16 or 18 Gauge Nailer for Hardwood Floor?

September 18, 2022

Carpenter use 16 and 18 gauge nailers to install hardwood floor.

You might also run into the crucial decision of selecting between 16-gauge or 18-gauge nailers. All these factors can make the choosing process a challenge for, especially if you want to install hardwood floorboards. Hence, if you are a bit confused as to which nailer to use for installing your hardwood flooring, it will be best to know the difference between the 16-gauge and the 18-gauge nail guns. 

As a beginner in woodworking, you might find it overwhelmingly hard to decide which nail gun you would purchase first. The reason is—there are plenty of nail gun options at hand. You’ll see, for example, coil-style nail guns and strip-style nail guns. You will also encounter different types of nail guns depending on applications like nail guns for frame nails, trim, finishing, brad, pinners, palm nailers, and many more.

16-gauge and 18-gauge Nailers: Facts You Must Know

As a beginner, you might surmise that 16-gauge nails are thinner than 18-gauge nails. Contrariwise, it is not the case, for 16-gauge finish nail has a shank that is 0.0625-inch thick and comes with nails ranging from 1” to 3.5″ range. Thus, the 16-gauge nails are thicker than the 18-gauge nails, and you can use them better for denser wood pieces. The 16-gauge nails, of course, are perfect for flooring, base and crown moldings, casings, cabinets, staircases, chair rails, and exterior trim, making these nails very versatile. 

The 18-gauge nails, on the other hand, have a shank of 0.0475″ thick. It comes in a length range of .5” to 2.5″. These nails are perfect for decorative molding, casing, trim work, paneling and veneer, and baseboard. The 16-gauge nailer, of course, can hold 16-gauge nails, while an 18-gauge nailer can power 18-gauge nails.

Things You Should Know About Their Usage

You can use nails or staples to fasten hardwood flooring. Staples, of course, are less expensive. Yet, if you are a pro, you would surely not want to settle for staples. Instead, you would use flooring nails that come in 16, 18, or 20-gauge. These nails provide better holding power and let the wood floor contract and expand naturally. 

Hardwood, of course, are perfect for flooring because of their durability and resistance to wear and tear. Yet, hardwoods are more difficult to nail, offering greater resistance. Hence, your nail guns will doubly work if you fasten hardwood flooring. For this reason, you should choose more powerful nail guns. 

But a nail gun—designed only for hardwood—will not be suitable for driving nails through softer materials. The reason is that it would only drive the nails like bullets past the materials. Hence, it will be best to opt for a nail gun with adjustable power. In this way, you can use it for different materials aside from hardwood.

Factors to Consider When Choosing a Fastener for Installing Hardwood Floors

As you become more well-versed with nailing hardwood floors, you’ll notice that most nails used for hardwood floors range in thickness from 16 to 18 gauges. Yet, as mentioned above, the nails with the higher gauge number are the thinner ones. Your choice between 16 or 18 gauge would depend mainly on the wood’s hardness and thickness.

When fastening hardwood floors, you will use cleat nails instead of construction nails. You will use a nail gun to install cleat nails to spare you from using a mallet or hammer that could dent the hardwood. These cleat nails feature a series of barbs close to their point. 

These barbs stop the cleats from backing out of the hardwood. Of course, you can also use staples with 15-gauge. A resin-based glue coating more often complements the staples. Other factors you need to consider when choosing a nail gun for installing hardwood flooring include your project type, size, power source, and features.

16- or 18-gauge: Which is Better?

Your choice of nail thickness will play a critical role in the success of your hardwood floor installation. So, it will be best to choose the right finish nails at the onset. As mentioned above, 16-gauge finish nails are versatile. They got excellent holding power. 

They also can penetrate MDF and thicker wood. Plus, you got length options from 1 inch to 3-1/2 inches. Besides, you can use them for base and crown moldings, flooring, cabinets, staircases, chair rails, and exterior trims. 

The 16-gauge nails, however, come with some drawbacks. If you use them for larger projects, you will find them handy. But if you utilize them on finer works or small craft projects, you might get frustrated, for they can split the wood. 

Moreover, you would need more power to drive these nails. Thus, the wood has a higher tendency to split when using them. Besides, the heads of these nails are larger compared to the 18-gauge brads. Thus, they leave a larger hole that you need to fill or sand. 

The 18-gauge brads, however, are less thick with a range from 1/2 inch to 2-1/2 inches in length. They are perfect for more delicate and fragile pieces. These nails come with smaller heads and do not leave larger holes. Sanding and filling in are less needed. 

The 18-gauge nailers that drive these nails are easy to use and handy. Nevertheless, the 18-gauge nailers do not have as much power as the 16-gauge nailers. So, 18-gauge nailers will have difficulty driving the brads through thick wood pieces.


Your primary options when fastening hardwood floors are the 16-gauge and the 18-gauge nailers. So, when choosing between these two nailers, it will be best to consult the manufacturer’s recommendation. Moreover, you should also consider the wood thickness and hardness when selecting between these two nailers. 

Nail guns might be pneumatic or battery-powered versions. So, it will be best to know the pros and cons of each of these versions to arrive at an informed decision when buying a nail gun. Many, however, would prefer to use the pneumatic ones because of their continuous power, allowing them to work non-stop.

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