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

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If you’re tired of swinging a hammer,  we answer the question “What kind of nail gun do i need?” in this guide

So, what are the different types of nailers and what are their main uses?

We want to help you make the right decision when shopping for your first nailer so below are the different types of nailers explained (the most common types) and their typical uses.

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

Here is what you need to know about the most common types of nail guns and uses when buying your first nailer to speed up your projects:

Different types of nailers explained

Framing nailers

You use these nailers for just that: framing.

I should say that they, for the most part, shoot 3-1/2″ and 3-1/4″ nails (there are, of course, the nails used most often for framing projects).

That said, some models shoot nails even down to 2-1/2″ and 2″ for decking/sheathing but they’re not as efficient.

Coil guns

These are purposely built to shoot 3 1/2″ nails to 2″.

And yes, you can, in general, use them to fire framing nails (I should mention only the heavy coils squad will fire framing fasteners).

You should not confuse a coil gun with its smaller sibling- the siding nailer, which is coming up next.

Siding guns

As the title suggests, these are the nail guns you should use anytime you want to hang siding (clapboards, shakes, hardiboard, borale).

That should tell you something about the nails these shoot: Yeah, these typically shoot smaller gauge nails (2-1/2″ to 1-1/4″) because they’re the fasteners that work best for siding.

It follows that siding nailers are not ideal for structural connections…


Finish nailers  (15 gauge and 16 gauge)

If you have a finishing project lined up, you should invest in a good finish nailer because it will give you the most beautiful finish.

So you mainly use this nailer to affix 3/4″ (and other thicker materials) securely whether it is trim or decorative boarding or trim.

Put another way, you should use a finish nailer in projects where it is critical to use fasteners with small head footprint.


Brad nailers

Overall, you can look at these like little finish nail guns.

But there is one important difference: You use them for your more delicate works.

Indeed, they fire brads which are smaller gauge nails compared to finish nails (brads are 18 gauge vs 15 gauge and 16 gauge finish nails).

So, where specifically can you use brad nailers?

Well, these are excellent for jobs like fastening cove, bullnose modelings, nailing scotia, attaching delicate trim joints…you get the gist.


Pin nailers

These shoot short fine gauge nails -they’re pretty much like a needle hence folks call them pin.

Because they fire pins (23 gauge, in most cases), these nail guns are designed (strictly) for fastening your facings and bandings as you wait for the glue to dry.

It’s worth mentioning that they oftentimes fire plastic nails meaning you can later remill the workpiece without risking injury or damage

Now that you know the basics about types of nailers and uses, let us discuss a major decision you have to make when shopping for your first nailer….

Electric vs pneumatic nail gun

When it comes to buying a nail gun, there is one big decision you have to make: Cordless vs pneumatic nail gun

Now, air nail guns are the traditional nailers and it is what most folks are used to.

But because you have to lug around heavy compressors and annoying hoses, there is quite a lot of hype around battery-powered nail guns these days.

Since I don’t have a lot of space to tell you everything about how these two nail guns differ, just keep the following in mind:

Pneumatic nail guns are way more powerful than electric nailers so if shooting power is your number one consideration, you should go the pneumatic route particularly if you’re a pro.

Otherwise, if you really do not want to be dealing with a compressor/hoses and you are okay with a little less shooting power, a battery-powered nailer will be the way to go especially if you’re an avid DIYer (a weekend warrior / hobbyist).

There is one more downside of air nailers I want you to recall:  you will have to keep listening to a compressor build-up cycle every bunch of nails

Here are more points you should bear in mind:


Electric nailers are pricier

Battery powered nailers are more expensive than their air counterparts though the price of pneumatic nailers still shoots up significantly if you do not already own an air compressor (since you have to buy one separately).

It is however important to add that you can still buy a non-pneumatic gun more affordably by going for factory re-conditioned models from major online sellers’ websites like eBay over new stuff at sites like Amazon.


Pneumatic nail guns are significantly smaller and lighter

While cordless nailers are great for portability, pneumatic nailers are usually smaller and lighter (even with hose attached).

Well, it won’t make much of a difference if you’re constructing a birdhouse but you’ll surely feel a difference if you’re hanging things like crown moulding the whole day.

What kind of nail gun do I need? – Related Questions

How many types of nail guns are there?

There are very many different types of nail guns including roofing nailers (for nailing down roof shingles) and flooring nailers (for fastening floorboards) but the types of nail guns we have spoken about above are the ones you’ll most likely need in your day-to-day projects.

Is there an all in one nail gun?

Buying a framing nail gun, a finishing nailer, a brad nailer, and every other nailer I have listed is expensive and some of you have been asking if there’s an all in one nail gun.

Well, I can suggest a 16-gauge finish gun like the DeWalt 20v 16-gauge general DIYnailer if you really want only 1 gun- it is perhaps the best middle ground nail gun and it handles molding, baseboards, and even small trim reasonably well.

What is the best cordless nail gun?

In short, we vote for Ryobi cordless nailers….they come at nearly a third of what most higher-end nailer costs yet they’re very good performers.

Plus, they do take standard nails and you will probably get the nails anywhere.


What kind of nail gun do I need – Recap

In summary, the most common types of nailers are:

  1. Framing nailers
  2. Coil guns
  3. Siding guns
  4. Finish nailers
  5. Brad nailers
  6. Pin nailers

And as I have explained in the article, the most versatile nailer is a 16-gauge finish nail gun as it can install trim, crown molding, baseboard, etc. pretty well.

Otherwise, you can also go for the popular porter cable nail gun kit that includes a compressor, 16-gauge, 18-gauge, and 23-gauge nailers for a little over $200!

PS: Check your code because some codes explicitly say what nail gun you should use for various projects


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