DIY Arts & Crafts: Is A Brad Nailer Right For You?
Think of the words "nail gun" and it might conjure up images of a burly construction worker wielding a heavy, high-powered weapon for blasting nails into beams and spiking together chunky hunks of lumber. While there was a time when nail guns were used mostly by professional carpenters, the versatility and reduced costs of smaller brad nailers makes this the perfect tool for a variety of woodworking projects. Many craftsmen, carpenters and weekend woodworkers use brad nailers to save time and improve accuracy over driving in nails by swinging a hammer. If you are an Arts & Crafts hobbyist, you may find even a few more good reasons for investing in a brad nailer.
I like to make small woodworking projects in my home workshop, and I especially enjoy building birdhouses and wooden toys along with basic repair and DIY projects around the house. For years, I struggled with tacking small bits of wood together by hammering in finishing nails or clamping odd-shaped pieces in place until the glue dried. The results were often less than satisfying: slightly miss-aligned parts, split pieces of wood, and sore fingers from holding small nails while trying to pound them in with a hammer.
One day, a friend stopped by and noticed several of my work-in-progress projects. A skilled carpenter with a keen eye and an envious collection of quality tools, he pointed a few errant nails and asked, "Why don't you get yourself a small brad nailer".
The Porter-Cable 18 Gauge Brad Nailer is my nailing tool of choice. This little pneumatic nail gun is lightweight, easy to use and fires tiny little brads that barely leave a pinhole in the surface of the wood. I purchased the Porter-Cable kit that includes the 18 gauge nailer, a small amount of brads and basic operating instructions in a plastic carrying case. If you do not have an air compressor and air hose, Porter-Cable offers a complete kit with everything you need to get started.
This small brad nailer makes it faster and easier to assemble my woodworking projects. And since I don't have to hold small and often delicate pieces in place while swinging a hammer to drive in nails, the brad nailer produces a higher level of accuracy for better results. Here are a few ways to use a brad nailer around your home and workshop. Maybe a nail gun will improve your projects too.
The Perfect Nailer for Arts & Crafts
I use my brad nailer for building birdhouses such as the Driftwood Birdhouse pictured here. Tacking the small, brittle pieces of driftwood is exceptionally difficult with a traditional hammer and finish nails. By shooting the brads with a nail gun, I can hold the piece securely in place with one hand, press the gun down on the driftwood twig, and nail it in place with a light press on trigger.
The brad nailer can shoot nails up to 2" long. Loaded with weather-resistant galvanized nails, I use this small brad nailer for assembling birdhouses and adding bits of decorative trim. The compact size of the nail gun lets it fit into tight places or nail in awkward positions where it might be difficult to swing a hammer and drive in a nail.
Using Nails As Clamps:
Hold small or odd-shapes pieces of wood in place when gluing and clamping them together is another common woodworking challenge. To stop the pieces of wood from slipping out of position, spread on the glue and then simply tack the pieces together with a few brads before applying the clamps. This trick also works well when using screws to build cabinets or similar projects: tack the pieces in place with brads, and then drill pilot holes and drive in the screws,
The brad nailer is also the tool of choice for pinning together miter joints. The 45-degree cuts are hard to hold in place while clamping and gluing, and one piece always seems to slide out of alignment. A couple of brads through the corners solves the problem.
You can even use the brad nailer to attach finished pieces of wood together. The brads do not have "heads" so the holes are very small. Filling the pin holes is easy, and the filled holes are barely noticeable.
Trim Work: This little brad nailer excels at tacking trim work in place. I recently refinished a basement windowsill and shelf, and the little nailer worked flawlessly for tacking up the casework around the window. I used 2" long brads to tack the outer, thicker edges of the molding, then quickly swapped in smaller 3/4" brads to nail the thinner, inner profile of the molding. The wire-thin brads even shot through a narrow piece of trim without splitting.
Is A Brad Nailer Perfect?
There are a few minor drawbacks to my little air nailer. The first thing you need is air; this is a pneumatic nailer, and you need an air compressor to create the pressure to fire the nail gun. Compressors can be noisy, and you need a length of hose to connect the nailer back to the compressor.
Curving nails are another problem. The thin nails sometimes follow the grain of the wood and rather than shooting straight, the brad turns and pops out unexpectatly through the edge of the wood. When this happens, I either pull out the brad with pliers or cut the nail and push any protruding metal remains back into the wood before patching the blemish.
Use Caution and Good Judgment
A nail gun is a dangerous tool that requires respect: the gun fires nail at high speed and with great force. It can easily shoot a 2-inch long nail into wood -- or into flesh. Keep your fingers away from the tip of driver (where the nails shoot out). The firing tip has a safety that only allows the gun to fire when the tip is pressed against the work piece.
Always wear safety glasses and hearing protection. And keep your hands out of the path of a curving nail to reduce the rick of injury.
Brad Nailer Starter Kit: What You Need
Porter-Cable 18GA Brad Nailer
This is the kit that I bought, and it has served me well for many years. The nailer is durable, nails are readily available at home centers and online, and replacement are reasonably priced and easy to find.
The Porter-Cable Brad Nailer Kit includes a few brads, but you will need more nails in various lengths for different projects.
You will also need an air hose. A standard 25" air hose works well for me, and gives me plenty of range. Buy a quality air hose that doesn't kink easily. If you have the space, consider getting an air hose on a retractable reel.
Pancake Air Compressor
I really like my little Porter-Cable Pancake compressor. Its compact size fits into my packed workshop, and it provides plenty of air pressure for crafts and woodworking projects. It also comes in handy for filling bicycle tires and basketballs.
Porter-Cable now offers a complete kit that includes a nail gun, brads, an air hose and compressor in a single package.
See A Porter Cable Brad Nailer In Action
This short trade show video features the Porter-Cable 23 gauge brad nailer, demonstrating the compact size of the nailer and its ease of use. It is very similar to my 18 gauge nailer, though slightly smaller and it fires even thinner brads (the larger the gauge, the thinner the diameter of the brad).