Selecting The Proper Nail Gauge For Your DIY Projects

Aug 15, 2023 | NEWS

As any experienced carpenter knows, having the right nails on hand can make a big difference in the success of your DIY projects. But with so many nail sizes and types available, how do you know which gauge and diameter nails are best suited for different applications? In this blog post, we’ll break down the common nail gauge sizes, with a focus on 16, 18, and 20 gauge nails. We’ll look at nail diameters, nail gun compatibility, and the best uses for each gauge.

18 gauge air nailer finshing nails

Understanding Nail Gauges

Nail gauge refers to the thickness of the nail shaft. The lower the gauge number, the thicker the nail. Common nail gauges are 16, 18, 20, and 23. 16-gauge nails are the thickest, best suited for heavy duty applications. Meanwhile, 23-gauge nails are very thin, designed for delicate work. 18 and 20-gauge fall in the middle for light to medium duty uses.

Nail Diameter by Gauge

Specifically, let’s look at nail diameters among 16, 18, and 20 gauges:

  • 16 gauge nails have a diameter of 0.162 inches, making them well-suited for structural applications. The thicker shaft allows them to withstand more force without bending.
  • 18 ga nail diameter has a smaller diameter of 0.13 inches. Their slightly thinner profile makes them a lighter duty option suitable for trim carpentry and cabinetry.
  • 20 gauge nails are even thinner at 0.099 inches in diameter. They work well for delicate trim and finish work. But they lack the strength for structural framing.

Matching Nail Guns to Nail Gauges

It’s important to use the proper nail gun or nailer matched to the gauge of the nails you plan to use. Heavier duty 18 gauge air nailer finshing nails accommodate the thicker 18 gauge nails. But they lack the adjustability for thinner 18 or 20 gauge nails. On the flip side, using a 20 gauge nailer with too-thick 16 gauge nails risks jamming the mechanism.

Consult your nail gun’s documentation to verify the compatible nail gauges. Or look for combo nailers designed to handle a range of gauges, like 16 to 20 gauges. This adds versatility to switch between finish and framing nails. You’ll also need to match the nail length to your nailer’s capacity.

Best Uses for 16 Gauge Straight Finish Nails

Now let’s look at some of the best applications for specific nail types and gauges:

16 gauge straight finish nails are an excellent choice for installing door jambs and window casings. The thicker 16 gauge straight nails provide a sturdy hold in solid wood. Their smooth finish slides in easily when toenailing frames and casings. The 2 to 3 inch length gives ample strength without poking through.

16 gauge finish nails also work well for baseboard trim, crown molding, and other structural trim. Their holding power resists wood movement and separation over time. Just take care not to split more delicate wood with the thicker 16 gauge. Pre-drilling helps avoid splitting.

When Using 18 Gauge Air Nailer Finishing Nails

Moving down in size, 18 gauge air nailer finishing nails are ideal for detailed trim and cabinetry work. The 18 gauge nails have slightly less holding power than 16 gauge. But they generate less risk of splitting in knotted or painted wood. So 18 gauge nails allow smoother, safer installation of intricate projects like:

  • Door and window trim
  • Flooring trim and transitions
  • Cabinet facings
  • Mouldings and decorative accents

An 18 gauge nailer can rapidly drive the thinner nails, saving time and fatigue over hand nailing. Just be sure to keep an air compressor powered on to maintain consistent pressure. The smaller 18 gauge nails also leave smaller holes that are easier to conceal with putty or paint.

Options for 20 Gauge Finish Nails

Finally, super thin 20 gauge nails work excellently for the most delicate woodworking. Use hand drive 20 gauge pins for:

  • Small furniture pieces
  • Cabinetry assembly
  • Crafts like jewelry boxes
  • Hanging pictures

The tiny 20 gauge nail holes can disappear into the wood grain without need for filling. You can also clinch the thinner nails for an invisible hold. While 20 gauge nails lack the strength for heavy projects, their precision and discretion make them ideal for detailed finish work.

Now Get Out There and Start Nailing!

As you can see, paying attention to nail gauges and diameters makes a real difference in carpentry success. Keep this guide handy as you stock up on nail essentials for your next DIY project. Making the right nail choices will lead to stronger builds, faster application, and invisible mends. Just match the nail specs to your specific purpose. Once you get the hang of nail gauges, you’ll be nailing those home projects like a pro!