The Ultimate Nail Gun Guide for 2023

Welcome to our article about nail gun types and sizes! We go through the 13 most common types of nail guns a bit further down this article.

But first, let’s discuss what a nail gun actually is, and what role it plays in construction and carpentry.

Nail Gun Types – Introduction

Nail guns or nailers are essentially a modern, high tech version of a nail and hammer.

First developed in the 1950’s, their sole purpose is to drive nails into a medium, (usually wood) at an incredibly high speed.

Generally the nails or fasteners that a nail gun fires are connected in a line by paper, thin wire or plastic.

As they are fed through the gun, a mechanism (either manual or powered – we’ll get to this a bit further down in the article!) accelerates the nail and forces it forward into the wood.

Nail guns are most commonly used on construction sites or by carpenters who are working on large projects.

This is due to the sheer number of nails that need to be used when constructing something large like a house, and the time it would take for each of these nails to be manually hammered in one by one.

By using a nail gun, a construction worker can insert thousands of nails in a fraction of the time that it would take using a hammer, not only saving time but also money and effort.

However, not all nail guns are made equal. Each different part of a building, such as roofs, floors, frames, crown molds etc, have slightly different requirements to ensure they’re installed properly, safely and securely.

That’s why there are so many different types of nail guns available – to accommodate for the specific needs of each different part of construction.

But what if you just need a general nail gun for a home project? Or want to invest in one to add to your tool collection but don’t know where to start?

Then you’ve come to the right place!

In this article, we are going to go through the different types of nail guns available and the special features and benefits of each, so you can gain a better understanding of what’s available and learn which one might be right for you.

nail gun types

Nail Gun Sizes

As mentioned above, nail guns use a long line of nails (also known as fasteners) that are driven into wood by a high force generated by the gun.

But each different project requires a different size (or gauge) of nail.

For example, the delicate work of crown molding requires small, thin nails to avoid splitting the wood.

By comparison, house or building frames requires larger, more robust nails to keep the structure secure.

The smallest size of fasteners available is 23 gauge which is 0.025 inches in diameter and called a “pin nailer” because it has no head.

These are used for beadings, mouldings in furniture and also in crown moldings and casing.

The next size available is 18 gauge which is 1.022 mm in diameter and is generally called the “brad nail.”

These are also utilized in fastening and also trimming hardwoods.

These can be found with or without a head.

The presence or absence of head depends entirely on the manufacturer – the effectiveness of the nail is not compromised in either types.

The next category is 16 and 15 gauge which is 1.63 and 1.83 mm in diameter respectively. Both of these are called “finish nails.”

As the name suggests, these are used in general fixing or MDF trim works or providing a finishing to the wood.

The largest size of conventional fastener is the clip head and full head nail which is utilized in framing, fencing and other exterior works.

These have a diameter of about 2.9-3.1 mm.

The size of diameter, again, depends on the manufacturer, and sometimes a smaller diameter is manufactured.

Different types of angles including 20 to 21 degree for full head or 28 to 34 degree for clipped head are also available, and are used depending on the application.

Now that you’re more familiar with the different size fasteners available, let’s dive into the different nail gun types available!

Nail Gun Types

There are two different ways to split up nail guns – either by their purpose or their firing mechanism.

A lot of nail guns are built for a specific purpose, such as flooring, framing, roofing etc. However within these categories, you can also have different firing mechanisms such as electric, pneumatic, manual etc.

Thus it’s possible to have an electric flooring nail gun, just as it is a pneumatic flooring nail gun.

So, to make it simple, we’ve decided to split this article into two different categories:

  1. Nail Gun Functions

Where we discuss the specific functions that different kinds of nail guns serve, regardless of how they’re operated.

  1. Nail Gun Mechanisms

Where we discuss the pros and cons of different kinds of operating mechanisms, regardless of the specific function the nail gun may serve.

This way, we can explain all the different kinds of nail guns and their applications without it getting confusing (we hope!)

