What Size Nail Gun for Fence Pickets?

Nail Gun

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Installing a wooden fence can be a big project, but having the right tools can make the job much easier. One of the most useful tools for installing fence pickets is a nail gun. Nail guns allow you to quickly and efficiently secure fence pickets in place without the repetitive motion of hammering each nail by hand.

When selecting a nail gun for fence pickets, you’ll need to consider the size of nail needed as well as the type of power source for the nail gun. Smaller gauge nails are ideal for attaching fence pickets, while gas, electric or pneumatic nail guns each offer different benefits. 

This guide will walk through the key factors in choosing the right nail gun for your fencing project and provide recommendations on models to consider. With the proper nail gun, you can achieve professional-looking results and make quick work of building that new fence.

Nail Gun Basics

Nail guns are powerful tools that use compressed air or electromagnetism to quickly drive nails into wood or other materials. They allow the user to nail faster and more efficiently than hammering by hand. There are several types of nail guns, each suited for different applications:

  • Framing Nailer: Used for nailing framing lumber like 2x4s and plywood. These use full round head nails from 2 to 3.5 inches long. Framing nailers have a contact safety tip to prevent accidental firing.
  • Finish Nailer: Designed for trim carpentry and cabinetry. They fire smaller gauge nails from 5/8 to 2 inches long. Some have interchangeable nose pieces for angled nailing.
  • Brad Nailer: Fires tiny brads less than 2 inches long. Brad nailers are well-suited for delicate jobs like molding, trim, and furniture assembly. 
  • Roofing Nailer: Made for fastening shingles and roof decking. They use thick round head nails from 1 to 1.75 inches long. Roofing nailers have a non-marring nose guard to prevent damage.
  • Flooring Nailer: Used for tongue-and-groove hardwood flooring. They drive cleat nails that are 1.5 to 2 inches long at a 45-60 degree angle. Some models can also be used for floor stapling.
  • Siding Nailer: Designed for installing various sidings like aluminum, vinyl, cement board, and wood. They drive nails from 1 to 2.5 inches in length. 

What Size Nail Gun for Fence Pickets?

When selecting nail guns for installing fence pickets, the most common nail sizes used are 16 gauge and 15 gauge. 

16 Guage Nails

16 gauge nails are 0.062 inches in diameter. They provide a thinner nail that still has enough holding power for most residential wood fence pickets that are 3/4 to 1 inch thick. 16 gauge is a good choice for creating less visible nail holes.

15 Guage Nails

15 gauge nails are 0.072 inches in diameter, making them slightly thicker than 16 gauge. They provide more holding strength, so are sometimes preferred for thicker pickets or rot-resistant woods like cedar that are harder to penetrate. However, the thicker 15 gauge nails will create more visible holes.

14 and 18 Guage Nails (Less Common)

While less common for fencing, 18 gauge nails could be used for very thin pickets around 1/2 inch thick. However, the very thin 0.05 inch nails may not provide enough holding power for most standard pickets.

14 gauge and smaller nails are too large and create unnecessary damage for most residential fence pickets. They are better suited for structural framing.

So in summary, 16 and 15 gauge nails are the ideal sizes for most fencing projects with standard size pickets. Consider 16 gauge if appearance with less visible holes is most important, or 15 gauge for extra strength with harder woods or thicker pickets. Make sure the nail gun matches the gauge size you select.

Picking the Right Gauge

Picking the Right Gauge
Picking the Right Gauge

When selecting a nail gauge for fence pickets, you’ll generally want to use 16 gauge or thicker nails. The higher the gauge number, the thinner the nail. 16 gauge nails are about 0.062 inches thick, while thinner 18 gauge nails are around 0.048 inches. 

For most standard wooden fence pickets that are 3/4 to 1 inch thick, 16 gauge nails are ideal. They provide enough thickness to securely fasten the pickets without splitting the wood. 15 gauge nails are even thicker at 0.072 inches but are usually overkill for typical residential fence pickets.

If your pickets are made of thinner or more delicate wood, you may need to opt for 18 gauge nails to avoid cracking or splintering. But for standard pressure-treated pine pickets, 16 gauge is the sweet spot. The extra thickness allows the nails to firmly anchor the pickets in place without bending or pulling loose over time.

