How to Use a Brad Nailer and 18 Gauge Nails

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Brad nailers are the perfect tool for ​afixing molding or trim pieces without leaving a visible hole. Brads have a thin, small head which allows them to adhere thin pieces of wood together with ease.

At first glance, understanding how to use a brad nailer may seem a little daunting. With a little instruction and guidance, you’ll be able to operate one with ease. Follow these steps when using a brad nailer for the first time.

​Brad Nailer Basics

​Gather Your Supplies

​Recognizing how to use a brad nailer takes a little preparation to ensure you are ready for your wood molding or trim project. You will need to have a few supplies handy as you get ready to work.

  • Pneumatic or electric brad nailer
  • ​Brad nails
  • ​Safety glasses
  • ​Air hose
  • ​Hose adapter
  • ​Wrench
  • Air compressor (only with pneumatic)
  • ​Teflon tape
  • ​Adjustable wrench
  • ​Pneumatic tool oil
  • ​Cleaning cloth

​Choose Your Brad Nailer

You have two options when it comes to using brad nailers. The most common option is a pneumatic brad nailer. This tool is powered by pneumatic air, powered off a compressor.

You have a lot of variety when it comes to using a pneumatic brad nailer as it is available in a bevy of sizes and styles. It also can hold an array of brad sizes, giving you more flexibility with its use.

The other option you have to select from is an electric brad nailer. These tools are powered by electricity and don’t require the use of a compressor. They are as powerful as a pneumatic brad nailer, and they do offer plenty of versatility with their operation.

They also have a quieter sound and can drive brads quicker, but are priced at a higher price tag.

Finally, while brad nailers can handle a variety of gauge nail sizes, we focus on what is the most common: 18 gauge brad nailers.

We’ve put together a comprehensive review of the best 18 gauge nailers on the market.

​Know Which Nail Gun You Need

Brad nailers are quite different than pin nailers, but are often confused. There are many small differences, but the largest difference between a brad vs pin nailer is that brad nails have heads, whereas pin nails do not. 

If you’re looking for the ​good pin nailer​​​, then you’ll need a nail gun that shoots smaller, finished nails into a surface. If on the other hand you need something that will adhere fabrics to wood, then your best bet would be a top selling staple gun on the market.

A close up view of a brad nail head
A brad nail has a head on it vs a pin nail that does not

How to Use a Brad Nailer

​1. Secure the Hose Connection

​Before you can begin using your pneumatic brad nailer, you will need to secure the hose connection. You have already gathered everything you need to make a tight connection, and it is just a matter of assembling it.

  • Start by wrapping the hose adapter with Teflon tape. This will help keep air from leaking at the connection point, so you have as much power as possible directed to the brad nailer.
  • Attach the hose adapter to the compressor as well as the brad nailer. You can use your adjustable impact wrench to make sure it is fitted tightly and securely.
  • For electric brad nailers, you will need to have a power source to drive the tool. You can simply plug it into a generator or power outlet to provide the electricity that is needed to operate the device.
using a brad nailer with a hose on a piece of wood how to use a brad nailer

2. Lubricate the Air Piston

​If you are using a pneumatic brad nailer, you need to lubricate the air piston for operation. This ensures that the air piston can move freely without friction, which can cause wear. Use your pneumatic tool oil on the adaptor.

You only need a few drops of the oil as it will go a long way in lubricating the air piston. Use your cleaning cloth to wipe up any drips or spills.

It is not necessary to lubricate an electric brad nailer or other ​similar tools such as crown staplers.

​3. Load Brads into the Brad Nailer

​To prepare either an electric or a pneumatic brad nailer for operation, you need to learn how to load a brad nailer with brads.

This is dependent on the size and style of brad nailer you have, as each comes with their own predetermined brad capacity. The brads should slide easily into the compartment provided on your brad nailer.

Be sure to fill your brad nailer completely full with brads. This will ensure you have plenty of brads to use during your woodworking project. You won’t have to stop to reload frequently, allowing you to keep working without interruption.

Man holds series of different length brad nails

4. Test the Brad Nailer

​Before you use the brad nailer on your molding or trim piece, it is a good idea to test the device on a scrap piece of wood. Fire the brad nailer into the wood to identify if it is working properly.

This will also give you a good feel for how the brad nailer operates and the force behind it. For trim, cabinetry, and thicker pieces of wood, you can also opt to use a finish nailer for your project.

Testing before use can also prevent damage to your wood piece as there won’t be a jammed nail to contend with when you are ready to use the brad nailer on your project.

5. ​Begin Using the Brad Nailer

​Now, you are finally ready to use your brad nailer to attach that molding or trim work. Just like you tested the device, you can begin using the brad nailer to secure your molding or trim to the mounting surface of your woodworking project.

  1. ​Hold the nose of the brad nailer to the spot where you want the brad nail to be placed.
  2. Hold the handle and ensure the area is clear when you are ready to pull the trigger. Remember, the nose of the brad nailer should rest at a 90-degree angle on the wood you are adhering.
  3. When ready, pull the trigger of the device. This will allow the brad to drive into the wood molding or trim with ease.

​Brad Nailer Uses

Brad nails are best used for wood to wood connections, such as fastening trim to furniture. While they can be used for other types of fastening, it isn’t recommended.

Use for Attaching Trim

Trim is lightweight and fragile, and you are typically attaching trim to wood. This is the perfect scenario to use a brad nail gun for.

Brad nails are more brad than they are nail, and so you can’t use them on heavy duty items. Lightweight trim is great, because it isn’t heavy and the brad will hold.

Trim is very fragile, and can split or crack easily. Brad nails are a lot smaller than other types, and work great for keeping the trim safe as you attach it.

Don’t Use for Baseboards

Brad nails are not the best solution for attaching baseboards to your wall. You’ll be attaching baseboard to drywall (and not wood). Brad nails will not afix very well, and will not provide a long lasting hold.

​Instead, opt for a pin nailer. Pin nails don’t have a head, so your finished baseboard will look a lot cleaner. Plus, they are designed to work well for attaching to drywall.

Don’t Use for Framing

Brad nails are best used for delicate finishing work, and framing is far from that. ​For this job, you’ll want a good hammer for framing and some long, sturdy nails. Or, if you don’t want to use a hammer, use a pin nail gun.

​Brad Nail Gun Safety

Before you begin using your brad nailer, you need to take a few precautions to prevent injury. Your brad nailer drives brads with force, and these brads can cause injury if you are not careful.

  • Never point a brad nailer at someone. You never know when it might be loaded and the trigger will go off.
  • Don’t let children near the tool, whether loaded or unloaded.
  • Always make sure you are driving the brad nails into a wood surface and nothing else.
  • You’ll want to wear safety glass to protect your eyes and secure any loose-fitting clothes that could get in the way.
  • You should also consider using a dust mask to protect you from the particles that fly around as you work.
  • Keep your hands and feet out of the direction of the brad nailer and watch for kickbacks. Because a brad nailer is used to secure thinner pieces of wood, there are instances when the brad nailer will not be able to penetrate a wood surface that is too thick or hard.


​Operating a brad nailer doesn’t have to be difficult if you follow these steps on how to use a brad nailer. You’ll find that the more you use a brad nailer, the more comfortable you are with its operation and the easier it is for you to complete your molding and trim projects.

An expert at home repair, remodel, and DIY projects for nearly 40 years. His first experience came in completely restoring an antique home. Completely redone from the inside out, and restored to its original form, the home is a featured design by renowned Southern California Architect Cliff May, considered to be the father of the California Ranch Home. Now Dennis spends his time on fine woodworking projects and tool comparisons.