Trim Nailers & Finish Nailers

A Guide to Choosing the Right Wood Trim Finishing Tools

Photo of Kelly R. Smith   by Kelly R. Smith

Ryobi 18-gauge brad nailer
Ryobi 18-gauge brad nailer
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This article was updated on 02/28/21.

Whether you call them finish nailers or trim nailers, the end result is the same. These guns deliver nails of various sizes (tool-dependent) with the help of an air compressor or an airless system. The Ryobi AirStrike brad nailer pictured above is battery-powered. I use it for projects like door trim and baseboard.

Why use a nailer vs the old hammer and nail set method? For me the answer is two-fold. First, It is just faster and easier with less chance of marring the soft or hardwood surface. Secondly, you get to a point as your nail size diminishes where you just can’t hammer it without it bending. For example, brads are almost impossible (at least for me).

Which Pneumatic-Trim-Nailer is Right for You?

Ideally, you would own the entire spectrum of nail-size guns. But in reality, unless you make a living as a trim carpenter or cabinet-maker, you’ll most likely have to compromise and pick one or two. First, choose whether you want to drag a compressor hose or periodically re-charge batteries. For my purposes, being highly mobile is key so I do batteries. So what about sizes? Actually, I’ve stuck to all rechargeable Ryobi 18-Volt battery tools, even the electric mower (40-Volts).

  • Brad Nailers. These 18-gauge nails are up to 2 inches long. Since the nails are thinner in the cross section, they leave a smaller hole and are so they are less likely to split narrow wood trim and molding. This could be your choice for stop and cove moldings or baseboard shoe molding, or crown molding trim.
  • Pin Nailers. These 23-gauge nails come in both the headless and the slight-headed models; they are just what the doctor ordered for attaching delicate trim pieces; this makes them a hands-down favorite among certain hobbyists. The hole they leave are almost small enough to disregard under a coat of paint, or blend with the grain of a piece of wood. However, they don’t offer a lot of shear or withdrawal strength so these fasteners are best used for wood-to-wood connections and it’s really advisable to strengthen your connection with wood glue.
  • 15- and 16-Gauge Nailers. These two tools fire nails up to 2-1/2 inches long, and they are considered as the most versatile for interior carpentry applications. They also have a lot of overlap in terms of application which makes them good go-to tools for the DIY folks. Both are widely used for installing baseboard, chair rail, door and window casing, crown molding, as well as prehung door frames.

This overview of trim nailers and finish nailers should help you to decide where to invest your money, depending on your goals.

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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

2 Replies to “Trim Nailers & Finish Nailers”

  1. I also find Ryobi to be the best. Used to have Makita but customer service on batteries is kind of shaky.

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