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The Best Brad Nailers: Incredibly Useful and Versatile

Of all the types of nailers on the market, brad nailers are the most common. If a woodworker has only one type of nailer, you can pretty much count on it being a brad nailer. That’s not just because they’re less expensive than the larger types of nailers, but also because they’re so versatile. These tools can be used for finish carpentry, cabinetry, and even furniture making.

The big question for most people is whether to buy a pneumatic brad nailer or a cordless one. Pneumatic nailers must be connected to an air compressor as power source, making them great for use in a workshop, but a little less convenient on a job site. On the other hand, the added convenience of a cordless will cost you more.

There are few features that differentiate pneumatic nailers although cordless ones do vary, especially in the manner in which the drive system works; choose wisely as some operate more consistently and controllably than others. For more information about selecting a brad nailer, check out our list of the best brad nailers in 2021 and the buyer's guide provided below.

What are the best brad nailers of 2021?

Senco FinishPro Brad Nailer - Best Brad Nailer Overall

This is a truly unique tool and quite possibly the first of the next generation of cordless nailers. According to the manufacturer, the battery on this unit is good for 600 shots per charge. With the lithium-ion batteries and fast charger that’s included in the package, you can recharge this battery powered brad nailer to 80 percent in 15 minutes, allowing for quick turn-around and continued work.

But that’s not what makes this nailer unique. What’s so great about it is the truly innovative way that it drives the brad nails. Instead of burning gas for power, Senco has built this unit with an integral gas chamber, filled with non-reactive nitrogen. When the trigger is pulled, the gas drives a piston, pushing the plunger which drives the nail. There is a small gear motor, which returns the piston to its original position, re-compressing the gas in the process.

A built-in work light is included, along with a led indicator for battery power level (not just an “I’m dead light”). A selector switch offers sequential (pull the trigger every time) or “bump-fire” mode. The unit is quickly adjustable for depth with an easily accessible thumbwheel. They've even made the belt hook adjustable for both depth and right or left handed operation.

best cordless brad nailer

Metabo HPT Gauge Cordless Brushless Lithium-Ion Brad Nailer - Runner Up

After looking at all the “standard” cordless brad nailers (ones that burn gas), I’ve come to the conclusion that Hitachi makes the best. While I’ve given the number one spot to the Senco Fusion, this is the best of the standard cordless units. What really makes it great is that the unit is only four pounds, making it the lightest brad nailer on the market. The handle is made from a patented elastomer, adding to operator comfort. Hitachi has also created a jam release mechanism that doesn’t require any tools, making for quick, convenient jam release.

Senco FinshPro 18MG Brad Nailer - Honorable Mention

Senco has been building air nailers for years and this brad nailer shows all their experience, in an easy-to-use, comfortable package. The main body of this gun is magnesium, making it extremely light weight and durable as well as also oil-free, to protect your work. Even so, the exhaust on this gun is in the rear, where it won’t have a chance of splattering your workpiece.

Depth of drive is adjustable and the trigger is selectable actuation. The nosepiece is easy-open for quick jam removal. There’s a low nail indicator on the magazine and it includes a belt hook and even a swivel air connector. You can’t go wrong with this model.

Metabo HPT Pneumatic, 18 Gauge Brad Nailer - Consider

Hitachi makes some of the most popular air nailers on the market. This brad nailer has a depth-of-drive dial to make it easy to get the brad nails exactly where you want them while the trigger is selectable like the Senco, giving you more flexibility in your work. The safety is behind the nosepiece to get it out of your way and out of your sight line. An easy-open nose makes jam removal quick and easy and there’s a low nail indicator on the magazine. The air inlet connector swivels as well, for ease of use.

Makita AF506 2" Brad Nailer - Best Pneumatic Brad Nailer

The updated design of this nailer has a narrower nose, making it easier to nail in tight spaces. Like the others, Makita puts a cam-lock nosepiece latch on their brad nailer, to make it quick and easy to remove jams, without any tools. The non-marring rubber nose is augmented by rubber pads on the side of the tool, to prevent marring the workpiece when the tool is set down.

The nosepiece is both cast and machined for the greatest precision possible along with dual nail indicators on the magazine so you can see when it’s time to reload. The exhaust port is designed to rotate 360 degrees, so you can direct it away from your work and yourself while the belt hook rotates for your convenience.

Buyer's Guide

Brad nailers are similar to finish nailers; in fact, they're sufficiently similar that they are often mistaken as being small finish nailers. That's not that bad a comparison, as they are often used for finish carpentry, alongside regular finish nailers. When you see door and window casing that is nailed with smaller nails along the opening edge and larger nails along the back edge, the smaller nails are from a brad nailer. That's because the carpenter used a brad nailer for the opening edge, which uses eighteen gauge nails and a finish nailer for the back edge which uses 15 or 16 gauge.

