When it comes to fastening things together most people will either think of a crown stapler or a brad nailer first. After all, both tools are incredibly easy to use, effective, and relatively affordable.
The problem is that brad nailers and crown staplers aren’t really interchangeable, and each is designed for a very particular kind of job.
Matching the tool to the job is critical for getting the best and most professional results. That’s why we’re going to compare these two similar tools, outline the differences, and see which uses each tool is best suited to.
Brad nailers, or 18-gauge nail guns, are smaller and more delicate compared to your average nail gun. They are designed to work with narrow 18-gauge nails that don’t cause a lot of damage and have a very small surface footprint.
Since the nails themselves are smaller, these nail guns also tend to have less powerful firing mechanisms. They’re still sufficient to drive the nail into your selected firing depth but the gentler operation of these nail guns makes them incredibly well suited to working with and fastening delicate materials.
That feature makes brad nailers a professional favorite for decorative work as well as the last little bit of finishing work.
These nail guns are available in both battery-powered and pneumatic versions and are generally relatively compact. They can be used to fire a lot of nails relatively rapidly, regardless of the power source, and are typically pretty simple to learn to use.
There are a lot of different lengths of 18g brad nails. Fortunately, most brad nailers are compatible with most of the common lengths, though you might need a more specialized tool if you need nails on the very shortest or longest ends of the length spectrum.
In general, the length of your brad nail should be at least twice the width of whatever you’re fastening in order to get a good sturdy connection.
Since these nails are smaller and don’t have the staying power of larger fastening nails or even finishing nails, it’s also common to use glues and other fastening support in conjunction with brad nails.
What is a Brad Nailer Used For?
We’ve already said that brad nailers are used to fasten two generally flat objects together and for some light finishing and decorative work, but let’s go into a little more detail as to what that means.
Brad nailers use straight nails with a very small nail head at the top. That makes them relatively unnoticeable on your finished project, but it also means that the nail head doesn’t offer a lot of fastening power. Even when you’ve placed the nail properly or gone with a longer nail, you shouldn’t trust brad nailers to handle any kind of heavy-duty work.
Basically, if the surface you’re fastening needs to be weight-bearing or is likely to have a lot of stressors, you’re going to want to use a bigger nail and a correspondingly bigger nail gun.
Instead, brad nailers focus on thinner and more delicate materials that don’t necessarily need a lot of fastening strength to hold them in place. Here are a few examples of good uses for brad nailers:
Of course, this isn’t an exhaustive list.
Brad nailers are good for almost any situation where a small and relatively innocuous nail is important.
They can also be used to help hold two boards together for construction work and shaping.
Crown staplers are a little different from brad nailers. The most obvious difference is that crown staplers use staples instead of nails. That automatically gives crown staplers a little additional hold and fastening power, even when you’re using relatively small staples.
The double post fastening system used by a crown stapler has a lot more strength and power for attaching flat surfaces partially because there are two different connection points when you use a staple, and partially because the middle of the staple provides a lot more connection with the primary surface. They hold things in place better.
However, crown staples still don’t offer the strength or stability of a framing nailer. Like brad nailers, you shouldn’t reach for your crown stapler anytime you need something to be securely fastened. That’s not how these tools are meant to be used.
There is another important difference between brad nailers and crown staplers. Brad nails come in one size and a range of lengths. Most brad nailers will be able to handle pretty much any brad nails, or 18-gauge nails.
But crown staples come in a range of sizes, each with its own strengths and weaknesses.
Narrow crowns are the smallest and usually the weakest of the three kinds of crown staples. The crown, or middle portion, on crown staples, is very small. If you’ve ever noticed what looked like a tiny staple line in the trim around your door or on your baseboards, chances are they were installed with narrow crown staples.
These staples had the advantage of being smaller and less noticeable on the surface of your project. However, they do generally leave a small hole or dent in the surface of the project, so you may still need to do additional finishing work like filling the hole with putty to get a mar-free final surface.
Narrow crowns are also good for some fabric applications and are occasionally used when applying upholstery to furniture or in building fabric screens for theater productions. The main risk of narrow crowns is that they may be small enough for the fabric to just rip around the staple if it’s placed under a lot of stress.
