16 Vs. 18 Gauge Nailer: Which Is Right For Your Needs?

Truth be told: nailers go a long way to save on elbow grease when firing nails. Whether you are into woodworking, construction, or DIY projects, you will at some point want to drive nails through a material.

Initially, you would need a hammer for the job. However, technological advancement has seen the introduction of nailers, an invention that has made firing nails now possible at the pull of a trigger.

A nailer, sometimes called a nail gun, will allow you to drive lots of fasteners in a single project with minimal hand fatigue. With the high level of convenience it carries, this tool is becoming an absolute necessity for commercial applications and home projects alike.

However, like any other tool, you can’t just walk into a store and pick the nailer that meets your eyes first. Nail guns come with different capabilities. That leaves the ball in your court when it comes to choosing the one that works best for your needs.

Now, before you leave for shopping, you have to know the features and capabilities you want.  For instance, you have to decide whether you need a 16-gauge nailer or an 18-gauge version.

So, what should you choose between the two? Well, it depends on where you want to use the piece. Some applications will favor a 16-gauge nailer to the 18-gauge version and vice-versa. In this article, we will be discussing when and where you need each model.

What Does “Gauge” Mean?

Before we find out whether you need a 16-gauge or an 18-gauge version, let’s first understand what this “gauge” means.

In simple terms, a gauge of a nail provides information about its thickness. However, interpreting this information isn’t as straightforward as it seems. In fact, unless you know how to interpret gauges, you are more likely to get the whole thing wrong.

For instance, when judging between an 18-gauge nail and a 16-gauge nail, it’s natural to think that larger means greater. However, that’s not the case when it comes to nails. Actually, it means the opposite. Hence, in this case, a 16-gauge nail is thicker than an 18-gauge version.

Do you find it confusing? You aren’t alone. But it doesn’t have to be— let’s break it down for you.

Think of lining up nails of the same thickness side by side on a surface and measuring the number that fits into an inch. Repeat the process, but using thinner nails this time. Obviously, you will need more thinner fasteners to make an inch. That’s why we say the higher the number of the gauge, the thinner the fastener’s size.

16-Gauge Nailers

You now know how to interpret the gauge number of a fastener- well done! Now, let’s take a close look at a 16-gauge nailer. First things first—why do we call it a 16-gauge nailer? Could you give it a guess?

Top Pick
Metabo HPT Finish Nailer, 16 Gauge, Finish Nails -...
  • FASTENERS: 16-gauge finish nails in lengths ranging from 1-in up to 2-1/2-in
  • AWARD: Rated the Pro Preferred Nailer for 7 years running (2014 - 2020) by Builder and Developer Magazine

You probably guessed it right: it’s because this nailer works with 16-gauge nails.

A 16-gauge nail comes with a standard thickness of 0.0625 inches, a bit thicker than the 18-gauge fasteners. That means a 16-gauge nailer will support thicker nails than the other version. The length may vary, although it will almost always range between an inch and 3.5 inches.

Where Can You Use A 16-Gauge Nailer?

Since the 16-gauge nailer uses thicker fasteners compared to the 18-gauge version, it’s more suitable for heavy-duty applications than the smaller version. In fact, most people like how often it comes in handy in their projects.

Some of the areas where you will appreciate a 16-gauge nailer include construction, installation of cabinets, flooring, staircase, and other applications that need nails with better holding power.  

The thicker 16-gauge nails hold two pieces of workpiece more firmly, providing better support and stability. Therefore, if you aren’t considering using glue for your applications, a 16-gauge nail gun may be what you need for your projects. But if you want to pair it with wood glue, there’s still no harm.

Where Not To Use A 16-Gauge Nail Gun

Although it’s a very versatile piece, there are certain occasions where you shouldn’t use this type of nailer. Basically, these are projects that don’t need 16-gauge nails. A case in point is when dealing with thin boards.

Although these nails are only 1/16 inches thick, they are way too thick for use in some projects. Firing them through thin or delicate materials may make the workpiece break or split. For such projects, you will need a thinner fastener, maybe the 18-gauge nails.

Also, if you don’t intend to nail anything down permanently, probably because you may need to remove the nails later on in the project, a 16-gauge nail gun won’t be appropriate. Here, you will need one that uses fasteners that are easier to remove.

Pros:

  • Provide greater attachment force.
  • Ideal for heavy-duty applications.
  • The versatility is impressive.
  • You can get nails between 1-inch and 3-1/2 inches.

Cons:

  • Not ideal for permanent nailing.
  • It can split thinner materials.

18-Gauge Nailer

This type of nailer is compatible with 16-gauge fasteners. Nails of this size have a thickness of less than 2/64 of an inch. The thinner profile doesn’t possess enough strength like with the 16-gauge nails, although it packs enough for where it’s supposed to serve.

Top Pick
Paslode, Cordless Brad Nailer, 918100, 18 Gauge,...
  • Easy Access - Provides superior access by reaching directly into tighter spaces.
  • Consistent - Drives each nail flush into all trim for high-quality craftsmanship.

Since they are smaller, a magazine of the same size as that of a 16-inch version will hold more of these nails. That means a single refill may keep you going for longer when using an 18-gauge nailer.

Where Can You Use an 18-Gauge Nailer?

Before you opt to buy an 18-gauge nail gun, first understand whether it’s the ideal option. Some applications will work better with a thinner nail like the 18-gauge than bigger ones.

For instance, if you are dealing with delicate materials that are easy to split, you may consider buying an 18-gauge nailer.

Additionally, for neater finishes, an 18-gauge nailer should turn a boon. The smaller size means that the nails are less visible.

For temporary nailing, the smaller size will work better than the larger one as it leaves a tinier hole on the workpiece.

Also, the higher gauge accounts for a smaller footprint on the surface of the material. I mean, 18-gauge nails will be less noticeable on the surface. We all know that less visible nailheads make for a neater and prettier outcome.

Therefore, in a nutshell, you can use an 18-gauge brad nailer for a wide range of projects. Cases in point are furniture, cabinet installation, picture-frame assembly, finishing touches, and other areas. Hence, for such projects, you will need to stay away from the larger 16-gauge version.

Where Not To Use An 18-Gauge Nailer

As you might have realized, the 18-gauge nailer serves ideally in projects where the 16-gauge version falls short. Therefore, when talking about areas where not to use an 18-gauge nailer, we are looking at applications that work better with the 16-gauge model.

Such areas include where you want a firmer connection between two pieces of material. That means if resilience of the job is of the essence, you will need to stay away from the 18-gauge nail gun.

Pros:

  • Neater finishes.
  • It works ideally for delicate materials.
  • Suitable for non-permanent nailing.
  • It doesn’t leave a big hole behind.

Cons:

  • It doesn’t work well for heavy-duty applications.
  • It may not work with thick woods.

Which Should You Pick; 16-Gauge or 18-Gauge Nail Gun?

As we’ve already seen, all these nail guns don’t serve in the same area. Therefore, recommending one version over the other without knowing the nature of your projects would be unfair. The nature of your projects should define for itself what you should buy.

For instance, if you work with softer materials more often, you might need to prioritize the 18-gauge nailer over the other version. However, if you deal with tough and thick materials and want a nailer that can create a stronger bond, the 16-gauge model is the way to go.

Final Remarks

Although the size difference between a 16-gauge nail and one that’s 18-gauge may seem minimal, they don’t do the same work. That’s why before you opt to buy either, you have to know what kind of projects you deal with the most.

With that knowledge, you will find it more straightforward to come up with the right decision on whether to get a 16-gauge nailer or an 18-gauge version.

Leave a Comment