Nail Gun Functions

As mentioned, there are a number of different nail gun types that are available to fulfil specific jobs within construction.

Let’s take a closer look at the purpose of each of the following 9 nail gun types.

Framing Nailer

A framing nailer, also known as a framing gun, is used to nail the wooden frames of houses and buildings together.

It is a highly productive tool that allows the frames to be nailed together much faster than a hammer would.

There are two types of framing nailers – the round head and clipped head.

Clipped heads are used for larger projects because they can hold a higher number of nails, while the round head can hold less nails but is lighter and easier to use, making it good for smaller projects.

framing nail gun type
Best Framing Nailer Reviews

There are two techniques that can be used with a framing nailer – one is through nailing while the other is toe-nailing.

Through nailing is when the nail square and wooden surface are perpendicular to each other – this is the most common scenario.

However, there are times when the nailer and wood are not perpendicular to each other, and need to be angled in order to drive a nail in.

This is where toe-nailing comes in – it’s the processes of driving a nail into the frame at a non perpendicular angle.

A framing nailer can work up to 3-1/2” and is used for:

  1. Decks
  2. Rooms
  3. Wood sheathing
  4. Fencing
  5. Wood siding

Flooring Nailer

flooring nail gun

A flooring nailer, as the name suggests, is used to nail floor boards or any other flat surface together.

Flooring nail guns have a very specific structure that is quite unlike any other nail gun. They are designed specifically to nail wood that is horizontal.

Flooring nailers come in two different types, manual and pneumatic.

A manual floor nailer requires the manual strength of the user to insert a nail into the floorboard.

A pneumatic floor nailer provides it’s own force to the nail that accelerates the nail into the floorboards without much work from the user.

Generally, pneumatic floor nailers are ideal for thick floorboards and woods like Brazilian Cherry.

Other types of nail guns can be used for different purposes, however generally speaking, a flooring nail gun can only be used for floor boards and nothing else due to the way it is designed.

Palm Nailer

palm nail gun

This nail gun is extremely useful and can fit into the palm of your hand. It is basically a general nail gun in miniature form.

This nailer is specifically designed for use in tight or hard to reach places.

It works so well because most other nail guns are heavy and cumbersome, but this one can easily be moved around and manoeuvred with very minimal effort.

The Palm Nailer comes in three varieties – pneumatic, electric and cordless.

The cordless version runs on a battery and is more convenient than the other forms because it is the most portable.

This nail gun is typically capable of driving nails between 1.5” to 3.5” long, but heavy duty palm nailers are also available on the market.

Roofing Nailer

roofing nail gun

Similar to the specific purpose of a flooring nailer, a roofing nailer is designed specifically for roofs.

A roofing nailer comes in three different types:

  1. Spring roofing nailer which uses a spring to accelerate the nails into the roof
  2. Pneumatic roofing nailer which uses an air compressor system and is the most popular choice among woodworkers.
  3. Solenoid roofing nailer which uses the force from electromagnetic polarization.

Roofing nail guns are generally designed to shoot short nails that are around 1 inch long.

Siding Nailer

siding nail gun

As the name suggests, a siding nailer is used to install sidings.

If you want to join thin pieces of wood into a big wooden mount then this nailer is the right choice for you.

Just like a framing nailer, a siding nailer is mainly used for joining larger pieces of wood.

These usually use shorter nails between 1-1/4” to 2-1/2” with wider heads.

Some types of siding nail guns are suitable for work on aluminium siding as well as wood.

Pin Nailer

pin nail gun

Just like Palm nailers, Pin nailers are also small in size and are used for finishing projects in woodworking.

These nailers are compatible with 23 gauge headless nails that look like pins. Hence, the name pin nailer.

A pin nailer is perfect for delicate woodworking projects such as:

  1. Crown molding
  2. Finishing work
  3. Cabinetry
  4. Thin veneers
  5. Small furniture trims

A pin nailer is appropriate in these cases because they use smaller nails that are much less likely to split the wood, as opposed to more robust, forceful nail guns.

