Canadian Woodworking

18-gauge brad nailers


The marketplace is full of 18-gauge brad nailers, but how do you know which one is right for you? Here we compare some of the common features such as weight, depth-of-drive control, trigger style, magazine construction, ease of jamb clearing, and also put all the nailers through a performance test.

Author: Rich Keller

Lead Photo by Rich Keller, Product Images by Manufacturers

For the performance test, I began by firing 2″ brads into hard maple. Trying all the nailers at 95 PSI, the results were a bit disappointing. None of the nailers I tested could do it perfectly every time, and only a few could do it even once. I then repeated the test at 105 PSI, and was able to drive nails with most of the nailers. A word of caution is necessary at this point – not all nailers are suitable for use at 105 PSI. Most nailers are designed to be used between 90–100 PSI. Nailers with plastic internal components are especially vulnerable to non-warranty failures at higher pressures. The nailers I tested ranged in their recommended operating pressure from 70–110 PSI, with maximum operating pressures from 100–120 PSI, so check your nailer specifications before you turn up the pressure. I also drove some 1-3/4″ nails into a block of walnut (at 95 PSI again) and most of the nailers were able to accomplish this, but a few struggled with it.

Ryobi YG200BN nailer

The Ryobi nailer was unable to sink any nails below the surface of the maple block at 95 PSI, and was inconsistent at 105 PSI. It did sink all the nails into the walnut block, however it was very inconsistent in the depth to which it countersunk the nails.

The Ryobi was the second heaviest nailer I tested at 1517 g. I liked the aluminum magazine on the Ryobi. The latch was conveniently located and easy to operate. This nailer came in a set, including a 16-gauge nailer, a compressor and miscellaneous smaller items.

ryobi nailer

Direct the Exhaust Air – The top exhaust on the Ryobi nailer swivels so that it can be aimed away from the operator. This is a fairly common feature on 18 g nailers.

mastercraft nailer

The Mastercraft nailer was the most consistent of all the nailers tested in terms of depth-of-drive. However, it left every nail about 1/16″ above the surface of the wood at 95 PSI, and the depth-of-drive setting seemed to make no difference to the nail height. At 105 PSI, it was able to sink some of the nails, but the height was inconsistent.

The depth-of-drive setting was easier to turn than most, and it has detent stops so I don’t think it would accidentally adjust itself; however, as mentioned, it didn’t seem to matter where it was set. The latch to open the aluminum magazine sticks out the back, and while it was easy to operate, I think that it has the potential to be easily broken because it is unprotected from bumps and falls.

mastercraft nailer trigger

How Deep? – The Mastercraft nailer has adjustable depth-of-drive and tool-free jam clearing.

Grex 1850GB nailer

The magazine on the Grex nailer is well machined and slides open without wobbling around. The latch is very easy and convenient to operate. I suppose wobbly magazines don’t affect tool performance, but to me they are always a sign of how well a nailer is made. I like the cutaway on the end of the Grex magazine. This lets the tool tilt a little bit more when nailing into a corner. I also like the swivel connector that is provided with the tool. More and more manufacturers are using this style of connector, and it seems to relieve the weight of the hose from the tool in many work positions.

The Grex nailer was able to counter-sink some nails into the maple, and all of the nails into the walnut at 95 PSI. The Grex leaves small countersink holes no bigger than the head of the nail. As a side note, Grext hat recommends their nailer be used at 110 PSI. At 105 PSI the Grex nailer counter-sunk every nail in the hard maple, which was impressive.

grex grad nailer cylinder

Strong and Lasting – This is the thick aluminum cylinder from the Grex nailer. While aluminum is not indestructible, it will take much more abuse than plastic.

Bostitch BTFP12233

The Bostitch has a very interesting safety mechanism. Instead of the traditional foot, which must be depressed against the work, the tip of the Bostitch only needs to be touched to the work to activate the safety, so much less pressure is required to make the tool operate. It took a little bit to get used to, but I think it would be ideal for delicate operations where the extra pressure of a regular tool might cause marking on the surface of the wood, or shift a small part out of place. The Bostitch also has very consistent depth-of-drive, and leaves very small nail holes, slightly larger than the size of the nail head.

The Bostitch drove most of the nails into maple, and all of the nails into walnut at 95 PSI. The nails that did not drive into maple were crumpled. Running the nailer at 105 PSI seems to remedy the problem of crumpled nails.

bostitch brad nailer tip

Simple Safety – The safety mechanism on the Bostitch does not have to be depressed like most. It simply needs to touch the wood to be activated.

