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Brad Nails Vs. Finish Nails

For woodworking enthusiasts and professionals alike, the seemingly simple task of choosing the right nail for a project can make a significant difference to the end result. In this regard, two commonly used nails are brad nails and finish nails. These nails are frequently used in finish carpentry, which involves the installation of trim, molding, and other aesthetic elements. Despite their similarities, they have distinct features and uses that make them suitable for different applications.

What are Brad Nails

What are Brad Nails

Brad nails are smaller in size, typically 18-gauge, which refers to the diameter of the nail. The gauge number is inversely proportional to the nail's diameter. Therefore, an 18-gauge nail is thinner than a 16-gauge nail. Brad nails are usually 5/8 inch to 2 inches long.

Brad nails derive their name from the old English 'brad', which means 'broad'. Despite this, these nails are not broad at all. This confusion arises from the fact that a 'brad' was originally a type of nail used for making broad-headed nails.

One of the most distinguishing features of brad nails is that they have a very small head, which is almost invisible when driven into wood. This makes them perfect for delicate woodworking tasks where you don't want nail heads to be prominent. They're commonly used for attaching lightweight trim, and for delicate tasks like crafting and upholstery.

Brad nails are typically used with a tool known as a brad nailer, a type of nail gun that's designed specifically for driving these thin, small nails.

What are Finish Nails

What are Finish Nails

Finish nails, on the other hand, are larger and stronger than brad nails. They're typically 15-16 gauge, making them thicker and more robust. Finish nails are usually 1 inch to 2-1/2 inches long.

The term 'finish nail' comes from their primary use in finish carpentry. They're used when the strength of the connection is more important than the visibility of the nail head. Because they're thicker and longer, they can hold larger, heavier pieces of trim and can be used in harder materials.

Finish nails have a larger, more noticeable head than brad nails. However, the head is still relatively small and can be driven below the surface of the wood using a nail set, then filled with wood putty to make it virtually invisible.

Finish nails are typically used with a nail gun known as a finish nailer, which is designed to handle these larger, stronger nails.

Brad Nails vs. Finish Nails: Key Differences

Brad Nails vs. Finish Nails

While both brad nails and finish nails are commonly used in construction and woodworking, there are some key differences between the two nail types. Understanding these differences is important for determining which nail to use for a particular job. Let's take a closer look at how brad nails and finish nails contrast in terms of size, head design, intended usage, holding power, surface finish, and cost.


Brad nails are noticeably smaller than finish nails in both length and thickness. Brad nails typically range from 5/8 to 1-1/2 inches in length, while finish nails span from 1 to 2 inches long. Brad nails also have a narrower diameter or thickness. The thinner design of brad nails makes them well suited for attaching thin, delicate materials like molding or trim that don't need heavy-duty fastening.

Finish nails, on the other hand, have a longer length and greater thickness. This larger size provides finish nails with enhanced holding power for joining heavier wood elements or providing structural reinforcement. Their length allows finish nails to better penetrate wood for sturdier connections between materials.

Head Design

There is also a clear distinction in head size and shape between brad nails and finish nails. Brad nail heads are undersized, commonly measuring less than 1/4 inch across. These miniature heads are essentially stripped-down to reduce weight and material usage.

In comparison, finish nail heads check in at approximately 1/4 inch or greater in width. They possess robust, well-formed heads that hold their shape after driving. The sizable head of a finish nail contributes to its strength and ability to securely fasten wood joints.

Intended Usage

As their names suggest, brad nails and finish nails excel at different application types. Brad nails are engineered for fastening trim, molding, veneers, and upholstery - all of which are relatively thin materials. Their petite stature allows for driving brad nails just beneath the surface to disappear seamlessly.

Finish nails, on the other hand, tackle woodworking tasks like attaching thin wood panels, subflooring, and drywall. Their expanded size lends finish nails extra gripping power for joining two pieces of timber together edge-to-edge or face-to-face. Some carpenters even use finish nails as an affordable alternative to wood screws on light-duty projects.

Holding Power

This segues into a key point about holding power. Simply put, brad nails demonstrate less resistance to forces attempting to separate connected materials versus finish nails. Their slim design lacks the sheer grip needed to firmly fasten wood components under stress.

On the other hand, finish nails dig in deeply and their burly build furnishes remarkable pulling power. The long shank allows finish nails to mechanically interlock securely into wood grain. This stronger holding capacity makes finish nails top choices for structural bonding of wood planks or deck boards that will endure weathering.

Surface Appearance

When driven flush, brad nails maintain an ultra-smooth finish for aesthetically pleasing installations. Their miniature heads disappear under decorative trim pieces without bumps or textures.

By comparison, finish nails driven flush may still reveal subtle contours where the head meets the surface. This isn't a major issue, but can be noticeable up close on high-end trim jobs. Experienced carpenters may prefer setting finish nails just beneath the wood surface to prevent unevenness.

Cost Comparison

Cost is one area where brad nails clearly beat out finish nails. Their diminutive size requires less material, time, and manufacturing expenses to produce brad nails. As a result, comparable quantities of brad nails will run cheaper than finish nails at the hardware store.

With finish nails, the extra material forms a more robust design that delivers increased durability and load-bearing capacity - but at a higher price point. However, the enhanced strength of finish nails may still make them a wise investment for heavy carpentry projects.


Both brad nails and finish nails have their unique uses in the world of woodworking and finish carpentry. The choice between the two depends on the specific requirements of the task at hand. It’s essential to consider factors like the type and size of the material, the weight of the material, and the visibility of the nail head when choosing between brad nails and finish nails.

In the end, understanding the differences between these two types of nails will allow you to choose the right nail for your project, ensuring the best possible result. While seemingly small, these details are the cornerstones of fine woodworking and can make all the difference in your final product.

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