Looking for Advice on Compressor finish nailer

Hello all:

My wife has tasked me with doing some trim work in a bathroom, laundry room and mud room. I’m looking at either buying or renting a compressor and I would guess an 18 gauge air nailer.

I am drawn to the nicer quieter units like the California Air Tools in the smaller sizes like 1 or 2 gallons but then I look at the $56 Harbor Freight 3 gallon model and think that it will probably work just fine to get this project done.

As to nailers what are your recomendations? Probably less than 500 nails total. Again, the $26 HF looks like it might get the job done verus the $60 Porter Cable versus the even more expensive Dewalt or Hitachi.

Thoughts and recommendations please! I have analysis paralysis!

Cheers, Steve.

You’re right with the harbor freight, it will likely get the job done, at a minimum of cost. I think the question to answer is will this be the only project or usage you want it for? A compressor I find super handy outside of nailing duties, you can fill car tires without the bicycle pump, blow out keyboards, computer cases, vacuum filters, and whatever else you might find, I even used mine to blow out a plant dripper line that I was worried about holding water and freezing on one of our super-weird cold-enough-to-freeze days. The nailer is a bit less versatile obviously, but the same question applies, is this going to be your only project using the gun, or are more going to come up once the boss sees how good this one comes out? Maybe not right away, but a year or a couple years down the road even? I haven’t had good luck with letting harbor freight tools sit and then expect them to work again a year or two later, though that’s just me and I’m sure others have much better luck. In any case, if you plan on using it more than just the once, you might look into something other than the harbor freight, as you might get better longevity. 18ga is a pretty common size for all manner of tasks too.

If you’re really just looking for the nailing aspect, you might consider a nailer only option. The ryobi 18ga cordless nailer in a kit form is only $149, quite a bit more than the $82 HF total, but less than $160 for a porter cable pancake and gun. https://www.homedepot.com/p/Ryobi-18-Volt-ONE-AirStrike-18-Gauge-Cordless-Brad-Nailer-and-Lithium-Upgrade-Kit-P320-P128 .

If you already have cordless tools, you might be able to get a tool-only version for your brand for less than that price. I’d be hesitant about going this route of a dedicated nail gun though, since you lose the versatility of a compressor, but if you have cordless tools on a platform that has a nail gun, that might be cheaper than a compressor and gun.

In the compressor and gun category, that’s a whole can of worms, there’s so many styles and options out there… I’d look at reviews here and elsewhere on various brands and models, and determine what features are important to you, and that will help us narrow it down. California Air Tools are great compressors, and their quiet ones are a favorite for many, but you will be paying for that feature. Porter cable is a standard with their 6 gal pancake you can usually get for $99. Rolair is another great brand, but usually seems a little more spendy. You can find combos as well that include an 18ga gun that might save you a few dollars, some actually wind up more expensive. A porter cable compressor and 18ga combo is $199, when if you bought them separately it would be $160 plus the cost of an air hose (less than $39 for sure).

For guns, Porter cable are widely available and usually decent enough, Hitachi guns are a step up and are very well regarded, you also have Bostitch, Senco, DeWalt, and others that are of good quality and varying prices. My porter cable 16 and 18ga guns have held up for years with no issues or signs of slowing down, my hitachi framer is fantastic and has held up superbly to abuse, and the hitachi 23ga I got recently is fantastic to the point where if I have to replace the PC guns one day, it will be with Hitachi for those sizes as well.

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Also, what kind of trim are you doing? 18ga is maybe a little light for putting up door jambs and casing and similar, somebody someday will grab onto it from tripping, put clothes hangers on it to hold temporarily, or try to do a pull-up or something, and 18ga isn’t going to keep it in the wall as well as 16/15ga or a different fastener type. It’ll definitely hold under non-exceptional circumstances, but I’ve also seen repeated light stuff like putting hangers on a frame eventually work it out from the wall no matter what gauge of fastener is used. Baseboard and crown and chair rail is good with 18ga, and honestly there’s plenty of houses out there with the door trim put up with 18ga.

You might think of alternatives to shot nails as well. A finish nail with a nail set is more work, but for a one off project, will be a lot cheaper. Similarly, you could use trim head screws instead of nails, though it takes a little more puttying and smoothing on the finishing end. But they’ll hold better and be still a lot cheaper than a whole gun setup.

