I am not planning to use it with any regularity, just when maintenance projects come up. 15 residences are maintained: ranging from 20-50 years in age.

My next project will involve nailing in shoe molding. Current context includes an existing eco-system of Ryobi battery driven drills / weed whackers etc. A portable air tank is also in the tool crib.


  • Is a "brad" finish nailer (vs. finishing nailer) the better choice for shoe molding?

  • Is the first feature-decision will need to be made between electric vs. pneumatic air gun?

  • What other features are important to evaluate and what is the order of such a list?

  • What is the thought process to correctly choose finishing nail gun features?

I am not seeking specific make / model recommendations, as this would have the question run afoul of rules and result in deleting the question.

  • 2
    I'm confused as to how after reading finepowertools.com/nailers/brad-vs-finish-nailer you decided to still ask this question. Read this quote a few times and let me know what's you're confusion "A finish nailer serves a very similar role to a brad nailer. Much like a brad nailer, you won’t be using a finish nailer for the majority of a job or a project. Instead, you bring it out for very specific situations." As it stands this is just a polling question. Per "My next project will involve nailing in shoe molding.", you need a brad nailer.
    – MonkeyZeus
    May 5, 2021 at 13:04
  • 1
    You maintain 15 residences and haven't bought either tool yet??? Buy both already. I would opt for battery-powered since they allow you to forgo a dedicated compressor/hose. Battery-powered ones are larger since they have a built-in compressor and air tank so super tight corners could prove challenging.
    – MonkeyZeus
    May 5, 2021 at 13:08
  • 1
    I have a battery powered framing nailer, @MonkeyZeus, and I'm 99.9999% sure that there's no compressor to tank built into it. It uses an electric motor to drive the nails. I'm pretty sure most cordless finish/brad/detail/etc nailers are the same. Do you have an example of one that has its own electric powered compressor? Seems very heavy...
    – FreeMan
    May 5, 2021 at 13:35
  • @FreeMan "AirStrike" would be one hell of an overlooked misnomer; homedepot.com/p/…
    – MonkeyZeus
    May 5, 2021 at 14:00
  • 2
    One big question is whether the noise of the compressor bothers you. You can go faster with an air nailer. I've also seen small air canisters that you can put on your belt that you fill from a compressor which gives you freedom of movement and you can put the compressor in a different area.
    – JimmyJames
    May 6, 2021 at 17:08

4 Answers 4


I know Brad

Also you need to get to know brad really well since that is the exact type of nail to use for shoe molding.

What is the difference between a Finishing nail and a Brad nail

Well the nails are different gauges with the brad nail being thinner. And also brad nails usually have smaller heads. But really the best way to describe a brad nail vs a finishing nail is a brad nail is not made to be hammered into anything by a human - maybe Zeus on a good day. Brad nails must shot into the material on one go as they will deform with any sort of non-straight pressure. We have messed around on sites to see who can get a brad nail the furthest into a piece of scrap wood... if you made it half way without bending you win!

A finishing nail therefore is something that can be hammered. Finishing nails can be shot from a gun but it will require a bigger gun and quite frankly you don't do this much as the point of using a brad nail is to create less of a hole that has to be touched up. Using a finishing nail often defeats the purpose (there are times when it may be required but quite few). Also finishing nails for the most part are round, while brad nails are usually a rounded rectangle.

Can I hammer in my finishing nail?

If you don't know the answer then the answer is no. Hammering in finishing nails and using a punch - shown below - is a skill. First you have to get the finishing nail hammered in the right direction, precisely. Then once you get close to even with the wood you have to use a punch to embed it.

On a carpentry skill range this is a solid 8 out of 10 in difficulty and unless you feel you are already a pretty skilled carpenter this is not a skill you should practice developing.
enter image description here

Shoe molding?

Installing shoe molding now... well that is a 10 out of 10 on the difficulty range hammering finishing nails. Even using a nail gun with finishing nails is extreme for shoe molding and you will inevitably split the molding.

I usually set shoe molding with a bead of caulk, give it some time and finish with 1.5" brad nails.

What do you need to buy?

Given that space is not an issue every homeowner that is going to venture into their own repairs is best to buy a nail/stapler combo kit and a compressor. There are just so many uses that it pays for itself quickly and saves you loads of time.

