Three best nail guns

Bob Beacham

Nail guns do jam from time to time. Most of the time they're easy to clear. However, for your safety, you must always detach the power source before working on it.

With a good nail gun, you can drive dozens -- even hundreds -- of nails with hardly a pause. You maximize your time and minimize your effort. But there are many different nail guns available, each tailored to suit a particular range of tasks, so it's important to choose the right one.

We've put together the following nail gun buying guide to illustrate the differences and explain some of the technical issues. We've also included a few recommendations that show exactly what you can get for your money.

Considerations when choosing nail guns

Before you can decide which nail gun you need, it's important to know what each type of nail gun does. The following are the primary consumer models. There are also a number of specialist nail guns, such as roofing nailers, but these are pro tools with specific functions, so not something we need to cover here.

Nail gun types

Framing nailers: These are the big ones, the ones you use when you're framing out a building or partition wall and using nails that are two to three and one-half inches long. The magazine usually slopes away from the tip (nose) to allow you to nail at angles.

Finish nailers: These are the all-rounders. Very versatile finish nailers are used to fix paneling, door moldings, flooring, and baseboards using nails ranging from one and one-quarter to two and one-half inches long. Again, an angled magazine is common on these tools.

Brad nailers: These use thin nails, sized from one-half to two inches, with heads that are almost invisible when set. You use this nailer for decorative trim and all kinds of wood-to-wood fixing. The magazine is normally set at 90° for precision.

Crown staplers (finish staplers): These fire staples, not nails, but are much more than a heavy-duty office stapler! You can use one for making picture frames, upholstering furniture, and assembling window trim before mounting.


You have two choices when it comes to what powers your nail gun: compressor (pneumatic) or battery (cordless).

Pneumatic nailers: These powerful, lightweight nail guns work continually. The compressor can also be used to supply other air tools. On the downside, the compressor is heavy, noisy, and needs an electrical supply. Also, the air hose can restrict movement.

Cordless nailers: You can take one of these anywhere, and with no cord or hose, your movement is unrestricted. These nail guns are virtually maintenance-free. On the downside, these are heavy and the run time is limited. You have to wait for them to recharge (you can buy a second battery, but they're expensive). If you're buying a cordless nail gun, it's vital to have a brushless motor, and a lithium-ion battery (not nickel-cadmium). Both of these features maximize the power available.

Nail gun features

Sequential or bump nailing: Most nail guns have sequential nailing, which requires you to pull the trigger to drive each nail. Some also offer bump nailing: the nail fires as soon as the tip is "bumped" against the surface. You can drive several nails per second using this method, but you need considerable skill to be accurate.

Depth controls: This means you can vary the power requirements according to the type of material you're nailing into.

Tip: A soft tip (often called "no mar") reduces the chances of marking the surface of the thing you're nailing. It's nice to have tool-free access to the tip for clearing jams.

Safety: Some triggers can be disabled when not in use, a nice safety feature. Several models have LED lights to help you see what you're doing in low-light conditions.

Nails: Plastic-coated nails drive more easily than standard steel nails, so with a cordless model you'll get more done between charges.

Nail gun prices: Prices vary widely. Cordless nail guns might seem more expensive than pneumatic models, but if you have to buy a compressor, the price difference is wiped out. We've seen reasonable finish nailers for under $50, but big-brand versions of the same tool can be $300. What's important is deciding on the right tool for the job and then determining whether you only need it for the short term or you want it to last indefinitely. Quality always comes at a premium, but many think it's worth the investment.


Q. Are nail guns dangerous?

A. If handled properly, no. For example, if dropped, they won't start spraying random nails around the place! However, anything that will drive a steel nail into hardwood has the potential to cause harm. Safety should always be paramount. Focus on what you're doing. Never point a nail gun at anyone. Always wear eye protection when using a nail gun. And don't look down the tip if it's jammed!

Q. Can I put any type of nail in a nail gun?

A. No. While each type of nailer (framing, finish, brad) may take a range of sizes, the nails themselves are specific to guns and supplied on strips. You can't simply load round-head nails you buy from the hardware store. If you buy aftermarket nails from a different supplier (you can often save money doing this), it's vital to make sure they're compatible with your gun. Some nailers only take their own brand of nail.

Nail guns we recommend

Best of the best: DeWALT 18-Volt Cordless Finish Nailer Kit 

Our take: Unrivaled DeWALT quality with consistent power that rivals pneumatics.

What we like: Has everything. Sequential or bump action at up to five nails a second, six depth settings, LED lights for dark corners, even safety glasses.

What we dislike: Not much. Heavier than air-powered nail guns.

Best bang for your buck: Freeman Framing/Finishing Combo Kit 

Our take: Four well-built tools for the price of one -- an unbeatable deal.

What we like: Framing, finishing, and brad nailers, plus a finish stapler, in a tough canvas bag. Perfect for upholstering a chair or building a cabin!

What we dislike: Compressor required. Five-year warranty doesn't offer full coverage.

Choice 3: WEN 18-Gauge Brad Nailer 

Our take: Basic but reliable tool at an almost unbelievably low price.

What we like: Low weight and rubber grip make for good comfort. Fires a good variety of brads at adjustable depths. Supplied in a durable case.

What we dislike: Very little. Even if you need to buy a compressor, it's still cheaper than many. Short warranty.

Bob Beacham is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.

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