Air or cordless brad nailer?

So this question is both general and specific.

The general is: for shop use (not on jobsites or construction), which way should woodworkers go for nailers: air or electric cordless?

The specific is: I’m setting up my own shop (finally) and I have a cheap air nailer (no depth setting) but no compressor. I’m wondering if I should buy a compressor or a battery nailer. I want a quiet compressor, so it’s $150 to $200. I don’t plan to use it for anything else other than maybe a pinner.

The other option is a cordless brad nailer, which could be $300 if it’s a DeWalt or $110 if it’s a Ryobi. (I have DeWalt 20V Max batteries. )

I guess the cheapest way to go is to get the Ryobi and use a Ryobi-to-DeWalt battery adapter. Is that a good idea? Or is the Ryobi crap? Is a compressor more useful than I think it is?


I have written about this before and for the most part getting battery adapters off of eBay is a bad idea. Those I have gotten off of Amazon On the other hand, have all been worth their weight in gold.

I personally would avoid the cord wherever possible, in this case that’s the air hose and go with a cordless battery solution particularly if you have a battery platform already.

Might I make third suggestion for you if you’re gonna spend the money and you have any 12 V tools look into some of the 12 V Brad nailer, including Milwaukee and Makita.

Thanks for the advice Mike! Somehow I’d missed the M12 brad nailer. I have a few M12 batteries too.

I’m of the opinion that battery adapters are fine for a tool like this, though I am wary of using them on high-power-demand tools. I don’t have any experience with Dewalt to Ryobi adapters but I have been using other adapters from Amazon with Dewalt batteries and they have been working great.

Otherwise this is a tough call.
Personally I feel that compressed air is essential for a workshop even if it’s just for a blow gun. And many pneumatic tools are simultaneously lighter, more compact, and more powerful than electric tools. That said, there is a hose involved. So in the end you’re weighing two different sets of pros and cons–which do you value more, the smaller lighter nailer or the lack of the air hose?

Personally I would go pneumatic for workshop use. I would want the air for other tools anyway, and I’d rather have the smaller lighter tool; for workshop use the hose is not much hassle. But if you think you might do any work at all outside of the workshop? Cordless all the way.

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Thank you Mecha!

So what other tools would you use the compressed air for? Maybe I’m being too close-minded. I know air tools are durable, light, compact, and cool running. There are also tons of them available used, and I would trust them to run fine.

Other than nailers/staplers, pneumatic is especially good for sanders and there is a wide variety of different kinds. Also the “body saw” and the air hammer commonly used by auto repair techs have a lot of uses beyond working on cars. Die grinders are super useful–they can cut, shape, grind, sand, polish, nearly any material. The basic pneumatic ones are a fraction of the price of cordless which means they’re cheap enough you can get a few and keep them set up with whatever bits you most commonly use. I have several, some cordless, but I always make a point to keep three specific setups on hand: a straight type with a “tree” or “flame” carbide burr, another straight with a Saburrtooth cup rasp, and a right-angle one with a 2in Roloc mandrel. With a 3/8in arbor added you can use them as cutoff tools as well. They are basically a big dremel and like a dremel you can do a ton of things with them, it’s just a matter of finding the type of bits that suits the projects you are doing.
Cordless impact wrenches and ratchets have largely replaced pneumatic ones but the fact remains that pneumatics are often a lot more economical and like you said there are a lot of used ones out there too.

Thanks again Mecha! So a body saw is a kind of small reciprocating saw. Interesting! And re die grinders, I have a M12 rotary tool, but it’s not the slimmest lightest tool, and it bogs down if I’m not careful. Shaping things like axe handles is out of the question.

So will these things run on the typical 1-6 gallon compressor a hobbyist like would buy?


1 gallon is not enough for pneumatic tools. Tools such as air guns, ratchets, sanders need at least 3 cfm to operate properly. An air hammer even more. There is little chance the compressor would not be constantly running if you use anything less than a 5-6 gallon compressor and even then it’s going to kick on a lot and performance suffer.

