Finishing work is one of the most important parts of any project, and also one of the most finicky parts as well. Choosing the right gauge finish nailer for the job can make a huge difference in your finished product.
First things first, what’s the difference between a 15 gauge and a 16-gauge finish nailer? Well, the gauge is the size of the nails you’re working with. The bigger the number the thinner the nail. Both 15g and 16g nails are relatively small, which is a big part of why they are such popular choices for finishing nailers.
What’s the difference between 15g and 16g finish nailers?
Both of these nailers use relatively small but durable nails that don’t leave too much of a mark behind. That’s important with finishing work because the less you have to clean up your work area the less work you have to do overall.
Neither of these gauges are particularly effective for heavy-duty work, so they’re definitely most useful for professionals who handle a lot of the finishing work.
These nailers aren’t like bigger nail guns that can leave a large entrance hole and blow all the way through your veneer or other delicate finishing surfaces. These nailers are also generally more precise than bigger versions, which lets you choose the exact placement of your nails much more carefully.
Since both of these nailers are designed for finishing work, let’s take a closer look at the features of each nailer and then compare the two to see which is going to be a better fit for your
15g nailers are the bigger of the two, which means that they’re better for heavier work and finishing that’s still going to need to bear some weight.
This nailer is also a little different because it uses the same kind of nails you would use with a regular hammer. So you’ll have a relatively small nail with a round head that may still be visible after you’re done.
15g nailers also use an angled feeder and firing system, which means that it won’t insert the nail on an exact straight line. The angle actually makes these nails a little more secure, which is part of why this design is popular for door frames and other finishing that still needs to have a little more structure.
The nailer itself is usually a little larger and heavier than a 16g nailer. That size helps give the nailer a little more power, and it’s common for professionals to compare this design with more powerful framing nailers in terms of performance and versatility.
15g nailers can also handle longer nails, up to about the 2-2.5” range. That length is a lot more effective for functional and non-decorative finishing work than shorter nails, which adds to the overall benefits of this nailer.
This nailer design is also usually fairly easy to use and doesn’t tend to have many loading issues. That’s perfect for professionals since you won’t have a lot of extra time in maintenance on this nailer.
Here are some of the most common uses for a 15-gauge nailer:
- Door framing
- Hanging doors
- Thick baseboards and trim
- Stair tread
While most people consider 15-gauge nailers finishing nailers, they do also work for some basic construction tasks as well.
16-gauge nailers are a little different. To start off with, these nailers are usually significantly smaller and lighter than 15-gauge nailers. That makes them a good option for working in tight spaces and for getting that last nail in a corner.
However, these nailers are also compatible with longer nails up to about 2.5” long, but you might be a little more likely to need shorter nails for the kind of finishing work these are designed to accomplish.
Thanks to their smaller size and lighter build, 16g nailers generally don’t have as much power or oomph as a 15-gauge nailer. They usually aren’t as suitable for actual construction tasks and may not be able to properly set nails that are in particularly hard materials.
16-gauge nailers are often compared to Brad nailers for exactly that reason. Effective for what they’re designed to do, but less powerful than a lot of other nailers, and mostly designed for the last bits of finishing work on your project.
It’s also worth noting that 16g nailers are available in battery-powered versions. Battery power gives you a lot more maneuverability, and also means that you can work in spaces where an air compressor (a common design for 15-gauge nailers),
This design is good for a wide range of tasks, but usually not anything weight-bearing. Here are some examples:
- Base molding
- Angled panel molds
- Small bed molding
- Crown molding
It’s also important to note that 16g nailers are straight firing, unlike 15g nailers. That means that they generally leave a smaller entry hole, but it’s also easier for the nails to shake loose over time and come back out.
Which Nailer Do You Need?
Especially when you’re just getting started it’s common to want to stick to as limited a selection of power tools as possible. However, this isn’t really a situation where you want to choose one or the other.
These nailers have different enough purposes that it’s important to have both, especially for most professionals. 15-gauge nailers are good for a wide range of heavier finishing work, as well as some more limited construction work.
The angled fire does mean that this nailer places nails in a way that’s more secure. But it can also be a liability for finishing work since it tends to leave a larger entry hole that might need to be filled later.
16-gauge nailers are a little more delicate, but they’re also a good option for finer finishing work and anytime you need a straight line of fire instead of the angled fire of a 15-gauge nailer.
They’re also important for some work that 15-gauge nailers can’t handle, even though 15-gauge nailers are generally the more versatile of the two. 16g nailers are usually better for interior trim, and they are definitely the preferred option for molding. Smaller molding is particularly delicate and can be broken by 15-gauge nailers.
Of course, it’s also important to think about the durability of your finished work. Overall, most carpenters agree that 15g nailers offer better performance in terms of durability and longevity compared to 16-gauge nailers.
That’s because of the two main differences between the nailers. 15g nailers are more powerful to be able to drive their nails, but that also means that they can drive into harder materials without problems. Sturdier materials also tend to hold the nail better after it’s driven, and you may be able to drive your nail slightly deeper with a 15g nailer as well.
The angle also helps to hold the nail in place, since it’s unlikely that the natural grain and texture of the surrounding material will release a diagonal nail easily.
16-gauge nails are also a little more vulnerable to bending over time. That makes 16-gauge nailers less suited to finishing work where the nail itself will be under any kind of stress. It’s worth noting that there is some debate over how important the nail gauge really is. While 16g nails are smaller than 15g, the difference isn’t so huge that it’s likely to be a problem for lightweight work.
It’s a good idea to have both of these nailers on hand, but it’s incredibly important to choose the right nailer for the job. If you aren’t sure which nailer is the right option, there are a few things you can consider to help pick the right nailer.
How durable does it need to be? Areas that need extra durability probably call for the 15-gauge nailer.
Is this somewhere visible? The smaller 16g entrance hole is usually easier to cover or disguise than 15g entrance holes.
Am I working with delicate materials? Some materials won’t hold up well against a 15g nailer and call for a gentler 16g option.
Am I working with difficult materials? 16g nailers are usually less powerful and may not properly set your nail if you’re working with particularly hard materials.
Keeping those simple things in mind will help you make the most of both of your nailers, and help you create much more professional-looking results.