Can I use 18-gauge nails in a 16-gauge nailer?

When you are dealing with different nail guns, you will need to know about the different gauges of nails. Typically, you will find yourself asking can I use 18-gauge nails in a 16-gauge nailer?

Well, that’s what I will be discussing here today. Whether you can use different gauge nails on a particular nail gun or not and what can be the repercussions of doing so, let’s get rolling.

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Understanding the different gauges

The first thing to learn is what these gauges mean and how they work in the nail gun context.

They start with the fact that every nailer has its predetermined gauge requirement. This means every nailer you use comes with a certain gauge requirement. Nails have that same gauge fastener that goes into the nail gun, and they work together.

Usually, certain nail guns only work with their recommended gauge sizes. So, if you are using a 15-gauge nail gun, then you will have to use 15-gauge nails with it. To dive even deeper, you can also get into the “gauge” factor.

How does gauge work? Typically, you would think that a higher gauge means a larger nail. But in reality, it’s the opposite. A higher gauge simply means a thinner nail. When you are going for a higher gauge, you are essentially choosing a thinner nail.

Another factor that comes into this gauge discussion is the head size. A higher gauge will give you a smaller head size. And the head size of the nail matters a lot in loading or installing the nail on your nail gun. So, you have to think about this factor more than anything else.

As you would assume, every nail has its purpose. Sometimes, you may need thinner nails, and sometimes you may need thicker nails. It all depends on the project and the purpose of getting the nails.

Coming to the scenario of 18-gauge and 16-gauge, you get the idea. A 16-gauge nail is much thicker than an 18-gauge nail. So, when you are dealing with a heavy project, you go with 16-gauge, and with a lighter project, you work with 18-gauge; that’s the easiest way to put it.

Having said that, let’s dive into the real discussion, whether you can use different gauges in different nail guns.

Can you use an 18-gauge nail in a 16-gauge nailer? In Details

In theory, it seems possible because an 18-gauge nail has a smaller head than a 16-gauge nail, so it should fit into the slot of a 16-gauge nailer. But in reality, this doesn’t work and you shouldn’t even attempt it.

There are several reasons for that; the first one is the drive piston on your 16-gauge nailer. The drive piston on your nailer is mainly meant for a 16-gauge nail which is much larger and stronger than an 18-gauge nail. So, when you put the 18-gauge nail into this test, it may fail miserably.

What do I mean by fail? Well, it may just be a nail, but the wrong size nail can result in damaging your tool in some way. Here are the things that can go wrong when you use the wrong size nail on your nailer.

Jams the nail a lot

The first issue you come across with installing the wrong size of nails is that it jams your nail gun frequently. Putting in the wrong nails causes the nail gun to mess up the mechanism inside the nail gun; as a result, it jams up because of the wrong nail head loaded in it.

How to unjam a nail gun?

Shoots two nails at once

This is a pretty common issue when you use the wrong sizes of nails in your nail gun. It’s also called Double kiss, where you will accidentally shoot multiple bullets at once. This can be very dangerous at times because when the second nail shoots out of the gun, it can ricochet and hurt you somehow.

Aside from that risk, it can also impact the nail gun negatively and damage the driver shaft of the tool. In that case, you will be looking at an expensive repair, or you may even need to buy a new nail gun altogether.

Why does my nail gun shoot two nails?

Nailer stops working

Another issue you encounter while using the wrong nail sizes is that it will not even shoot the nails. It doesn’t shoot the nails unless you put the right nail size inside the gun. So, you just sit there wondering why your nail gun isn’t working and worrying about it.

Considering all that, I would say it’s always best to use the nail size that your nailer is intended for. So, if you are using a 16-gauge finish nailer, it’s best to use 16-gauge nails. And if you need 18-gauge nails for your project, then you have to use the 18-gauge brad nailer for this purpose.

However, there is only one scenario when this works out. Only if your nail gun is compatible with multiple gauges will you find many nail gun options out there that offer both finish nails and brad nails options. This means you can use both 18-gauge nails and 16-gauge nails on the nail gun.

Read about the difference between 16 gauge Vs 18 gauge

While they can be a bit more expensive, they are worth it if you need variety in your nail sizes. Because then you won’t have to get multiple nail guns to fulfill different needs. You get an all-in-one solution.


In summary, if you are wondering if you can use 18-gauge nails in a 16-gauge nailer or not, then the answer is no. You can’t use a different nail gauge on a nailer that is intended for a particular gauge. It can damage the machine and make the process very risky for you.

From all that, the best thing you learn is always to use the nail gauge that the nailer manufacturers recommend. It’s the best way to avoid any issues in your nail gun and get the job done as well. And if you need a multipurpose nail gun, there are plenty of options you can check out.