16 gauge vs 18 gauge nailer: Which is right for your project?

16 Gauge vs 18 Gauge Nailer

So, you have decided to get a nailer gun, and it might be for home, DIY, or professional usage. Being confused about 16 vs 18 gauge nailer is something that beginners, as well as DIYers, normally face.

Both are designed for specific purposes, while one has some upper hand over another in terms of where the tool is used.

This article is going to give you all the information that you need to know to be able to decide which one would be the best match for your needs.

The ‘Gauge’ Thing

In a normal sense, 16 gauge is supposed to be smaller than 18 gauge. This is what numbers say. But, in reality, it’s totally the opposite.

The gauge refers to the number of nails that can line up side by side in one inch. So, in one inch, you can fit more 18 gauge nails than with 16 gauge nails. A 16 gauge nail is larger in diameter than an 18 gauge nail. That’s why 16 gauge takes more space.

So, before proceeding to the rest of the information, keep in mind that a lower gauge means thicker nails.

16 Gauge Nails

Among professionals, a 16 gauge nailer is mostly known as a finish nailer. Due to its thicker profile, it is more capable of holding things than thinner nails. Compared to 18 gauge nails, 16 ones are widely used among house owners, DIYers, and professionals because of their fitting strength and versatility.

Applications of 16 Gauge Nails

Because of its great holding strength, people mostly use 16 gauge nails for both small and large projects. If you are to use this specific nail type, you must consider the project’s requirement to make sure the nails serve the purpose well.

For heavy-duty projects such as installing door frames, baseboards, flooring, cabinets, crown and base moldings, staircases, casings, chair rails, exterior trim, etc., that require more holding power, you can use 16 gauge nails for the best results.

More so, applications that have to take a lot of beating, and glue isn’t the right way to deal with, 16 gauge nails suit the best for such cases.

Where You Cannot Use 16 Gauge Nails

Although 16 gauge nails are versatile, there are quite a few drawbacks that might discourage you from using them in certain areas.

You cannot use them on delicate and thin workpieces. The large diameter and aggressive bite can break or damage delicate projects. Therefore, when it’s about nailing into small crown moldings and other similar applications, 16 gauge nails aren’t a reliable option to go with.

As the head is relatively larger than an 18 gauge nail, the surface will have a considerably bigger hole. Thus, you will need to fill or sand the hole further to make it less visible.


  • Great holding strength
  • Ideal for thicker wood and workpieces
  • Long-lasting bonding
  • Handles heavy-duty projects well
  • Versatile nail can be used in various applications


  • Not good for thin and small workpieces
  • Damages delicate projects
  • Not for temporary projects
  • Quite impossible to pull out headless nails
  • Holes require filling or sanding

18 Gauge Nails

Yeah, as you have guessed, 18 gauge nails are thinner and smaller in diameter than its counterpart. Unlike 16 gauge ones, these nails don’t leave large holes on surfaces.

You can use them on delicate workpieces as well as projects that mostly deal with small and thin materials. These nails are also known as brad nails among professionals.

Due to its small diameter, there won’t be any risk of cracking, damaging, or splitting thin boards whatsoever. You can even use these nails in trim pieces.

Applications of 18 Gauge Nails

You can simply use these nails in applications that require low or temporary holding strength and any delicate projects. Decorative molding, casing, baseboard, trim work, veneer, paneling, etc., are the ideal applications for 18 gauge nails.

However, its holding power is something that cannot be compared to its counterparts; here, you will get a decent amount of strength not to break any delicate and small projects.

As I have stated earlier, these don’t leave any marks behind that require further treatment like sanding or filing.

Where You Cannot Use 18 Gauge Nails

Despite this size advantage and nails handling delicate projects well, there are some limitations too. You cannot nail one of these into thick or dense wood-pieces or MDF. Brad nailers don’t have enough power to do so. Even if you attempt to nail into dense workpieces, the nail will bend and will not stick whatsoever.

Also, due to its low holding power, you cannot use these on heavy-duty projects or applications that require strong supporting strength.


  • Great for delicate and light-duty projects
  • Doesn’t require filling or sanding as nails don’t leave hole marks
  • Handles thinner and smaller workpieces well
  • Ideal temporary and cost-efficient solution
  • Doesn’t require much powerful nailer


  • Cannot penetrate into hard and dense workpieces
  • Doesn’t provide strong support to join pieces
  • Not suitable for heavy-duty applications

16 Gauge or 18 Gauge, Which One to Buy?

In real life tasks, both these nail options perform great in aspects that these were designed for. If you want to know more in-depth and head-to-head comparisons, this section is for you.

Nail Size

The diameter of a 16 gauge nail is about 1/16 of an inch, and the overall length is up to 3 ½ inches.

In the thinner size, 18 gauge nail has a diameter of 2/64 of an inch, and its overall length is up to 2 ½ inch. You will find brad nails of ½ inch size as well.

Heavy-Duty Tasks

When it comes to real-life projects, these two nail options have their own area of nailing. For DIYers who mostly deal with thicker and dense wood pieces, 16 gauge nails would be worthwhile considering.

Being a bit thicker nails, these are perfect if your projects require great holding strength and stability. If you further add glue to the workpieces, the combination would be quite indestructible. For structural work, you won’t be disappointed using these nails.

When projects require delicacy, and you need to deal with thin and small workpieces, be sure to use 18 gauge nails for great results. This is perfect for providing temporary supporting strength or applications that don’t require too strong support. You will have to use glue to make the fitting stronger.

Trim Works

Be it exterior or interior trims on doors, windows, baseboards, etc., applications where you must ensure a decent holding power and stability, you won’t go wrong choosing 16 gauge nails.

However, if trim works involve nailing into thinner wood-pieces, you are good to use 18 gauge ones.


18-gauge nails really shine when the project is for neat finishes. The nails do the trick without causing any kind of damage to the wood-pieces while not leaving any marks on the surfaces as well.

Final Words

To sum up, when it’s about 16 gauge vs 18 gauge nailer, the higher the number, the smaller the diameter is. You need larger ones for heavy-duty applications where strong strength and support are required. For delicate and temporary projects, 18 gauge nails do the job without ruining thinner workpieces.

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