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If you just need to pound in a couple of nails, a hammer is the quickest and easiest way to get the job done. But when you face a multitude of nails–maybe you’re erecting a fence, reroofing your home, or building a deck–you’ll find that a nail gun gets the job done a lot faster and is less tiring to your hands, arms, and shoulders.
While there are a lot of nail guns out there, and several different types, the most popular choice for DIYers is a brad nailer, which handles the majority of projects around the home. You'll find nail guns powered by air compressors that are generally very powerful, as well as corded and cordless electric nail guns. Most DIYers prefer cordless electric nail guns, but the right choice for you depends on the size and type of project you'll be tackling. Thomas Hawkins, handyman, master electrician, and owner of Electrician Apprentice HQ, expands further, advising, “The corded versus cordless debate depends upon the project. If working in a tight area where you don't need a lot of
power but need versatility, go cordless. But if you're not restricted in your movements and especially need extra power, go corded. It all boils down to what you're trying to accomplish.”
We did the research for you and rounded up the top options in the categories likeliest to be of interest to DIYers, as well as those working in carpentry or construction.
Here are the best nail guns on the market now.
Best Overall: DEWALT 18-Gauge Brad Nailer Kit DWFP12231
Power Source: Air compressor | Type: Brad | Nail Capacity: 100 | Depth Adjustment: Yes | Firing Mechanism: Sequential
Includes carrying case
Easy to adjust depth
Few complaints about jams
A good nail gun should be easy to use, long lasting, and drive a nail quickly and cleanly without any issues. To do this, the nail gun needs to have a tough build and options you can customize while working. The DEWALT DWFP12231 checks all these boxes, making it our top pick. The sturdy construction means this tool is going to last, while the rubber grip helps absorb shock and keep your hands comfortable, even during a long work session. This is a reasonably lightweight nail gun with a sequential-style trigger and rear exhaust vent that keeps dust and small particles away from you.
This brad nailer runs off of a separate air compressor/hose and uses 18-gauge nails ranging from 5/8 to 2 inches in length. It has a 100-nail working capacity and a lot of options to customize how you use the tool. You can control the nail depth with a simple tool-free adjustment. When you aren’t using it, keep the tool hanging on your side with the included adjustable belt hook.
Best Battery-Powered: PORTER-CABLE Cordless Brad Nailer PCC790LA
Power Source: Battery | Type: Brad | Nail Capacity: 100 | Depth Adjustment: Yes | Firing Mechanism: Sequential
Two built-in LED lights
Easy to adjust depth
No carrying case
If you need freedom of movement while you work, the PORTER-CABLE PCC790LA cuts the cord, running instead on a 20-volt lithium-ion battery. Typically, battery powered nail guns don’t offer as much punch as ones using an air compressor and hose, but for projects that use softer materials or shallower depths, a battery operated nail gun is the way to go. Simply charge the battery, stick it into the nail gun and you are ready to tackle most of the typical DIY projects around your house or yard.
This nail gun is designed for portability. In addition to the cordless design, the weight of the tool is centered near the handle, which can help reduce hand fatigue during long projects. All of the common adjustments and releases like the depth adjustment and jam lever are tool free. The 100-nail magazine uses 18-gauge nails. It includes a belt hook so you can carry it with you while you work.
Best Budget: WEN 61721 Pneumatic Brad Nailer
Power Source: Air compressor | Type: Brad | Nail Capacity: 106 | Depth Adjustment: Yes | Firing Mechanism: Sequential
Weighs less than 3 pounds
Easy to use
No carrying case
Many budget nail guns skimp on the quality, but the WEN 61721 Pneumatic Brad Nailer tackles most common DIY tasks with ease. Designed to fire 18-gauge brads 3/8-inch to 2 inches in length, this nail gun is a good starter or secondary gun if you are looking to expand your tool collection. The gun works with any air compressor and can operate anywhere from 60 to 115 psi, ensuring you have enough power to drive a nail down into tough materials.
For additional comfort, the gun includes a rubber grip built right into the handle. The rubber absorbs the shock that courses up the nail gun with each shot, which can make using it a more comfortable experience.
Best Two-in-One: NuMax S2-118G2 Pneumatic 2-in-1 Brad Nailer
Power Source: Air compressor | Type: Brads or staples | Nail Capacity: 100 | Depth Adjustment: Yes | Firing Mechanism: Sequential
Can be used for both brads and staples
Only weighs 3 pounds
Very reasonable price
No carrying case
The NuMax S2-118G2 2-in-1 Brad Nailer is proof that some budget options don’t skip out on features usually found only on far more expensive tools. One common feature many expensive nail guns offer is the ability to use multiple types of nails and brads. For a fraction of the cost, this gun gives you similar flexibility. Using either common 2-inch 18-gauge or 1-5/8-inch narrow staples, this a great choice for DIY projects such as installing chair rails, crown molding, decorative trim, baseboards, or window casings.
