Powered finish nail guns make an excellent alternative to driving all your nails by hand. However, there are straight and angled versions. So, you might be wondering which version of finish nailer to choose. In this post, we combine industry professional knowledge and up-to-date research to answer your question.
Both straight and angled finish nailers have specific applications for which they are more suited. In fact, serious carpenters will have both versions. However, if you plan on only choosing one finish nail gun, consider the following when choosing between the straight and the angled varieties:
- Use location
- Nail size
- Nail gun weight
Keep reading the rest of this post for details on each of the above bullet points. This guide will provide all the information you need to make an informed finish nail gun purchasing decision. To conclude, we answer a few questions related to the topic of this post. Without further ado, let's get into it!
The first consideration when choosing straight or angled finish nailers are the intended locations of use. That is to say, straight nailers and angled nailers are more appropriate for driving nails into differently shaped spaces.
Angled nailers have cartridges that angle away from the driving head. This configuration makes it easier to drive nails into corners or other confined areas. Thus, if you need to drive lots of nails into tight areas and corners, an angled finish nailer is the proper decision.
On the other hand, straight nailers have cartridges that run parallel to the handle down from the driving tip. This makes it more difficult to accurately place the tip in corners and other angled areas because the cartridge will obstruct the gun's front.
Cartridge Angle Caveat
However, for most applications, it is possible to use both straight and angled nailers to drive nails. The above advice is common throughout the internet but only applies to very specific corner nailing situations. Usually, you can maneuver both guns into most places.
Next, consider the nail gauge and length. Generally, angled finish nailers accept smaller gauge nails. Gauge is a measure of nail diameter. Oddly, lower gauge numbers represent nails of a greater diameter. Usually, a single nail gun can only accept nails of a certain gauge or of a very narrow gauge range.
This section will help you choose the finish nailer that most appropriately matches the job and/or jobs that you are interested in using the nailer for. That being said, both straight and angled finish nailers have a relatively wide range of appropriate applications.
Larger Diameter Nails
Larger diameter nails have better holding power than comparatively smaller nails. Thus, these larger finish nails are more appropriate for heavier finish work. This includes affixing heavier trim and connecting heavier pieces of cabinetry elements.
Therefore, if you are interested in a more solid fastening job, you probably want to choose the angled finish nailer. Take note that it is common to use larger nails for more fine finish work in a pinch or if nothing else is available.
That being said, the larger diameter nails lead to correspondingly larger holes in the wood. This means that they are harder to cover up and make for a messier-looking finished product. Knowing this, many carpenters will switch to straight finish nailers for the more delicate finish work.
Importantly, larger diameter nails are also more likely to split the wood that they are driven through. Thus, for fragile and fine wood, larger diameter nails shot from an angled finish nailer may not be a feasible option at all.
Smaller Diameter Nails
Straight finish nailers, on the other hand, also use nails with a smaller diameter. Finer nails make smaller holes that are easier to cover with putty and finish. Also, smaller diameter nails can more practically be used when shorter.
All of these facts combine to make smaller diameter nails—and therefore straight finish nailers—better for more visible finish work. This includes light trim, small woodworking projects, and affixing paneling.
Above we consider nail diameter, however, nail length is also critically important. For example, if you need to drive a nail through 1 1/2 inches of trim plus 5/8 inch of drywall you will want a nail that is longer than 2 1/2 inches to provide any sort of holding power.
Importantly, nails with larger diameters also have greater strength in terms of bending resistance. This means that larger diameter nails can be driven evenly when they are considerably longer. Thus, angled finish nails are compatible with relatively longer nails.
So, if you suspect that you will need long fasteners, buy an angled finish nailer. Or, if you only need shorter nails for finer work and thinner material, perhaps a straight nailer is the better choice.
Further, if you are worried about driving nails too deep and having them shine through visibly on the other side, a shorter nail is an advantage.
Angled finish nailers are the more expensive of these two options. Therefore, if your budget is tight, a straight nailer may be the right choice. This is especially applicable because of the large overlap in the application of straight and angled finish nailers.
Naturally, you will have to weigh the constraints of your budget with the reason you need your finish nail gun. For example, it is not worth buying a cheaper straight finish nailer if you need to do more heavy-duty finish nailing appropriate for an angled finish nailer.
Finally, if budget is not a concern, consider buying both an angled and a straight finish nailer. If you do significant work that requires these tools, you will find yourself switching back and forth due to a preference for nail size and gun shape depending on the task at hand.
Gun Weight and Size
Surprisingly, angled finish nailers are generally a bit lighter compared to their size but are also usually slightly larger. If you worry about the weight because of hand strength and potential fatigue, consider the angled nailer.
That being said, if you need to maneuver the gun into very small spaces such as attics or crawl spaces, you may want to consider purchasing a smaller straight finish nailer.
What are straight finish nails used for?
As discussed above, straight finish nails are used for fine and visible finish work. Often, this means baseboards, casing, door trim, crown molding, fine cabinetry, paneling, and more.
As long as the material is thin enough to allow the nails to dig into framing members, straight nails are suggested because of the smaller mark that they leave.
That being said, it is sometimes necessary to use angled nails for thicker trim components. Remember, solidly affixing the piece of trim is more important than the size of the hole left by the nail.
Why are nail guns angled?
Nail gun cartridges are angled for two main reasons. First, the angle allows the cartridge to hold more nails for the size of the gun. Second, the angle allows more freedom to maneuver the driving tip of the gun into corners.
What type of finish nailer is best?
As discussed in this post, there is no "best" finish nailer. That being said, an angled finish nailer is probably more versatile than a straight finish nailer.
This versatility stems from the possibility of using larger nails for both rough and fine application even though the larger nails may leave larger than desired marks for the finer work.
In contrast, you cannot use relatively smaller nails for rough applications because they will not hold strongly enough or will not be long enough.
In term of brands, it is generally the case that you get what you pay for. That is to say, by spending more money up front, you are likely to be purchasing a nail gun that will last longer, will withstand more abuse, and will work more precisely.
In this post, we answered the question of how to choose between a straight and an angled finish nailer. We considered all of the main features and uses that distinguish these two similar carpentry tools. To conclude, we answered several related questions. Good luck!
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