Here is an example... not a recommendation at all. The basics that any home owner needs is a framing nailer, a brad nailer and a stapler. As long as your kit includes those that is a good start. Some kits may include more than one size stapler, some may include air attachments, and some may include two sizes of brad nailers.

enter image description here

This kit was $230. You can get other kits like this with more or less things in the $180-300 range. You get a 5+ gallon compressor for ~$100 and you are good to go. You can go electric but these have more problems and are way more costly individually. Also the compressor has a TON of uses around the house from blowing up tires to painting to floor jacks.

Framing nailer = framing walls, building big things

Brad nailer = trim/molding

Stapler = repairing furniture, securing thin wood panels, crafts

Isherwood's answer does a good job adding the benefits to the air compressor and pneumatic nailers. I would add though that the biggest benefit is that you will be able to adjust your pressure better with these. For example for your shoe molding, your pressure needs to be just right. Too much and you have a divot. Too little and you have 1/4" sticking out and those things are hard to punch in.

  • 5
    The term "brad" predates the existence of pneumatic nailers by decades, if not centuries. I reject your definition as an arbitrarily assigned alias for "small" finish nails. I'm not downvoting, but much of this answer is bald assertion and wrong.
    – isherwood
    May 5, 2021 at 17:51
  • 2
    While I have borrowed my FIL's framing nailer multiple times over the years, and it has saved considerable time, I could have completed every one of my projects without it. I didn't own a finish nailer until last summer, and my stapler requires hand strength, not air power. I really don't think any of these items are necessary for a home owner. I agree that they do make life easier if you're doing a lot of work, but they're not necessary.
    – FreeMan
    May 5, 2021 at 17:53
  • 1
    As a counter point, having them does seem to create need for them... Of course, these days, that $200 could buy about 10 2x4, so it may be better to put the money into lumber and use the old-fangled hammer...
    – FreeMan
    May 5, 2021 at 17:55
  • @isherwood - I completely understand that. And your logic and answer would have been right on 25 years ago. However the term "brad" has moved to be used differently now and it is a distinction on not only the gauge and head but how it should be used. Can you find readily available nails that call themselves "brad nails" that can actually be hammered in?
    – DMoore
    May 5, 2021 at 18:22
  • 3
    +1 The other popular nailer that isn't in this list is a 23ga pin nailer for fine trim and finish work with thin material.
    – J...
    May 6, 2021 at 16:38

I don't know Brad

There are no "brad nailers" in my lexicon as a former pro and perpetual home improver*. There are only finish/trim nailers that accept either 18ga. or 16ga. nails. Which you need depends on the job.

  • Most 18ga. guns only shoot up to 2" nails. Some only do 1-1/2". That's inadequate for things like heavy base trim and door jambs, let alone almost anything outdoors.
  • 16 ga. guns are larger and heavier and leave a larger hole. They can also split delicate moldings more easily. They're more versatile, though, since they offer more holding power. Keep in mind that the surface area of a 16ga. nail is dramatically greater than that of an 18ga. nail. That means a lot more grab. It's not just about length.

To Hose or Not To Hose

The benefits of pneumatic air nailers:

  • Relatively inexpensive to purchase and operate (assuming you already own a compressor)
  • Endless fuel supply
  • Dependable power
  • Speed (compared to gas-powered nailers--I've never used electrics)
  • Lighter weight for easier operation and less fatigue

The benefits of cordless (gas or electric) nailers:

  • More portable
  • Quicker jobsite setup

Features? We don't need no stinking features.

In air nailers I look for ease of use and longevity. Simpler is better, as they tend to get banged around and weight is a concern. Good ergonomics are also important. There are many types of safety triggers, so find one you can live with. A well-designed nose is also helpful in positioning shots precisely. A big looped wire plunger can make that challenging. A poorly-designed nose can scar your woodwork.

OK, I guess those are features.

  • Light weight
  • Good ergonomics
  • A precise nose with a soft plunger
  • Simple design

Getting there from here

I might ask myself these questions when shopping:

  1. What jobs will I be required to complete on a regular basis with my nailer?
  2. What jobs would be nice to do with my nailer?
  3. What are my portability and ergonomic requirements or preferences?
  4. What's my budget?

It's a fairly subjective thing. There's no one recipe for success. Buy or rent, try, trade if necessary. Good luck.

* The term is just too nebulous to be useful for describing pneumatic nails. In fact, I think of brads as short, fat nails for making shoes and other olde fashioned crafts, closer to the diameter of a 16ga. nail. The term is centuries old and has been casually and inconsistently applied to modern nails.