Brad nail ranging from 3/4" up to 2". The nailers are designed for use with brads up to 2" long, but those are a bit hard to find. They also tend to bend a lot, especially when driven into dense hardwoods. An 18 gauge nail isn't very big in diameter.

Some brad nailers also shoot narrow crown stapes in addition to brads. While having a power tool that’s more versatile seems like a good idea, a lot depends upon how you plan on using the tool. The anvil (the part that pushes the brad) on a combination nailer/stapler is wider than one intended for a brad only nailer. When you’re using it to shoot brads and sinking them below the surface, the anvil will make a much bigger indentation than required for just the brad. This makes a larger area to fill which will be more obvious in the finished work.

Brad nailers are used for more than just architectural trim as they're also used extensively for furniture and cabinet making. Of all the different types of nailers on the market, these are probably the most versatile. However, the nails aren't strong enough for use in all applications; other than architectural trim, brads are best used when the pieces are also to be glued together.

Brad nailers don't come in as much variety as finish nailers, as there’s no such thing as angled brad nailer since all of them are manufactured with straight magazines. This makes the overall size of the nailer smaller, which is especially important for cabinetmaking.

There is no real need for an angled brad nailer as angled finish nailers are made for use with cove molding. Brads aren't long enough for use with cove molding so no one has bothered creating one. About the only time when it might be considered useful would be some unusual cabinetry where the angles are less than 90 degrees.

So brad nailers come in both pneumatic and cordless varieties. Most of the cordless ones work like other cordless nailers, burning a gas to drive the piston. The one exception to this is the Senco Fusion, which is available in both a brad nailer and a straight finish nailer. Rather than using expanding gas to drive the piston, a spring is used and a motor "re-cocks" the nailer for the next shot.

Types of Brad Nailers Available

Combination Brad Nailers

There is also a version of brad nailers that are combination nailers and staplers. These use a narrow crown staple, which is essentially like shooting two brads at once. While it does hold the wood together better than a normal brad nailer, the hole made in the wood for the staple crown is wider, requiring more filling.

The other problem with this type of brad nailer is that the anvil on a brad nailer/stapler is wider than that of a normal brad nailer to accommodate the width of the staple. That means if you’re using it for brads, you're still going to get the hole that you would get for using a staple. So, you're going to have the same problem with filling the holes that you would with staples.

If you are using the brad nailer/stapler where that hole is not a problem, such as in situations where the holes made by the nailer are hidden, then the wider anvil really doesn't affect the work that you are doing. In those cases, the more versatile tool might be a good choice.

Cordless Brad Nailers

Cordless nailers have been taking over more and more of the market, especially for trim carpenters who use them for installing door and window casing. They are especially convenient when there’s a need to work on a small project where electrical power isn’t available. The time saved by not having to set up a compressor or compressor and electrical generator quickly justifies the higher cost of a cordless nailer.

Although all cordless brad nailers essentially do the same thing, there’s some variety in the way they work. A few nailers have been developed which are gasless. This newer technology shows great promise and eliminates the need to buy gas cartridges, making them cheaper to use.

Most manufacturers of cordless nailers offer you the option of buying it with or without the batteries and charger. This allows a user who already has a number of cordless tools from a particular manufacturer to save money, by using the batteries that they already have between their various tools.

Of all the types of nailers on the market, brad nailers are the most likely to jam, due to the smaller diameter of the nails used. Therefore, it is important that the nosepiece of the nailer open easily for removing bent brads.

What to Look for in a Brad Nailer

Depth of Shot

Depth of shot adjustment is important for a brad nailer. Pretty much all of them have this feature and pretty much all of them are tool-free; however, some perform better and are easier to use than others. One major consideration with the depth of shot adjustment is consistency. This is difficult to obtain, as it depends on the air pressure and wood density as well. If you’re working with a wood where the density varies with the grain (such as oak) this can be a problem.

Pneumatic vs. Cordless

For most people, the biggest question comes down to whether they want to buy a cordless or pneumatic brad nailer. The cordless ones are much more convenient when using them for architectural trim, but the pneumatic ones are more convenient in a workshop setting.

Exhaust

Regardless of the type of brad nailer you buy, you want to be sure that the exhaust is away from the tool's nose. Most put the exhaust on the top of the head, with an adjustable exhaust port. This works well, but the best possible option is to have a rear exhaust so that the exhaust air or gas is going out the back of the gun, next to where the air inlet is.

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