Brad nails, sometimes called finish nails, are a versatile type of fastener used in woodworking and construction projects. If you’ve ever wondered what exactly a brad nail is and how it’s used, you’ve come to the right place.
If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: A brad nail is a thin, small nail with a small head, used for attaching trim, moulding, cabinetry and other finishes in woodworking and construction projects.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about brad nails including what they are, the different types and sizes, their uses, how to use a brad nailer, and much more.
What Is a Brad Nail?
Definition and Overview
A brad nail, also known as a finish nail, is a thin, small nail with a rounded head used in woodworking and construction projects. Brad nails are designed to attach two pieces of material together by driving the nail through the top piece and into the bottom piece.
Brad nails get their name from their flat, brads or nails that look similar to the end of a finishing nail gun. They are extremely useful for delicate DIY projects, crafts, trim work, molding, and attaching thin pieces of wood or other materials.
Their small size allows them to attach materials without splitting the wood, making them perfect for finish work.
Appearance and Size
Brad nails typically range in length from 5/8 inch to 2 inches. The shaft is smooth and the head is flat and rounded. They are very thin, with gauges ranging from 18 gauge to 23 gauge. The higher the gauge, the thinner the nail.
Common lengths and gauges:
- 5/8″ – 18 or 20 gauge
- 3/4″ – 18 or 20 gauge
- 1″ – 18 or 20 gauge
- 1 1/4″ – 18 gauge
- 1 1/2″ – 18 gauge
- 2″ – 18 gauge
The most common gauge for brad nails is 18, which provides holding strength while still being thin enough to prevent splitting in materials like wood trim or craft wood. The nails have a smooth, galvanized finish to prevent corrosion.
Features and Benefits
Here are some of the top features and benefits of using brad nails:
- Holding strength – The nails can securely hold two materials together, like attaching trim or molding to walls or framing.
- Prevent splitting – Their small size allows driving the nails into the edge or end of wood without splitting it.
- Precision – Brad nails can be precisely placed to attach materials exactly where needed.
- Fastening – They quickly and easily fasten materials together with fewer hammer strikes compared to larger nails.
- Countersinking – The heads can be countersunk below the wood surface and filled for an invisible look.
- Finishing – Ideal for finish work since they attach materials without damaging surfaces.
Brad nails are available in convenient sizes for use with pneumatic nail guns or can be hammered in by hand. DIYers, woodworkers, carpenters, and construction pros rely on these versatile little nails for all sorts of applications from building frames to attaching trim, panels, molding and more.
With the right size brad nails, many projects can be completed faster, easier and with better results.
Types of Brad Nails
By Head Style
There are several common head styles for brad nails:
- Flat heads – These have a flat top and are used for general nailing purposes where the head does not need to be countersunk. They provide good holding power.
- Oval heads – Similar to flat heads but with an oval shape. Provide slightly better holding strength.
- Round heads – Completely rounded top, allows for countersinking below the surface. Useful when a flush finish is needed.
- Sinker heads – Extra deep counterbore allows the head to be driven below the surface. Provides an extremely flush finish.
The most common choices are flat heads for general use and round or sinker heads when a flush finish is desired. The head style impacts the nail’s visibility and holding strength.
By Shaft Style
Brad nail shafts also come in a few varieties:
- Smooth shank – The basic shaft with no special features, suitable for most nailing tasks.
- Annular ring shank – Has rings circling the shaft which improves resistance to pull-out, especially in end-grain nailing.
- Spiral shank – Spiraled rings wrap around the shaft, providing maximum holding power and resistance to pull-out forces.
Smooth shanks work for general nailing, while ringed and spiral shanks provide extra holding power in demanding situations. The shaft style affects the nail’s grip.
Brad nail sizes are categorized by the penny designation and shaft length:
The larger the penny size, the longer the nail shaft. Brad nails range from 5d (5/8″) for light work, up to 16d (2″) for heavier applications. Using the right size for the material thickness provides proper holding strength.
Brad nail diameters are either 18 gauge or 23 gauge. 18 gauge nails have thicker shafts for holding strength, while 23 gauge nails are thinner. Always check the gauge to ensure you have the right fastener for the job.
Uses of Brad Nails
Wood Trim and Molding
Brad nails are perfect for installing wood trim and molding like baseboards, window casings, and door trim. Their small head allows nails to be countersunk below the wood surface, creating an inconspicuous fastener.
The nails are available in a range of sizes, from 5/8″ to 2″ to accommodate different trim thicknesses. Brad nailers allow rapid firing of nails for efficient trim installation. Trim carpenters appreciate using brad nails rather than nails and hammer for a professional looking finish.
Cabinet makers rely on brad nails during fabrication and installation of kitchen and bathroom cabinets. Gluing cabinet parts together creates a strong bond. Adding brad nails reinforces joints until the glue dries fully. Some common uses during cabinet construction include:
- Attaching cabinet sides to top and bottom panels
- Securing face frames and door/drawer fronts
- Fastening cabinet backs, bottoms, and subtops
Brad nails are ideal for cabinet work because they are less likely to split more delicate materials like plywood and solid wood compared to larger nails. Their small size allows precise nailing to reinforce cabinet joints.
Furniture and Crafts
Do-it-yourselfers and hobbyists building furniture, picture frames, bird houses, planter boxes, and other decorative woodcrafts can accomplish most nailing tasks with versatile brad nails. Their tiny heads prevent noticeable dimpling on finished surfaces.