Another professional feature this gun includes is a no-mar tip. When working on delicate surfaces, this tip prevents the gun from digging in and doing major damage; that's a major plus when nailing into fragile materials such as decorative trims, baseboards, and various types of molding.
Best for Lightweight Use: Stanley TRE550Z Electric Stapler and Brad Nailer
Power Source: Corded electric | Type: Brads or staples | Nail Capacity: Not stated | Depth Adjustment: Yes | Firing Mechanism: Sequential
Shoots either brads or staples
No carrying case
Here's an electric nail gun that has a cord, meaning the power remains steady and you won't have to worry about the battery running down before you finish your job. But its versatility doesn't stop there: Stanley’s TRE550Z can shoot either heavy-duty staples or small brads, making it an excellent choice for jobs such as tacking down carpet or ceiling tiles, installing molding, or doing furniture repairs. You can choose what type and length of fastener to use depending on the requirements of your particular project.
The gun is powered by an 8-foot cord. This nailer also has a dual power-setting lever, so you can switch between high and low to use with either hard or soft materials, and a blunt-nose design that easily reaches into even tight spaces.
Best Framing Nailer: BOSTITCH F21PL Pneumatic Framing Nailer
Power Source: Air compressor | Type: Framing | Nail Capacity: 60 | Depth Adjustment: Yes | Firing Mechanism: Sequential or bump
Suited to heavy-duty use
Shoots wood or metal connectors
Easy to adjust depth
No carrying case
A top-notch, professional-level framing nailer will give you more options and flexibility while standing up to the typical abuse larger projects can offer. The BOSTITCH F21PL Pneumatic Framing Nail Gun shoots 1-1/2-inch to 3-1/2-inch framing nails through just about any type of wood and even most metals, thanks to its two quick-change nosepieces for wood or metal connectors. A push-button depth guide makes setting the desired depth easy as you move around.
Connected to the air compressor of your choice, the gun has a working range of 80 to 120 psi. At max, the gun can deliver up to 1,050-inch-pounds of force using a 60-nail magazine. That might be more power than you need for smaller DIY projects, but it's just what's needed for major projects like framing a home addition or building a large deck.
Best Kit: Freeman P4FRFNCB Pneumatic Nail Gun Combo Kit
Power Source: Air compressor | Type: Framing, brad, finishing, stapler | Nail Capacity: Not stated | Depth Adjustment: Yes | Firing Mechanism: Sequential or bump
Four separate nail guns
Includes carrying bag
Easy to adjust depth
No one said you have to stick with just one nail gun to get the job done. Sometimes, it’s better to have various options at your side, particularly on major jobs such as carpentry or framing. Instead of buying two or three separate nail guns, the Freeman P4FRFNCB Pneumatic Air Gun Combo Kit includes four different guns all designed with the same build quality and functionality. Each gun is designed with a different purpose in mind: full head framing for home construction, angle finishing for tight corner construction, a crown stapler for delicate tasks, and a general nail gun for other types of projects.
The set includes a handy canvas bag to keep all of the nailers together and easy to grab when needed, and you'll likely be reaching for it frequently. The general-purpose and angler guns are useful for cabinetry, crown moldings, and baseboards. The crown stapler is a common tool for decorative projects like picture frames, trim, fabrics and other arts and crafts projects.
Best Compressor Combo Kit: BOSTITCH BTFP3KIT 3-Tool Compressor/Combo Kit
Power Source: Air compressor | Type: Brad, finishing, stapler | Nail Capacity: 100 | Depth Adjustment: Yes | Firing Mechanism: Sequential
Includes air compressor
Three different types of nail guns
Few complaints of compressor leaks
While most pneumatic nail guns will work with any air compressor, it can be easier on the wallet if everything comes together in one package. A combo kit like the BOSTITCH BTFP3KIT includes everything you need to get going with your fastening project. You will get three nail guns—an 18-gauge brad nailer, 16-gauge finish nailer, and 3/8-inch crown stapler—along with an air compressor and tank. That means you'll be set to tackle all manner of DIY projects, including light carpentry, installation of molding, furniture repair, and many other fastening tasks.
The air supply starts with a 150-max-psi 6-gallon tank. The air compressor pumps at a constant 90 psi. That means you should have enough power to drive nails and staples into most hard surfaces. Dial back the air pressure on the pump for less force when working with softer materials.
It’s tough and durable, lightweight, and pounds in nail after nail after nail without breaking a sweat—or making you sweat while tackling most DIY projects around the house or yard. That’s why the DEWALT DWFP12231 nail gun (view at Amazon) is our top choice. But if you need the sort of power, ease of use, and useful features only a professional tool can provide, turn instead to the BOSTITCH F21PL nail gun (view at Amazon).
What to Look for in a Nail Gun
There are several types of nail guns, mostly differentiated by the size of nail they shoot.