This size of crown staples often also needs additional reinforcement from glues, much like brad nails. They are good when you need a little more stability, but they have a lot of overlapping uses with brad nailers.
Medium crowns have a slightly longer middle section, which increases the strength of their hold considerably over narrow crowns. These staples are good when you need a moderate amount of hold and can even be used in some weight-bearing applications, assuming other fastening methods are also used at the same time.
It’s common to see medium crowns used in construction because of their relative durability and ease of placement.
However, medium crown staples are rarely used in visible areas because the larger size of the staple makes them much more noticeable. These larger staples can also cause significantly more damage to the materials you’re working with, which is important to remember when you’re considering whether you should use a narrow crown, a medium crown, or even a brad nail.
Wide crowns are the largest staple option for crown staplers. They have a very wide space between the two feet of the staple, which means that these staples are especially firm and can be used for more challenging fastening.
Just because these are the most durable crown staples doesn’t mean that they are a good replacement for firmer and sturdier fastening methods.
That said, wide crowns can be used in a variety of relatively heavy-duty construction settings with other fasteners. They’re relatively common in trusses and can be used for some applications in roofing, usually in combination with roofing nails and other fastening devices.
However, wide crowns are even larger and more noticeable than medium crowns, which means that they aren’t a good option anywhere that’s likely to be visible. They’re typically only used places that will be covered with other materials later, or places that are unlikely to be accessed and don’t need to be aesthetically pleasing.
What Is a Crown Stapler Used For?
Crown staplers are a relatively versatile tool, able to handle detailed work with narrow crowns all the way through to some heavy-duty tasks with medium and wide crowns.
Matching the tool and staple to your task is incredibly important when it comes to crown staplers. They are a bit more versatile than brad nailers, but it’s also much easier to cause weaknesses in your project by using the wrong staple. Some projects where a crown stapler would be suitable are:
- Plywood sheathing
- Theater fabric screens
This is a very incomplete list, and you’ll find that there are a lot of additional uses for crown staplers in your professional life and as a DIYer, but just remember that you shouldn’t experiment with using crown staples without checking the finished product for stability and sturdiness.
The Difference Between a Brad Nailer and a Stapler
There are several key differences between these two tools, even though they look similar on the surface.
Staples are perfect for attaching fabric and other loose or flexible materials to wood. They can also be used on certain plastics more effectively than 18-gauge nails since the additional contact points help distribute stress on the plastic and prevent tearing.
But brad nails tend to be a better option if you’re attaching wood to wood, especially for finishing and decorative purposes. Nails leave a smaller entrance hole and are both less noticeable and easier to cover than the holes left by a staple.
However, wide and medium crowns are both more durable and stronger than brad nails. They’re closer to the fastening strength of a 16 gauge or larger nail and could be used for a variety of heavy-duty applications.
Ultimately though, neither of these tools is well suited to construction or heavy-duty work on their own. Both offer a relatively weak fastening style. They are a good option in some circumstances because both tools are easy to use and offer fast fastening power, but both tools are also more limited for structural and weight-bearing applications.
Which Option Is Right For You?
Ultimately most professionals will likely use both tools unless they specialize in only heavy-duty projects or only finishing work. If you’re someone who comes in to handle the details and the fine finishing work you might be able to get away with just a brad nailer, and you probably won’t use a brad nailer very much if you primarily work as a roofer.
But if your work is more general than those professions, you’ll likely wind up with at least one of each tool for different applications.
The important thing is to think about what is most important for the project at hand. If you’re looking for a never-been-touched fine finish with no evidence of the work that went into creating it, a brad nailer is probably the better option for the last touches.
But if you’re looking to fasten fabric to wood or working somewhere where a firmer connection is more important than the finished appearance, a crown stapler is probably the better choice.
While neither of these fasteners is going to hold up against a lot of direct pressure, you’ll be surprised how often these little tools can come in handy. Chances are, if you own both, you’ll find places where each tool is the best option for the job.