What size brad nails for chair rail?

  • By: Sam Shaw
  • Date: August 13, 2021
  • Time to read: 4 min.

What size brad nails for chair rail?

The typical size of brad nails for chair rail is 3-1/2″, although there are larger and smaller sizes. Nails for chair rails should be large enough that they do not split the wood as they are driven in. A nail that has a round shank is recommended so that it will penetrate deeply into the wood. Brad nails also typically have a large head so that they stand out from the wood.

In my experience, I have seen that clients are often confused about what size and type of brad nails should be used for chair rail. They ask if the nails need to be driven in deep, or if they can just “touch” the surface of the wood.

The answer is that it doesn’t matter how far into the wood you drive them. If you use a 22 gauge, pneumatic finish nailer, with 1-1/2″ long brads, it will take several thousand pounds of pressure to drive those nails all the way into a piece of oak (assuming Oak is over 8% moisture content). But it only takes 150 lbs to drive a 3″ #4 round shank nail into Oak, and only 45 lbs to drive a 3-1/2″ brad nail into oak.

But you want the nails to stay where they are driven so that they don’t pop out of the wood when you are installing new flooring or baseboards in the rooms below them.

A useful tip for any size of brad nail: Use Sequential Tip Set (STS)

If possible, it is good practice to use a nail gun with a sequential tip set (STS) – which means that if you pull back the trigger on your gun for another shot, there is no exposed sharp point on your brad’s head – it has already retracted under the nose of the tool. This greatly reduces any risk of puncturing anything as you make finishing passes around trim work.

However, STS guns cost about twice as much as standard finish nailers, so if you’re looking for a lower-cost solution, it is possible to hang your trim work without STS guns.

In this case, make sure that when you are shooting nails into trim pieces or chair rail that your gun’s nose piece (the part of the nail tip that sticks out) does not contact any baseboards where they overlap each other. You might have to take a few passes around the room getting used to how far away from the wall you need to stand.

Always use appropriate tools to drive nails.
Always use appropriate tools to drive nails.

How do you drive any size of brad nails?

Another consideration is: How do I drive these nails? If you use a pneumatic finishing nailer with a sequential tip set (STS), then there should be no exposed sharp points on the head of the nails that you are driving.

When you are shooting chairs rails with a pneumatic nailer, your nose piece stays out of contact with the edge of baseboards that overlap one another and does not come in contact with any wood trim or moldings – unless they have been “cut-in” all the way around. I don’t even know how to shoot nails this way so I had someone from my crew explain it to me:

What you do is use a finish nailer like this Senco #2 Carpenter’s Nailer. You hook up the straight air hose to an outlet that will deliver 90 lbs/hr air pressure. Then you start at one end of the room and begin driving nails into each piece of chair rail as close together as you can.

If you have a piece of trim/molding that overlaps the baseboard next to it, and there is no room to shoot your nails in between them, then you will need to lay it on its side (you will leave at least 1/2″ space on the bottom).

Note: You don’t want to use this method if you are shooting into the oak – too many knots and wormholes. But if your trim work is made of pine or poplar, or Baltic birch, then this approach should be just fine.

Once all the nails are driven in about 1-1/4″ deep into each piece of chair rail and trimmed off by hand with a nub roller (or pinner), then you can use a nail set to drive them another 1/4″ into the wood. This will give you a full 1-1/2″ depth on each piece of trim work and should make it more difficult for someone trying to remove it with a crowbar if they don’t have an air hammer.

Some people play around with nails, nail guns, and nailsets – I like getting stuff done! For this reason, I prefer pneumatic trim guns which require very little skill or finesse. But that’s just me!

A precaution

One final note: Don’t try to save money by using 3/4″ #8 round shank finish nails instead of brad nails. The larger diameter nails, in my opinion, look terrible when used as trim work.

Final thoughts

I hope this helps you get started on your next project! The way I look at it is: If you’re going to do something, do it right so that you don’t have to go back and redo it. This approach can save you a whole lot of time, aggravation, and money in the long run!

If there are any questions about this article or anything else related to home improvement projects – feel free to write to me!

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