Framing nail guns are the big boys of the group. These tools shoot framing nails—often called 16 penny nails—which are typically 3-1/2 inches in length and used for the toughest fastening jobs. This is the nail gun you want if you are adding a room onto your home, framing a deck or structure, or building a large fence.
Finish nailers are useful for a variety of carpentry tasks, including the installation of baseboards or crown molding.These guns shoot 15-gauge or 16-gauge finish nails up to 2-1/2 inches in length.
Brad nailers are the nail gun most commonly used by DIYers. Most shoot 18-gauge brad nails up to 2 inches in length, but some handle 20-gauge brads as well. These are very versatile tools with a wide range of applications, including furniture building, light construction, and repair tasks around the home or yard.
Pin nailers are used mostly for finishing furniture. These tools shoot small 23-gauge pin nails up to 2 inches in length.
Roofing nailers are specialty nail guns used to nail down shingles, while flooring nails guns shoot nails used to hold wood flooring in place.
There are two basic types of nail guns: those powered by air and those powered by electricity.
Pneumatic or air-powered nail guns are the most powerful option. But you’ll be tethered to an air compressor while using the tool, meaning the length of the air hose determines your freedom of movement. Still, when it comes to driving the largest nails, these are the best option.
Electric nail guns can be corded or cordless. Today, the majority of DIYers choose a cordless tool, which has enough power to handle the small-to-midsize nails used in most common DIY projects. As with any cordless tool, however, you’ll need to be aware of your battery life to avoid running out of power halfway through the job. A corded nail gun eliminates the problem, but you’ll be tethered to the nearest electrical outlet.
Nail guns have two basic types of firing mechanism: contact or sequential.
Contact, or bump contact firing means that as long as you have the nailer’s trigger depressed and touch the nose of the tool to the surface you’re working on, it will shoot a nail. That lets you move quickly from spot to spot without having to press and release the trigger over and over again. You gain speed with this type of nail gun, but lose a bit of safety.
Sequential firing requires you to pull and release the trigger between every nail. This slows you down slightly, but is also a safer method, as the potential for accidentally firing a nail is greatly reduced.
Do all nail guns need an air compressor?
While the most powerful air guns are powered by air, and so require an air compressor to operate, there are many electric nail guns that work very well on all but the largest nails driving into the hardest materials. While you’ll find some corded nail guns, the majority of DIYers choose cordless air guns that run off rechargeable batteries and have enough power to drive most of the small-to-midsize nails used in typical projects around the house and garden.
How do battery-powered nail guns work?
Battery-powered nail guns are very effective tools, but actually quite simple in their workings. Basically, inside the tool there’s a rotating motor that serves to tightly compress a spring. When you pull the nail gun’s trigger, the spring abruptly releases, and that energy drives the nail out of the gun and into whatever material you are holding the gun against. You won’t get as much power from these tools as you would from a pneumatic nail gun, but battery-powered nail guns are still very useful for most basic DIY projects.
Are nail guns safe?
While nail guns are reasonably safe when used properly, they are responsible for tens of thousands of injuries each year, most to the hands and fingers. Avoid becoming a statistic by following these safety guidelines:
- Familiarize yourself with the proper use of the nail gun before using it. You should know how to load the tool, what safety features it possesses, and how to use it to drive nails correctly.
- Wear appropriate protective gear, including safety goggles, work gloves, and closed shoes. The most powerful nail guns are very loud, so you’ll also need ear muffs if working with a pneumatic or large battery-powered gun.
- Always turn the nail gun off and remove the battery before loading it with nails or working to remove a stuck nail.
- Turn the gun off and remove the battery once you are finished using it.
- Don’t carry the nail gun against your body.
- If possible, use the nail gun in sequential mode, not in bump mode. Sequential mode requires a two-step process to fire nails, adding a level of safety. Bump mode is admittedly faster, but unless you are a professional roofer or construction worker, you are unlikely to need excessive speed as you work.
- Never aim the nail gun at anyone else, and don’t shoot it if someone is behind the material you’re working on. It’s possible for a nail to shoot right through thin or soft materials, potentially striking someone on the other side.
- Use clamps, not your hands, to hold two pieces of wood together before using a nail gun to fasten them. Always keep your hands away from the front of the nail gun.
- Never shoot a nail gun near flammable or combustible materials.
- Move slowly and carefully while you work. Don’t back up while using a nail gun, lean far over in either direction, or nail something far above your head.
Why Trust The Spruce?
This article is written and updated by Michelle Ullman, the tool expert for The Spruce. She has extensive experience not only in writing about all things related to the home, but also in carrying out various DIY projects, including landscaping, painting, flooring, wallpapering, furniture makeovers, and simple repairs. For this roundup, she considered dozens of nail guns, evaluating each for basic features, extras, and customer feedback, as well as advice from Thomas Hawkins, handyman, master electrician, and owner of Electrician Apprentice HQ.