What Kind of Nails Should You Use in Your Nail Gun?

By thewriteDuffy •  Updated: 12/01/23 •  6 min read

Nail guns, an indispensable tool for many construction and carpentry projects, come in a variety of types, each suited for specific tasks. Choosing the right nails for different jobs can often be a daunting task, given the wide range of options available.

The nailers themselves can be categorized based on the driving force they utilize. This factor not only affects their operational speed but also their suitability for certain tasks. The electric nailers, known for their slower action, are ideal for precision jobs. Compressed air nailers offer a faster action, making them suitable for more rapid applications. The fastest among them are the powder-actuated nailers, designed for high-speed, heavy-duty tasks.

However, the distinctions between various nail guns extend beyond their driving mechanisms. There are numerous types of nailers, each meticulously designed for a specific purpose, ranging from delicate interior work to robust outdoor construction. Understanding these differences is key to selecting the right tool for your project.

This guide aims to demystify the variety of nail guns available and help you make an informed decision about which nailer best suits your specific needs. Whether you’re a professional contractor or a DIY enthusiast, understanding the nuances of each type of nailer will ensure you achieve the best results in your projects.

Types of Nail Guns and the Nails They Use

Framing Nailers

These nail guns are among the most versatile and powerful, capable of connecting large wood stock used in framing, decks, trusses, and more. They can handle nails ranging from 1″ to 3.5″ in length, extending up to 5″ in some heavy-duty models. For these tools, you should use plastic or paper collated nails with a diameter of .120-.130.

Roofing Nailers

These nailers are specifically designed for shorter nails, typically ranging from 3/4″ to 1-3/4″ in length. They feature larger heads to ensure a secure attachment, ideal for roofing applications.

Flooring Nailers

These specialized nailers can drive flooring cleats and nails at an angle, and maybe even more importantly, their handles are designed to prevent operator fatigue by allowing operation while standing.

Siding and Fencing Nailers

These nailers are similar to roofing nailers but are designed for medium-length nails, ranging from 1″ to 2″. Often featuring magnesium housing to reduce weight, they’re more comfortable to hold throughout the day. This is crucial since, unlike roofing nailers which rest against the work surface, siding and fencing nailers are typically held up during use.

Finish Brad & Pin Nailers

These smaller nailers, often electric (including cordless models), are designed to drive small brads and pins, both headed and headless. They handle a range from 16 gauge to 23 gauge micro pins, with lengths varying from 1/2″ to 1-1/2″, or even up to 2″ for thicker models.

They’re commonly used in crown molding, cabinetry, flooring, and any application where a fine finish is needed and nails must be concealed. The nails are typically connected together, much like staples, and fed into the nailer in a similar fashion.

Metal Connector Nailers

These are specialized framing nailers with heads specifically designed to locate holes in metal connectors.

They efficiently drive framing nails into these holes, ensuring a secure and precise connection. This tool is essential for projects involving metal connectors, providing both accuracy and strength in the fastening process.

Cap Nailers

These specialized nailers are similar to roofing / siding nails that in addition to the nail feed a 2″ – 2-1/2″ plastic cap and shoot the nail through the cap to spread the holding force over the large surface area of the cap. Used in attaching house wrap film, roof felt or foam insulation sheets, thin and /or very soft materials to flat wood sheathing.

Concrete/Steel Nailers

Typically powered by gas, powder-actuated mechanisms, or the most powerful pneumatic systems, these nail guns are capable of driving specialized, hardened nails ranging from 1/2″ to 2-1/2″.

They’re primarily used to fasten materials like furring strips, plywood, and decking directly onto concrete, masonry, or steel surfaces. Their design and power make them ideal for these tough materials, ensuring a secure and lasting hold

As you can see, there’s a wide variety of nails and nail guns out there and you definitely need to narrow it down based on your application. In some cases your nailer itself may not be the right tool for the job and you’d have to rent of buy the one that’s needed.

Five Nail Choice Rules of Thumb for Any Job

If you know you have the right tool, and the size range for the nail you’ll need, you can then choose a size within that spectrum, based on these five basic principles:

  1. Nails should be long enough to hold the pieces you’re nailing but not too long as to protrude beyond the pieces (roofing nails being a notable exception to the protrusion rule).
  2. Nails should be thick enough to withstand any shearing forces and prevent bending while being driven down.
  3. Have the head big enough to hold thin material or small enough to be easy to conceal if just the friction between the nail and the pieces is enough to hold them together and a smooth finish is required.
  4. The quicker the action of the nail gun, the thinner the nail can be.
  5. The softer the material, the thinner the nail can be as well.

Conclusion: How to Choose the Perfect Nail Gun Nail

In summary, nail guns are a crucial component in the toolkit of any construction or carpentry enthusiast. With each type of nailer tailored for specific tasks, from framing and roofing to delicate finish work, understanding their differences is key to your project’s success. Whether you’re working with large wood stock, attaching shingles, laying flooring, or securing siding, there’s a nailer designed to make your work more efficient and effective.

Remember, the right nail gun not only enhances the quality of your work but also adds to your safety and comfort on the job. So, choose wisely, and let these powerful tools help you achieve professional-grade results in all your construction and carpentry projects.


At home, April is a mom, wife, and DIY darling. Among other home projects, she helped her husband Dan renovate their 1986 bungalow and is currently designing and decorating the 2023 custom home they are building themselves. Professionally, April is a writer, author, and online marketer with 15 years of experience writing for newspapers and magazines, building online authority websites, and publishing books.