Craftex nailer

The Craftex nailer sunk some nails in the maple, but left others 3/8″ above the surface. In the walnut, however, it sunk every nail nicely, leaving a small hole the size of the nail head. At 105 PSI, it sunk most of the nails, leaving only one sticking up 1/32″.

The Craftex nailer was the shortest of all the nailers we tested at approximately 9-1/8″, about 3/8″ of an inch  shorter than the Grex and King nailers. (The tallest nailers like the Senco, Mastercraft, and TradeMaster are  just over 10-1/4″.) This smaller size will allow you to get the nailer into some fairly tight locations with ease.

The Craftex also has a low-nail warning system built into the magazine; however, unlike most, which only show when you are down to a handful of nails, the Craftex shows numerically from 0–50 nails in the magazine.

craftex nailer magazine

Clear Quantity – The magazine on the Craftex nailer shows you exactly how many nails are left in the tool.

Campbell Hausfeld nailer

The Campbell Hausfeld nailer I tested was unable to drive any nails into the hard maple and did not work a whole lot better on walnut. Even at 105 PSI, the nailer was unable to put any nails into maple. While it was able to put some nails into walnut, it left marks on the surface of the wood. This is because the Campbell Hausfeld nailer I tried was a two-in-one tool. This type of tool will fire staples or nails. The driver must be wide enough for a staple, but when you drive a nail it leaves a mark on the wood. Because the nail is not surrounded by the nose of the nailer, it is able to twist and turn sideways in the driver guide of the nailer as the driver advances and the nail meets heavy resistance.

The magazine was a bit awkward to load with 2″ nails, but they did go in. The depth-of-drive setting on the tool is located on one side, and spins quite freely, so I suspect it would be prone to accidental adjustment when picking the tool up or putting it down. This nailer comes in a set, with a compressor, hose and miscellaneous other parts.

Campbell Hausfeld nailer magazine

Wave the Flag – The Campbell Hausfeld nailer has a red warning flag that appears when the magazine is almost empty.

Trademaster nailer

The TradeMaster nailer could not put any nails into the maple block, crumpling every one. It did better in the walnut, although it left some 1/8″ above the surface of the wood, while sinking others and leaving a big mark in the wood. The TradeMaster nailer was a two-in-one tool, similar to the Campbell Hausfeld, which is most likely why it could not drive many nails in the hard wood.

The TradeMaster nailer had a magazine release identical to the Mastercraft, and I think it is a part that is likely to get broken at some point. The TradeMaster was the only nailer I tested that did not have a low-nail warning system on the magazine. Overall, I liked the magazine design better than the Campbell Hausfeld for a two-in-one nailer. I think I would recommend staying away from two-in-one nailers in general – while the prices are attractive, the functionality is not great.

trademaster brad nailer head

Quick Clearing – The TradeMaster nailer has tool-free jam clearing to speed the process of removing any jammed nails.

ridgid nailer

The Ridgid nailer was the lightest nailer that I tested, beating the DeWalt by only a few grams. This is mainly due to the composite plastic magazine, and plastic internal cylinder. I like the fact that the cover of the Ridgid magazine was see-through, so it was easy to see exactly how many nails were in the gun. The Ridgid nailer also lets you see how long the nails in the gun are. From a repair perspective, I am a bit concerned with the plastic cylinder (see photos). Not that aluminum cylinders are without problems, but aluminum is generally more durable. Plastic cylinders are prone to splitting, especially at sub-zero temperatures. The Ridgid nailer was able to counter-sink about half of the nails in maple, and all the nails in walnut. It worked well in the maple at 105 PSI, consistently sinking every nail. The nail hole was a little larger than most, but fairly neat, and nothing to lose sleep over.

The Ridgid nailer had good balance in my hand. I like the large release on the tool-free jamb clearing, and the mechanism is very stiff, which is actually important. Some tool-free noses with weaker mechanisms are prone to opening a small amount during nailing, allowing nails to twist and bend; for this reason I prefer nose guides that are screwed in place. This should not be a problem with this unit. I also like the swivel connector on this tool.

ridgid nailer magazine

Clear Cover – The clear cover on the magazine of the Ridgid nailer lets you see how many nails are left in the tool and how long they are.

king canada brad nailer

The King nailer was able to counter-sink about half of the nails in maple at 95 PSI, while leaving others sticking up significantly. It put all of the nails into the walnut, sinking most, but leaving a few 1/32″ above the surface of the wood. At 105 PSI the nailer was able to sink all the nails into maple. There were some marks left from the safety, which is quite large and has no rubber protector over it.