Brad nails work well when assembling furniture projects using dimensional lumber, plywood, or medium density fiberboard (MDF). Crafters appreciate brad nailers for increasing efficiency compared to driving nails by hand. There’s less chance of smashing fingers with a nail gun!
For small crafts and delicate materials, 18 gauge brad nails menos than an inch long are ideal. Larger furniture may require longer 16 gauge brads.
Home improvement aficionados are discovering the usefulness of brad nailers for everyday DIY projects around the house. Small 18 gauge brads allow attaching trim, boards, or decorative elements to walls without excessive damage.
For example, 1″ nails can affix quarter round base molding in laundry rooms or arts and crafts projects to drywall. Homeowners can permanently mount decorative lattice around porches or under stairs without splitting the wood.
Brads are perfect for building simple shelving to store kids’ toys in playrooms or shoes in closets. Brad nails come in different lengths to accommodate material thickness for home projects.
How to Use a Brad Nailer
Choose the Right Nailer
When selecting a brad nailer, consider the size of nails you’ll be using and the types of projects you’ll work on. Smaller 5/8-inch to 2-inch nailers work well for attaching trim and molding. Larger nailers that handle 2-inch nails are ideal for furniture assembly and cabinetry.
Cordless battery-powered nailers provide maximum portability, while pneumatic nailers connect to an air compressor for extended high-volume nailing. Make sure to choose a nailer with adjustment controls to set nail depth and firing power.
Select a Nail Size
Brad nails are available in a range of shank diameters and lengths. Common sizes are 3/4-inch, 1-inch, 1-1/4-inch, 1-1/2-inch, and 2-inches. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for proper nail sizes. Using too large or too small of a nail for your nailer can lead to jamming.
As a general rule, opt for nails that are no longer than your nailer is designed for. Nails should be long enough to penetrate 1 inch into the substrate material. The shank diameter must match the nail collation inside your nailer.
Set the Depth
One of the benefits of using a brad nailer is that you can precisely set nail depth. Adjust the driving depth so nails are flush or slightly countersunk into the material without poking through the other side.
Test on scrap pieces first to find the right depth setting for the substrates you’re nailing together. Adjust the depth control dial or wheel accordingly. Setting the right depth helps prevent damage to surfaces and improves holding strength.
Position and Fire
With practice, you’ll get a feel for properly positioning the nailer on the workpiece. Angle the nailer perpendicular to the surface and hold it firmly in place. Pull the trigger to fire a nail. Move systematically across the work area, spacing nails appropriately for your project—generally every 4 to 12 inches.
Brad nails provide tremendous holding power when used properly. Follow all safety precautions and wear eye protection when operating a nail gun.
Brad Nail vs. Finish Nail
Brad nails and finish nails are two of the most common types of fasteners used in woodworking and construction projects. At a glance, they may appear quite similar – both are thin, headless nails with a small shaft.
However, there are some key differences that make each type of nail better suited for certain applications.
The most noticeable difference between brad nails and finish nails is their size. Brad nails have a smaller gauge, meaning a thicker shaft and wider diameter. Common gauges for brads are 18 gauge and 23 gauge. Finish nails are slightly thinner, with gauges ranging from 15 gauge to 18 gauge.
The smaller gauge of finish nails allows them to “disappear” into the wood, leaving very small holes that can be easily filled and hidden by wood putty or natural wood grains. Meanwhile, the thicker brad nails are easier to drive into dense woods like oak without bending or breaking the fastener.
In addition to difference in thickness, brad nails and finish nails tend to come in varying standard lengths:
- Brad nails: 5/8 inch to 2 inches
- Finish nails: 1 inch to 2 1/2 inches
The shorter length of brads makes them suitable for attaching thinner material like cabinet trim or craft wood. The longer finish nails provide more holding strength for securing wider boards on flooring, wall panels, and furniture frames.
One clear identifier between the two fasteners is that finish nails have a head, while brad nails do not. The head on a finish nail allows it to be driven fully into the wood so that only the nail head is left exposed.
The headless design of brad nails means the top sits flush with or slightly below the wood surface.
|Head or Headless
|Has a head
The lack of a visible head with brads makes for an ultra-clean look. So carpenters love using brad nails when attaching decorative molding, frames, and trimmings. Meanwhile, the head on a finish nail allows for easier extraction if a piece needs to be disassembled later.
Both brad nails and finish nails are most commonly driven into wood using pneumatic nail guns powered by compressed air. However, finish nails can also be hammered in by hand when working in tight spaces a nail gun can’t fit.
Trying to manually hammer brad nails often results in bending of the fastener due to their smaller shank diameter. So getting good power and precision from a brad nail requires using them in conjunction with a nail gun.
When selecting brad nails vs finish nails, it helps to consider the intended use:
- Brad nails – Best for attaching thin trim pieces, molding, cabinet frames, craft wood, and securing thinner softwoods.
- Finish nails – Ideal for flooring, furniture assembly, installing wall panels, attaching wider boards from framing lumber and hardwoods.
There can be some overlap in applications, but following general size and wood type guidelines will ensure you choose the best nail for the job.
Brad nails are an indispensable fastener for finishing carpentry and woodworking. Their small size allows precise nailing without splitting wood, making them perfect for attaching trim, moulding, cabinets, furniture, crafts and more.
While similar to finish nails, brad nails have some distinct qualities that make them well-suited for detailed work.
Now that you know what a brad nail is and how to use it, you’ll be ready to tackle your next woodworking or construction project with confidence. Whether you’re a pro or just starting out with DIY, these thin, tiny nails can help you achieve professional-looking results.