For something like a Brad nailer, it’s possible for small projects and without using rapid fire, to get away with something in the 2 gallon range. but again you will have to be deliberate and pace the firing of nails so as not to drain the compressor and have misfires or half sunken nails. A larger framer, and 2 gallons is out of the question.

Bostitch makes a quality 6 gallon pancake compressor I’ve used and worked well in a variety of applications.

Thanks for the info! I’m looking at a CAT 6 gallon. For some reason, it’s hardly any more expensive than their 1 gallons. I guess the tank doesn’t add much to the cost.

In the past month I have reading and watching as many reviews as possible for a battery nailer.

First off, I am looking for a 3 1/2 framing nailer, total opposite end of the spectrum to a pinner that you are looking at. I’ll tell you what I have learned and some may apply to a pinner, while other stuff will not.

First off, a battery framing nailer is big and bulky compared to the air version. For a pinner, I doubt weight would be significant. In fact the hose on the end would be more of a nuisance than the slight extra weight of a battery on such a small gun. I was on some contractor websites, the vast majority prefer air because the guns are better (battery are getting into gen2 & 3, but still lack the refinement of air), little to zero maintenance, and are less bulky than battery guns.

I have Campbell Hausfeld (middle of the road brand) 3 1/2 framer, a 2" nailer, 2 brad nailers and a stapler (1" U style staples) for 15 + years. Rarely have they jammed and all just keep working.

As much as I would like the battery nailer for some big framing projects I have coming up, I can’t justify the price for one. In a few years they will be btter and hopefully less expensive, but not for me now.

In your case, for only a pinner, maybe battery is the way to go. I remember seeing good things about Ryobi nailers, so I would not be hesitant to go Ryobi. Their is a very good finish carpenter on YT who believes that battery adapters is the future. I do not use any but a pinner plus batteries and charger by Ryobi would cost very little. DON’T forget…Father’s Day is coming an HD always has lots of Ryobi specials.

On the other hand, as some have said, a compressor is great to have in a workshop. If you do go for one, my suggestion is do not get a pancake or small compressor rated just for nailers, get at least a 5-6 CFM that will run quite a variety of tools. The little pancake compressors are more for pros that need an easily transportable compressor for jobsite nailing jobs. Forget about sanding with a compressor as they are all air hogs, they all need 10-20 CFM, meaning at least a 220v 80 gallon compressor…which I do not believe you are interested at investing in.

Either way, battery or air, either can work easily for you. There were a couple of YT’ers that really like the Ryobi 18v pinners.

JUST REMEMBER, Father’s day might be the 2nd or 3rd biggest tool sales event of the year, so take your time.

Good luck!

Thanks! I’m waiting for Father’s Day.

I’m looking at a CAT 8-gallon 1 hp compressor. So it’s not the smallest they make, but it can do only 3 cfm.

I have not seen the specs for the CAT 8 gallon, but what is key is CFM at 90 psi. Sometimes they will give CFM at 40 PSI, which is useless, few if any tools will operate. Most nailers at 40 PSI will drive the nail only half way into the wood. Conversely, some will also give you a CFM rating for 150 PSI or even greater. Unless you have specialized equipment, few tools can handle 150 PSI without blowing seals. Just about every tool you will encounter will give you the CFM requirements for 90 PSI.

Thanks, that’s good to know. The CAT 6-gallon will supply 2.2 cfm at 90 psi. I’m sure that’s fine for nailers, but what about other tools?

With that size compressor you’re going to have no problem with things like trim/brad nailers, staplers, small grinders like a die or pencil grinder, and smaller ratchets or impact guns. It might not keep up with a framing nailer unless you deliberately go slow, it won’t run most air sanders. If you want to paint it will handle an airbrush or a small touchup spray gun OK but it won’t handle a full size spray gun.

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Got it. Thanks again, Mecha!