If you want the compressor for other things, you could also put more of your budget towards a nicer, quieter compressor and rent just the gun, especially if you don’t think you’ll ever use the gun again.

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Thanks very much for this information.

Just to clear up a detail. When I say “trim” work what I mean is baseboards and trim around doors and windows, not actually attaching the door casing to the house frame at all.

For that purpose would 18 gauge be correct?

I have Dewalt cordless tools so their 20vmax nailer is $250 as a bare tool so I think the compressor will have more utility for me.

So, looking at 1 gallon compressors which would you all recommend between these two:

Thanks much! Steve.

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With regards to the compressors, the CAT one will be quite significantly quieter than the dewalt one. Here’s a non-panel version of the same compressor, saves a few bucks, I don’t know if you wanted the panel for some reason.

1 gallon is just fine for single person trim nailing, or very short bursts of blowing things out. And they’re surprisingly small and easy to store and carry in that size, if you’ve seen the Ridgid cordless 1 gallon one or dewalt 1 gallon in store, that’ll give you an idea. WhIchever you go with, be sure to break it in as the manual specifies (usually something like running 10-15 minutes with the drain open so no pressure buildup), it will help extend the life of the compressor and reduce or prevent possible leaks in the pump. You’ll also need a hose for your nailer, this isn’t demanding so grab whatever floats your boat, rubber or plastic, coiled, etc. For such a small and quiet compressor, you’ll likely be working with it nearby, so one of the coiled hoses might be a good pairing. Also make sure to get the appropriate quick connect fittings for the hose and Teflon tape to put them on.

For the nailer, that’s a tricky and variable question. Oak trim has a higher tendency to split, though aligning the nail to the grain helps, I might go with the 18ga despite decreased holding power. MDF doesn’t split, but makes for nasty nail holes. Depending on the design and thickness of the trim, 16ga might split thin areas that 18ga does fine in. Door jamb should definitely be put up with larger nails or screws, while casing is less critical, same with baseboard. The main difference I note is how fast the trim works away from the wall. I’ve seen 10 year old houses where the trim is pulling away from the wall, or mainly held on by caulk that somehow hadn’t cracked and separated, and it’s because the stuff is held on with dinky little nails. Not saying for sure that would happen in your case obviously, but eventually all nails will loosen up somewhat. Laundry rooms may be slightly more prone to this issue, as the humidity rises and drops, the trim expands and contracts. If the walls (or trim piece) aren’t straight, 18ga will be less able to pull a bow into or out of the trim to follow the wall than a larger nail. I did a bathroom recently where the walls were so not straight replacing baseboard that I had to break out the 15ga just to get the holding power to bend the baseboard to match the wall. I’m not even sure how long that will last, we’ll probably be replacing it with screws in a few years.

18ga will likely hold just fine today if you don’t have to deal with those problems. 18ga leaves smaller holes to fill, can be used more cleanly in the smaller and thinner sections of trim, like the edge going into the jamb, and is less prone to splitting. 16ga will cause a larger hole, is more prone to splitting if there are delicate areas, but will have a bit more holding power than the 18ga. In either case, you’ll typically use the longest nail available for baseboard and the outside of casing, but maybe go a bit shorter for going into the jamb to prevent deflection and breaking through.

If I only had one single nailer, it would be the 16ga, and I’d have no hesitation putting up trim with it. I think you’ll find it more useful for more projects than an 18ga, and filling slightly larger nail holes on painted trim isn’t a huge deal. But the 18ga would be preferable if you are ever going to do any more delicate work, like rosettes or accents on trim (around here people like adding rope looking accent pieces) or crown moulding or similar where the smaller nail holes outweigh extra holding power. Or if you’re doing stain grade rather than painted, the nail fills are more obvious so a smaller nail hole might look a lot better. Door trim is really the main benefactor of the extra hold of a 16ga, since it’s always getting bumped into or held onto, or crazy people that put pull up bars on them, not realizing they’re held up by 4 or 5 18 gauge pins. Baseboard and window casing and crown moulding and the like don’t really get subject to the same abuse, which is why you can better get away with 18ga there. Trim head screws are actually really awesome, you could do the stuff that makes sense with an 18ga if that’s more your needs, and the difficult stuff or where you need some strength with screws. Online you’ll find a full mix of people that swear by 18ga, 16ga, 15ga, screws, glue (please no), hand driven nails, all for various reasons, and their applications from type of trim to squareness of house to ornateness I think drive some of the discrepancy.

