The Best Cordless Nail Guns to Speed Up Your Projects
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A cordless nail gun is a fast and easy tool to fasten trim. It fires the nail and sinks the fastener’s head below the surface in one operation. The advantage of cordless nail guns is that they’re the ultimate mobile trim tool. Unlike the pneumatic version of this tool, there’s no air compressor in the room with you, and you don’t have a hose snaking along behind the tool or hanging down from it. You can see why finish carpenters and DIY woodworkers have taken to these tools. They easily and rapidly nail up door and window trim, chair rail and baseboard, and handle miscellaneous fastening on repairs and furniture projects.
Click on the links below for a quick look at the best cordless nail guns from our test, then scroll down to read about our testing process as well as in-depth reviews.
The Best Cordless Nail Guns for Attaching Trim
The Differences in Nail Guns for Trim
Most of the nailers in our test were 18-gauge naileres (Ryobi, Milwaukee, DeWalt, and Craftsman). However, we also tested two 16-gauge nailers (the Metabo-HPT and the Makita) and even a headless 28-gauge pin nailer by DeWalt. Not that we mean to toot our own horn, but this DeWalt is also a 2023 Tool Award winner.
There are significant differences between 18-gauge and 16-gauge tools. Most importantly, 18-gauge finishing nails are more commonly known as brad nails (and the tools that fire them are known as brad nailers). These fasteners are very thin and their head is very easily concealed with a tiny dot of filler. However, the longer the nail, and the tougher the material you are driving it into, the more risk that an 18-gauge nail will misfire and bend—or even jam in the nailer. These fasteners come in various lengths and are sold in strips that slide into the nailer’s magazine. The strip’s width is the length of each brad (2 inches, say), and the length of the strip equals the number of fasteners. A box of these fasteners may contain anywhere from several hundred fasteners to a couple thousand.
Tools that fire 16-gauge nails (and 15-gauge) are known as finish nailers. Sixteen-gauge nails are thickler and fire more reliably into hard materials and they tend to fire more reliably when the fastener is longer. Their head is more difficult to conceal, owing to the larger diameter of the piece of wire from which the fastener is made.
For most of our testing, we focused on 18-gauge brad nailers for the simple fact that these tools are light, easy to handle, and provide excellent fastening power for baseboard trim, door trim, window trim, shoe molding, and small crown. To attach heavy crown molding or built-up molding assemblies, use a finish nailer.
How We Test
Every nail gun on this list has been thoroughly researched, evaluated, and tested. Additionally, we survey user reviews and speak with product managers and designers.
Once we had our pool of nail guns ready, we wanted to be sure our protocol was tougher than what these guns would typically encounter in a day’s work. For example, when testing for nail-sinking capability, we fired slowly and methodically into red oak, both 3/4 inch thick and 1.5 inches thick. When we increased the length of the nail, we doubled up the oak so that the gun was firing into either oak that was 1.5 inches thick or 3 inches thick (to ensure that guns rated for longer nails could indeed countersink the fastener when the fastener was longer than 2 inches).
For rapid-fire simulations, we prepared strips of various materials, such as white pine, radiata pine, birch and fir plywood, and MDF (medium-density fiberboard). In these cases, we were more concerned with the tool’s precision and speed than its raw power. However, just to be on the safe side, anytime that we simulated a test in trim or built-in cabinet construction, we positioned our test materials (either as a single layer or as a sandwich of various materials) over Douglas fir, a common and tough framing material. That way, we could be sure that the nailer was capable of not only firing through the test materials on the front of the wall, but also the framing in the wall itself.
The Metabo-HPT sailed to an easy placement in our 2022 Tool Awards owing to its light weight, easy handling, and ability to sink a fastener in the toughest wood. It sank all of its nails in our maple and red oak tests. A brushless motor increases its longevity as it improves its (already impressive) firing speed. With this power tool, you get a brad nailer that’s as light as a pneumatic tool, but without the air hose.
Let's take a closer look at that all-encompassing statement. Metabo-HPT has made a name for its nailers, going head to head with industry stalwarts such as Paslode, Senco, and Stanley Bostitch. All these companies know that the key to any nailer is that you have to place it quickly and easily where you need to fire. This is especially true with trim work where every nail has to be perfectly fired. One misfired nail can wreck a piece of trim, causing you to have to tear it off then cut and fasten a replacement piece. This is completely unlike framing where a misfired nail gets buried. The more weight and size you add to a nailer, the more difficult it becomes to place on its target–making it more likely that you may misfire a nail. The first generation of cordless nailers were good first efforts, but it was a close call between them and selecting a slim and easily-handled pneumatic tool, dragging a hose and a pancake compressor with you.