Brad Nailer

brad nail gun

Brad nailers are very similar to pin nailers, and are also used in delicate wood finishing jobs.

Choosing between a pin nailer and a brad nailer can be tricky.

The difference is that a pin nailer is only compatible with 23 gauge but a brad nailer is compatible with larger nails, up to 18” gauge.

An 18 gauge needle is also pretty small compared to the other nails, but it is relatively large when compared to a pin nailer.

In addition, a brad nailer provides more holding power.

Brad nailers can be used for:

  1. Baseboard
  2. Crown molding
  3. Trim work

If you need something a little more robust than a pin nailer but you’re still working on a delicate project, we recommend going for a brad nailer.

Finish Nailer

finishing nailer

Just like Pin and Brad nailers, Finish nailers are also used for finishing projects such as crown moldings, panelling and baseboards.

Pin and brad nailers are small in size and can only handle small projects, whilst a finish nailer is one step up in power and strength from a brad nailer and can handle bulkier projects.

Finish nailers are compatible with 15-16 gauge nails which are slightly larger than brad nailers.

Staple Guns

staple gun

Last in the category, a staple gun is different from the nailers we have so far discussed as it shoots staples, not nails.

This is a highly versatile tool and can be used for:

  1. Upholstery (eg attaching fabrics to sofas or chairs)
  2. Carpentry
  3. Construction
  4. Carpeting

As staples are less sturdy than nails, a staple gun is most often used with textiles instead of wood.

Now that you know about the 9 basic types of nail guns, let’s get into the second category:

Nail Gun Mechanisms

Ok! Now that we’ve gone through the variety of functions that different nail guns serve, let’s take a closer look at how these nail guns actually operate.


Cordless Nail Gun

cordless nail gun

A cordless nailer is battery powered and is suitable for a wide range of general applications, making them great to have at home to use on any DIY job.

Cordless nail guns are available in framing, flooring and roofing styles.

Cordless nail guns are one of the most popular because of the ease of portability – you can carry them wherever they’re required without needing to find a socket to plug them into.

Their battery also typically lasts a long time, so you don’t have to worry about constantly recharging them.

Similar to electric nail guns (which we’ll get to a bit further down this article), cordless nail guns are light weight, affordable and perfect for beginners or hobbyist woodworkers.

Pneumatic Nail Gun

pneumatic nail gun

Pneumatic nail guns (also known as air nail guns) fire nails through an internal air compressor mechanism that draws air into a piston cylinder and then releases the pressure behind the nail to accelerate it.

If you are working on a heavy duty job where thick nails are required, a pneumatic nail gun is a great tool to have.

Quite often, pneumatic nail guns are lighter to carry than cordless ones, and are typically more affordable.

However, they require an air hose to operate which can limit their portability around the work site.

These nailers can fire up to 60 nails per minute, making them great for large projects.

Electric Nail Gun

electric nail gun

Electric nail guns work similarly to cordless nail guns with the exception that they need to be plugged in to work, instead of running off battery power.

Unlike pneumatic nail guns, these don’t require an additional air compressor which makes them light weight, and they don’t make as much noise when the nails are fired.

The only limitation is the cord, which means they can only be used close to a power socket and are not easy to carry around a work site.

Apart from that, this nail gun type is simple, easy to use, and affordable, making it perfect for beginners and general woodworking projects.

Coil Nail Gun

Coil nailers have a compartment where you can load coils of up to 300 nails (depending on the gauge), which is substantially more than the other nail guns listed above, which typically hold up to 60 nails only.

This makes coil nailers great for high volume projects such as roofing or flooring, where you don’t want to have to stop and reload your nail gun every few minutes.

Nail Gun Types – Conclusion

As you can see, there are a lot of different types of nail guns out there on the market, all with their own features, application and benefits.

We hope that this article has helped clear up any confusion you may have had about which nail gun is right for your project.

Here are some related articles you may also find interesting:

Best Nail Gun for Crown Molding
Carpentry Tools and Their Uses
What is Millwork?