank (or wire gauge) is and the bigger a nail’s gauge/diameter number is, the thicker the fastener.


21-gauge nails (diameter is about 0.03”/0.84mm)

The next smallest size, these are just a little fatter than the 23ga nails and are mainly used to affix thin moldings as well as small to medium casings/chair rail.

Common length range for 21ga nails: 5/8 – 2 inches


18-gauge nails (diameter is about 0.049 ”/1.25mm)

18-gauge nails are great for small to medium casings/chair rail/ low-profile crown molding.

Common length range for 18ga nails: ¾  to 2-1/2-inches


16-gauge nails (diameter is about 0.063 ”/1.6mm)

These are the first nails that you can use for structural connections because of the way better holding power (as their gauge is quite big compared to the previous nail sizes)

It, therefore, follows that they are very ideal if you have projects like base trim (and other large trims) installation.

They work well too for nailing casing through drywalls(obviously as the outer nail).

Common length range for 16ga nails: 1 ¼ to 2-1/2-inches


15-gauge nails (diameter is about 0.072 ”/1.83mm)

These are a bit stronger than the 16ga finish nails thanks to the slightly bigger diameter .

That being so, you can use them not just when putting up thick trim but and fastening casing through drywalls but also for the installation of door jambs (you want the sturdiest installation especially if you have heavy, solid-core doors).

Common length range for 15ga nails: 1 to 2-1/2-inches


A list of the most common and less known nail sizes and types under the penny system

Some fasteners are usually sized in pennies (represented by the D symbol, which is an old way of differentiating nail sizes).

But that does not mean that they’re useless these days- there are jobs you could find these oddly labeled nail sizes useful.

Just so you get a clearer picture, here are some of these nails and their respective lengths…

Nail Gauge Max nail length (inches./mm)
2 D 1.00/25.4
3 D 1.25/31.7
4 D 1.50/38.1
5 D 1.75/44.4
6 D 2.00/50.8
7 D 2.25/57.1
8 D 2.50/63.5
9 D 2.75/69.8
10 D 3.00/76.2
12D 3.25/82.5

Clipped head vs full head nails

There are a couple of codes that require you to use full head nails over clipped for framing projects.

To be specific, codes in many earthquake and hurricane prone areas require you to use them since they have significantly greater holding power vs clipped (full round heads are available at longer lengths)

On the other hand, clipped head nails are, in general, easier to fire with a nail gun all day (you don’t tire as much because you need less energy to drive them in even in tighter spaces).

Of course, these two points tell you in very plain terms that this decision will ultimately come down to your code so check it.


A word on angled nails for nail gun

The other notable point to keep in your mind is that nailers fire nails at different angles.

With regard to this, there are several degrees including 15°, 16°, 20 °, 21 °, 28 °, 30 °, and 35 °based on the type of nailer (for example, 15 and 16 degree are for respective finish nailers while folks mainly buy 21 and 30 degrees for framing nailers).

Let us now turn to a point that is closely related to what we have just seen…


Paper vs plastic vs wire collated nails

Nail guns for nailers like framing nail guns are collated differently so you’ll need to have an idea of what collation angle your nailer runs before you shop for nails.

Now, collations include plastic collation, wire, and paper(this can be used instead of plastic).

Even as you digest that, know that 30° nails are paper collated so they’re more likely to fall apart if you use them in areas that get wet which won’t happen if you use plastic collated 21° nails.

The problem with plastic collated nails is the plastic shrapnel that you have to deal with when you’re shooting them.

That leaves us with the wire collated 28° nails, which are probably the best middle ground (unfortunately, most codes outlaw them for structural applications)

So, we are, in a nutshell, saying that you must specify the collation+angle when it comes to nails for certain projects (here we have concentrated on framing projects).


How to choose the right nail for the nail gun and project

Overall, you have more choices if you are into interior applications that are non-structural – think crown molding, chair rail, door casings, etc. since anything from 18ga brads going down will work (In general)

Indeed, your choice is quite limited when it comes to projects which need the strongest holding power like framing and sheathing.

What you need to bear in mind here is that it is best to be guided by your local code- most codes explicitly specify the nails you should use for structural fastening.


Types of nails for nail guns – Frequently Asked Questions [FAQs]

Do all nail guns use the same nails?

So, are nails for nail guns interchangeable?

Short answer: Not really. Each nail gun typically fires only one type of fastener(it can take different lengths but it has to be the same nail type).

Remember that the head and gauge of the nail shank define it.
Also, the angle of collation usually makes fasteners exclusive to certain guns.

That said, there have been a few exceptions in the past.

For example, there was a time the popular Paslode finishing gun used to some with the standard nose-plate for 16 gauge nails/brads along with an optional nose-plate to shoot 14 gauge nails.


What kind of nail gun do I need? Different types of nailers explained


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