The Metabo-HPT represents the full fruition of the effort to make finish nailers slim and easy to handle. It's 30 percent lighter than its predecessor tool which was already fairly slim and easy to handle. The Metabo-HPT as a slim handle and a good line of sight to its tip. Therefore, it's easy to handle at floor height, mid height and over your head. The odds of you misnailing are greatly reduced and your productivity moves up a notch.
When you get right down to it, this is what 18-gauge fasteners are all about. Compared to tools that fire 15-gauge fasteners, you can pack more of them in a nailer's magazine, and they take less force to drive. Thus, the gun to fire them can be smaller and ligther. Yet at the same time they can fasten trim so securely that once it's nailed, it stays put. you have to pry it off by driving a flat bar behind it. So the Metabo-HPT succeeds on all fronts. It's light, easy handling, powerful and takes full advantage of the potential locked in 18-gauge fasteners by delivering a powertool well engineered to fire them.
The Ryobi is a do-it-yourselfer’s nailer. It lacks the long-nail driving power of our test’s top finishers. But it’s inexpensive and quite effective for most of the jobs that you will need it for when fastening together two pieces of softwood around the hose—think during craft projects, when attaching shoe molding, and when nailing on softwood door and window molding, baseboard, and small crown molding. Hobbyist crafters and DIYers will appreciate the tool’s lack of bulkiness; it’s a bit shorter and slimmer than professional-duty nail guns. Also, the dial at the back of the tool makes it fast and easy to adjust output air pressure to control nail depth. Turning the dial clockwise increases air pressure and driving power, while turning it counterclockwise has the opposite effect. Simple and intuitive.
With decades behind us testing Milwaukee Electric Tool products, we know the brand isn’t given to hyperbole. Yet we looked askance at its claim that this 18-gauge nailer can fire reliably into 2-inch oak. Well, not only does the 2746 do this, it also sets each nail with an impeccable and crisp cavity above the head, perfect for accepting filler. And there ends our brief career as Milwaukee skeptics. Other notable features of this tool include its mechanism that opens the entire top of the nailer’s nose for full and easy access to clear jammed nails (which we didn’t experience, by the way). It also has a slim profile and a well-shaped grip that contribute to its easy-handling nature. The 2746 makes nailing trim a pleasure.
Eighteen-gauge nails are finicky. The longer a nail is, the harder it is for a nail gun to reliably sink the skinny things into hardwoods without either misfiring and jamming in the nose or firing the nail into the material but not properly setting it below the surface. This DeWalt is different, consistently firing one nail after the other into red oak without a problem. Its slim handle, weight distribution, and balance are outstanding, improving our productivity, which was also enhanced by the tool’s stout drive mechanism and a lack of recoil. Place the gun and fire, then move on to the next nail. With the DCN680D1, it’s that simple.
Craftsman’s CMCN616C1 deserves the moniker of “most improved” when you consider its predecessor, the C3 Speed Shot. Don’t get us wrong; that wasn’t a bad little product. But the new Craftsman has more nail-driving power, a better sight line to its tip, and a more comfortable handle. We reliably fired nails into softwood up to 2.5 inches thick and oak up to 1.5. Just be warned, when we fired 2.5-inch nails into harder red oak, the majority of fasteners had their heads flush or nearly flush to the surface, not set just below the surface as is ideal. These nails, with their heads standing “proud” of the surface, required an old-fashioned nail set and a hammer for us to finish driving them. That aside, this is a good, sturdy, and reliable nailer.
The XNB02RJ’s slimness helps it excel in small spaces and at awkward angles, like when you’re nailing trim at floor level. And much of its surface area—especially its base and sides—is covered in rubber, protecting both the tool and the surface against which you place it. The kit version of the tool comes with two slim, 2-Ah batteries, which is good because we noticed a rear-weighted bias when we tried the tool with a larger battery. This shouldn’t be a problem if you purchase the kit; the two batteries provide more than enough power for a day’s work. It’s more of a problem for people who buy the tool bare and insert a larger battery in it.
Given how light and small this tool is, you might think this 20-volt 23-gauge pin nailer can’t cut it. Think again. While it’s true that it fires a headless wire pin that is so fine, you have to double check that it’s there, it does fire the fasteners just about as fast as you can pull the trigger. In our test, we fired 1-inch headless pins into Douglas fir framing; the tool works with fasteners as short as 5/8 in. to as long as 1-1/2 in.
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