Hopefully some other folks can chime in as well, i don’t want to be the only opinion here, I’m not a trim/finishing contractor that does this day in and day out. But I do enough sprucing up rooms for folks that usually involves replacing trim, sometimes to go more ornate, sometimes just to put fresh pieces up and do the corner miters a bit better than the original contractors, hopefully it helps a bit for your situation.

Thanks so much for this information. No seriously…this is above and beyond. Thank you very much!

I think it’s really a tribute to the Toolguyd website that the readers are so willing to share information.

So it sounds like an 16 gauge nailer would work just fine with painted MDF trim. I don’t anticipate every doing intricate wood trim or any stained trim.

Again thanks so much!

Cheers, Steve.

Sounds like the compressor and in-expensive nailer is a good option for you. 18 ga is fine for nearly anything you will do. Caulk in your trim and it will be fine. If you wan’t to be sure it’s every stronger for that person who may try pull ups on the door trim, you can simply use adhesive caulking on the backside of the trim boards to glue them on as you install. Usually 18ga is good for holding anything together while the glue dries. For woodworking, glues are stronger than any nails and 18ga will hold two pieces of surprisingly large wood together until the glue dries. This applies to trim molding and various other items.

Spokanesteve is right on the money for a DIY job and woodworking. For small trim on furniture - using a 21 or 23ga pin is usually enough - holds the molding in place while the glue dries and can be easier than clamping - since the molding will not move around as it sometimes does when applying clamping pressure. In our commercial work - we might have gone for heavier 16ga or even 15ga nails for trim - because we did not want call backs in case where someone pulled some casing off. We’d also use glue - sometimes even biscuits and/or small dominoes on joints to insure no pull apart. We’d clamp miter joints for many stained trim jobs - and used these:


But there are alternatives:





I have the small California Air Tools compressor and I can vouch for how awesome it is. Absolutely no need for hearing protection with this unit. It does have low CFM so don’t expect to drive a bunch of high volume tools with it. I drive 16 and 18 and staple guns with it and can do it all day long as the compressor cycles on and off with small noise.

But some guns, especially with 16 gage or thicker, are loud. so even if the compressor is quiet the nailing can be very loud.

I’ve had this kit for 10 years with no problems

I even use the compressor to winterize a home every fall

This Porter Cable kit is often on sale for $199 - and sometimes even $189

I’m a DIY and 14 years ago I bought the 6gal 150psi PC kit w Brad nailer for 1 house job.
Since then, done a 2nd house, hardwood flooring, countless jobs, tires for 2 cars & 8 bicycles year round. It’s also my air station for fixing/teching Paintball markers. I’ve also added a stapler for projects and re-upholstery. The brad nailer is performing flawlessly and compressor is still going. The air pressure switch was a bit intermittent a few years ago but seem to go away on its own. Great all around tool kit for a DIY. If I had started with a cordless nailer I’m certain I would have ended up with a compressor.

I’m curious how? Isn’t it too low of pressure?

Background: I used to play nationally through the '00’s and I’m also a P.R.O. Referee of NXL and the now defunct N.P.P.L. , also spent alot of time repairing rentals at the field ( Bcsplat.com )

Cool. My team’s brush w greatness was our 1 and only outing at Skyball 2000! .)
With the 150psi going directly in to the maker I can cycle/tech markers which normally operate under 200 psi i.e. Autocockers, GoGs, spoolies (Ions, DMs Gen 2->).

I did Skyball 02… I think… sounds right… anyways. Makes sense, never even gave it a hint of a thought, in my head I think of LP tanks @ 450psi and basically neglect the thought that on many guns the actual operating (post regulated) is in the 150 to 200psi range and using a standard air compressor would certainly work for leaks and in some cases even cycle. But alas I’m retired from the game these days… though my kids are trying to reverse it.

Wait a sec… people still use Autocockers??? lol