  • Well either terminology is different in your area or you need to get to know brad. A standard finishing nail will split most shoe molding. The other points you made were good though.
    – DMoore
    May 5, 2021 at 17:18
  • 1
    I don't know what "standard" means here (as nebulous a term as "brad"), but plenty of shoe has been installed with 16ga. nails. Even oak, which is what I've mostly installed over the years. I'd prefer an 18ga. nail in shoe, but it won't explode in most cases with 16ga.
    – isherwood
    May 5, 2021 at 17:44
  • If you are shoot 16ga finishing nails out of a gun you are for sure splitting your shoe molding. Maybe not as bad using oak - which is not really used around me much. But pine/fir varieties... you are making firewood.
    – DMoore
    May 5, 2021 at 18:20
  • No. I've done thousands of feet of both. Only very short pieces might split, and that's true of any pneumatic nailer. Oak actually splits easier than softwood. Heck, I've installed hickory with 16ga. guns. That stuff's like stone.
    – isherwood
    May 5, 2021 at 18:25
  • 1
    "A big looped wire plunger can make that challenging." - I've got a cheap 18ga nailer with a wire-loop plunger, and the plunger leaves divots in everything it touches. May 6, 2021 at 0:23

"I am not planning to use it with any regularity"

So, small hammer, nailset, perhaps a pair of nail-holding pliers. Perhaps a toolbelt to hold those and a supply of finish nails.

If you don't have production-level needs, you don't need the hassles and complexity and more things to go wrong of production-level tools. Complex mechanisms you don't use regularly have a tendency to not work sometimes when you pull them out to use them.

Simple ones are less prone to this problem (as well as generally costing less and taking less storage space.)

Naturally you won't see this on TV shows that are filled with tools that advertisers want to sell. That does not mean it is not viable, just that you won't be exposed to it on the media that wants to sell you overcomplicated methods of doing things that make no sense at the scale you are actually doing them.

  • 1
    FWIW, I'm just a homeowner and buying a cordless brad nailer was the best decision I made for installing trim, molding, and casing. It completely eliminates the need for 2 people (one to hold and one to hammer), over-zealous hammer strikes, bent nails, and large holes that need to be puttied. As a DIY-er it is utterly exasperating to cut trim perfectly only to ruin it with a bad hammer strike; it just makes you regret ever taking on the project. It's trivial to have classic supplies on hand for when the tool fails but even then I would rather re-buy the tool than risk the aforementioned points
    – MonkeyZeus
    May 5, 2021 at 15:41
  • I've hand-nailed my share of trim, and it really makes the job more challenging. Pounding nails moves the wood much more. This means that drywall compresses, miters get knocked out of place, and things tilt in unexpected ways. Pneumatic nailers simplify things by avoiding much of that and are well worth having. If I must hand-nail trim I usually pre-drill the workpiece and I always use thinner hardened nails.
    – isherwood
    May 5, 2021 at 18:02
  • 1
    This is only a good answer if a bunch of first time DIYers record themselves on video and post to youtube their first rounds of nailing in shoe molding the old-school way. Lots of bleeps going to be needed. I haven't seen someone (carpenters) hammer in finishing nails (maybe door jambs) in 15-20 years. If I asked one of the kids that do work for me to hammer in the trim vs using a nailer... I am not even sure what he would do. We always have a box of traditional finishing nails with us (the small box lasts a year or two) but no idea if he would think to use them or try to hammer brads
    – DMoore
    May 5, 2021 at 18:38

I have an air compressor (oil-less 2 gal basic unit). I use it occasionally (mostly for filling bike tires) but I also have had experience with weekend warrior nail guns.

I used to use a "basic" air nailer. It was an 18 gauge and I was never impressed with it. The main problem there was it didn't support long nails (I want to say it did like 1.5" maximum). I also wasn't oiling it regularly so I think I burned it up. Cheap tool, though.

I currently use a Hitachi 16 gauge and it's excellent for what I have had to use it for. This includes projects like

  • Building some cheap end tables for our patio
  • Attaching boards to frames for furniture and other projects (nail gun + wood glue = win)
  • Attaching baseboard
  • Attaching shoe (I recently laid vinyl plank flooring and trimmed it out)
  • Installing crown molding

16 gauge is a heartier nail overall, but the biggest advantage it gave me is it supports up to 2.5" nails. Even for shoe, sometimes you need a longer nail.

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