Make sure to match the length of the nails to the thickness of your pickets so they fully penetrate into the support rails behind them. For 3/4 inch pickets, 1 to 1-1/4 inch nails are commonly used. Go with 1-1/2 to 2 inch nails for thicker 1 inch pickets. Using the right gauge and length combination results in a sturdy, durable fence that will hold up for years.

Gas vs. Electric vs. Pneumatic 

When it comes to powering a nail gun, you have three main options: gas, electric, and pneumatic. Each has its own set of pros and cons to consider when deciding which type is best for your fencing project.

Gas Powered Nail Guns

Gas powered nail guns run on fuel cells, usually containing a mixture of butane and propane. They offer several benefits:

  • Portability:  Gas nailers are self-contained units that don’t require any external power source. This makes them easy to move around and use in remote areas.
  • Power:  Gas models provide plenty of driving force to sink nails deeply and securely into tough materials like wood. This makes them a good choice for structural applications.
  • No Cords: The lack of any cords offers unmatched maneuverability and reach. You don’t have to worry about staying near an outlet or managing tangled cables.

However, gas nail guns also come with some downsides:

  • Fuel Cells: You’ll need to keep extra fuel canisters on hand. These add to the ongoing cost of ownership.
  • Fumes: Gas nailers produce strong fumes that can be unpleasant to breathe for extended periods. Always work in a well-ventilated area.
  • Additional Safety Concerns: There are more risks to be aware of when handling flammable gas and high pressure. Proper training is a must.

Electric Nail Guns

Electric nailers are powered by standard wall outlets through an AC power cord. Benefits include:

  • Low Operating Costs: After the initial purchase, electricity is the only operating expense. This makes total lifetime costs lower compared to fuel-powered options.
  • Minimal Emissions: Electric nailers produce no direct exhaust fumes, making indoor use more practical.
  • Lower Noise: Electric motors generate less noise pollution than gas combustion.

The tradeoffs of electric nail guns are:

  • Range Limitation: Cord length restricts mobility and reach. Extension cords help but can create tripping hazards.
  • Power Supply Issues: Operating far from electrical outlets is difficult. Power fluctuations and outages will halt productivity.
  • Less Power: Electric nailers don’t have quite as much fastening force as fuel-powered equivalents. Performance can lag in very hard materials.

Pneumatic Nail Guns

Pneumatic nailers utilize compressed air as their power source, supplied by either portable canisters or larger compressors. The main advantages are:

  • High Power: Pneumatic tools deliver fast, hard-hitting performance similar to gas models, while avoiding direct emissions.
  • Versatility: A single air compressor can supply power to an array of pneumatic tools for different needs.
  • Low Maintenance: Pneumatic nailers have fewer moving parts and rarely need major repairs or service.

But there are some limitations as well:

Air Hose: The required hose tethers mobility and adds clutter to manage. Quick disconnect fittings help streamline changing locations.

Upfront Cost: The combined price of an air compressor and nail gun is higher than other options. But this can pay off long-term.

Compressor Noise: Portable compressors create noise at the power source, which is harder to control than a nailer alone.

As a result, pneumatic nailers offer the best balance of power and flexibility for frequent nailing jobs like fencing. But the other options can be a better fit in certain situations. Assess your needs and work environment to decide which power source works best. Proper training and protective gear are essential no matter which type you choose.


When choosing the right size nail gun for installing fence pickets, the most important factors to consider are nail gauge, nail gun type, power source, and key features. The type of wood being used for the pickets, as well as your budget and needs, will determine which specific nail gun model is best. 

In summary, for most standard fence picket installations using pine, cedar or redwood, a 15 gauge pneumatic nail gun is recommended. 15 gauge provides enough power to drive nails through 1-inch thick boards without splitting the wood. Pneumatic models have more power than electric, can work off a compressor, and are generally more affordable. 

Leading brands to look at include BOSTITCH, DeWalt, Hitachi, and Porter-Cable. Compare their features like depth adjustment, dry fire lockout, and tool-free jam releases. Consider both coil and stick magazine types based on your preference. Read reviews of recommended models in the $100-200 range to pick the best value nail gun for your fencing project and expected usage.

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