The King nailer also lacks adjustable depth-of-drive, though I suspect most people set those adjustments to  maximum anyway. The King nailer is one of the heavier nailers I tested, but this is owing to the use of metal   instead of plastic inside. The lightest three nailers I tested all had magnesium bodies and plastic internal components.

king canada brad nailer magazine

Easy to Use – The aluminum magazine on the King nailer is long-lasting and works well.

senco brad nailer

The Senco nailer sunk most of the nails into maple and all of the nails into walnut. The driver leaves a hole slightly larger than the nail. The depth-of-drive controls on the Senco were well placed and easy to use. I like the included swivel connector.

The Senco nailer was the tallest of all the nailers I tested, just over 10-1/4″. The nailer also felt a bit shaky when pressed against the wood. It sits up from the wood on the safety foot, and this seemed to cause it to wobble around a bit. The Senco has a magnesium housing, which puts it on the lighter end of the weight spectrum at 1204 g.

senco nailer trigger

At Your Fingertips – The controls for the firing mode and depth-of-drive on the Senco nailer are directly below the trigger.

dewalt nailer

The DeWalt nailer did not work well. In the maple, it left nails sticking 3/8″ above the surface. In the walnut, it sunk all of the nails. However, in both tests about 50 percent of the time it dry-fired rather than drive a nail. After some examination, I determined that the driver was not retracting properly. This is due to the fact that the driver is very tight in the cylinder. I tried the nailer again at 105 PSI, and this seemed to help the problem, but it still dry-fired the odd time. It did drive all the nails that were fired, leaving a nice small nail hole.

The nailer is comfortable to hold, and it is very lightweight. The tool-free jamb clearing mechanism is very light and I think that it will tend to cause problems (see comments on Ridgid tool-free jamb clearing).

dewalt brad nailer connector

Rear Exhaust – The DeWalt nailer has a rear exhaust above the air inlet. Fewer than half the tools had this option.

griprite nailer

The Grip-Rite nailer was unable to countersink any nails in the maple, leaving the closest one 1/8″ above the wood. In the walnut, all nails were counter-sunk with nice small holes. At 105 PSI the Grip-Rite was able to sink all the nails in maple with nice small nail holes.

The Grip-Rite nailer uses an aluminum magazine with an easy-to-operate latch. The tool-free jamb clearing mechanism has a fairly large handle, which makes it easy to open. It also uses a decent size spring, so I don’t think it will be a service issue (see comments under Ridgid nailer). The depth-of-drive adjustment was a bit awkward to get at, but overall it’s a well functioning tool. The swivel connector is nice.

Trigger Happy – The firing mode selector for the Grip-Rite nailer is built into the trigger.

brad nailer comparison chart

Choosing which one is best amongst 12 different nailers is a difficult task. Some of the features I might like best are features that you want to avoid. I will give my picks here and the reasons that I prefer them, but they are by no means the only right conclusion.

If weight were an extreme concern, my choice would be the Ridgid. Overall, the Ridgid had some nice features and performed well. I don’t prefer nailers with plastic internal construction, or tool-free jamb clearing, but amongst that category the Ridgid looks like the best choice. The tool-free jamb clearing mechanism is robust, and the internal parts are relatively thick in construction even though they are plastic.

If weight were not a huge concern I would pick the Grex. The Grex is only 229 g heavier than the Ridgid nailer. For durability, I like the fact that the Grex is all aluminum inside and out. Grex recommends using its nailer at 110 PSI, and the nailer had no trouble sinking all the nails in the maple at this pressure. Because the Grex is all aluminum inside, I don’t worry that the higher air pressure will damage the nailer in time. I also like that the nose guide is screwed together rather than using a tool-free mechanism. Especially if I was only going to work in hardwoods, I would choose the Grex, as it can handle the higher air pressure that is needed to do the job.

For a more cost-conscious tool, both the King and the Craftex nailers would be good choices. Both use aluminum internal components in their tools. The overall finish and features of these tools is not as refined as the more expensive nailers, but I think for an occasional user, either of these would be adequate to do the job, especially given the attractive price point.

Last modified: February 3, 2024

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