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Pin Nailer vs Brad Nailer: Which is Best for Your Needs?

Pin vs Brad Nailers - Which is Best for Your Needs

You’re starting a new project and realize that you’re in need of a finish nailer. Seems like a simple enough thing. So, you get online and do a quick search for finish nailers and realize that there are a lot more options than you had previously considered. After careful deliberation, you’ve decided that you need something smaller than a 16-gauge finish nail, but that still leaves two options; a pin nailer or a brad nailer.

Both of these seem like pretty similar tools. They both sink small finish nails into wood, so does it even matter which one you get? Truthfully, yes. While they do perform similar functions, they nails that they sink do not, and it’s really the nails that separate these two devices.

It’s important that you get the right tool for the job, so let’s take a closer look at each of these machines and determine which one is going to be the best fit for your needs.

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Overview of Pin Nailer

At its core, a pin nailer is just a nail gun that shoots very tiny nails. In most respects, these nailers are just like any other nail gun. They’re generally pneumatic, so you have to hook it up to an air compressor.

You insert a rack of nails into the machine and then fire them into your work by pressing the tip of the nail gun into your material and pulling the trigger. The nail is driven just below the surface of the wood so that it’s not sticking out, and you can adjust this depth with the depth control. But where the pin nailer differs from other nail guns is the pin nails that they shoot.

What’s Special About Pin Nails?

Pin nailers shoot the smallest of finish nails. These nails are so small that they’re referred to as pins, hence the name pin nailer. Pin nails are 23-gauge and they’re available in headless and slight-headed varieties.

The big advantage to pin nails is that they leave such a tiny hole, it will usually disappear into the grain of the wood or be filled up with paint. Other finish nails leave holes large enough that you’d need to fill them with a filler of some sort if you wanted them to disappear, such as putty, caulk, or wood filler.

The other advantage to the tiny 23-gauge nails that a pin nailer shoots is that they won’t split your wood. Especially when working with delicate pieces of trim, a normal finish nail might cause the wood to split, while a pin nail is almost guaranteed not to.

Where Pins Win

Pin nails are the obvious choice any time you’re working with very small or delicate woods. For example, when you’re installing fine furniture trim. Pin nails are also a great choice for working with veneers. They’re the go-to option when you’re gluing two wooden pieces together and you need a way to anchor them until the glue dries.

One Trick Pony

The problem with pin nails is that they aren’t a versatile tool. Because they’re so small and generally headless as well, these nails offer very little holding power. If you need to hold on the trim or a baseboard, pin nails aren’t going to do the trick. Truthfully, there are only a few specific uses for pin nailers, making this more of a specialty tool.

Pros
  • Available headless or slight-headed
  • The hole is so small it can disappear in paint
  • Tiny pin nails won’t split wood
Cons
  • Minimal holding strength
  • You’ll need glue to back pin nails
  • Only has a few specific uses

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Overview of Brad Nailer

Brad nails are essentially the middle option when it comes to finish nailers. The brad nails they shoot are smaller than 15 and 16-gauge finish nailers but much larger than the tiny pin nails that a pin nailer shoots.

These machines function just like any other finish nailer, though they’re more versatile than other options. Most of these nailers are pneumatic, but because of their popularity, several manufacturers now offer battery-powered cordless options as well.

hand holding a brad nailer
Image: Carpetner, Shutterstock

What Are Brad Nails?

Brad nails are one of the most versatile sizes of finish nails. These nails are 18-gauge, which provides decent holding power while still being small enough that the holes left are quite tiny. Granted, they’re still a lot larger than the holes a pin nail leaves. You’ll see these holes, so if you’re looking for finish-quality work, you’ll need to go back afterward and fill them.

Is There Anywhere You Can’t Use a Brad Nail?

Because brad nails are a good compromise between the larger 16-gauge finish nails and the tiny 23-gauge pins, they can be used just about anywhere you need a finish nail. They’re great for standard trim work and will even work well for installing baseboard. You can use a brad nailer for crown molding, building cabinets, furniture, and much more. There are few times when a brad nail won’t do the job.

When You Wouldn’t Use a Brad Nailer

But that doesn’t mean that a brad nailer is always the right choice. You don’t want to use a brad nail when working with the smallest, most delicate trim. There’s a chance that the 18-gauge nail might split the wood when a 23-gauge pin wouldn’t. Likewise, the hole from the brad nail’s head would leave a noticeable mark that would need to be filled.

Pros
  • Decent holding power for small trim
  • Very versatile tool with many applications
Cons
  • Leaves a small hole from the head
  • Could potentially split your wood

Is a Brad Nailer or Pin Nailer Better?

It’s hard to definitively state that either tool is better. They both have their strengths and weaknesses that make each a perfect tool for some jobs and a terrible tool for others.

Brad nailers have decent holding power and they’re great for a lot of situations, but they also leave holes in the wood and can even split delicate pieces. Pin nailers, on the other hand, leave holes so small you can hardly tell, and they’ll never split your wood, but they have practically no holding power and very specialized uses.

Ideally, you’d want to have both so that you could use each one when it’s the best option. But not everyone has that luxury, and everyone isn’t going to need both of them. It would be pointless to purchase a tool that you never use, so let’s see if we can boil this choice down to a single deciding factor that might simplify things.

A Question of Versatility

If we were to pick just one trait and say it was most important, it would have to be versatility. A tool that’s not versatile is going to sit on your shelf for most of its life, waiting for the right time to be used. It might get the chance occasionally to be used for its specified purpose, but if it can’t be adapted to other uses, it’s going to do more waiting than working.

But an adaptable tool with more uses is going to be helpful during a lot of different projects. You’ll end up using it at times you wouldn’t normally think of, but it just happens to be there and able to suit your needs. You might even start taking on certain projects just to keep using that tool.

In this category, the brad nailer wins, hands down. Pin nailers have only a few very specific uses. But brad nailers can be used pretty much anywhere you need a finish nailer. They’re a great option for most times that you’d normally use a 16 or 15-gauge nail and they’ll even work for times you need a tiny nail for fine finish work.

Which One Should You Choose?

If you are intending to use your nailer for fine finish work on things like furniture trim, veneers, and wooden models, or you just need to hold two pieces together while the glue dries, then a pin nailer is the way to go. These are great if you only work with very delicate pieces of wood that don’t require much holding power.

For all other applications, a brad nailer is generally the better choice. Brad nails will give you better holding power, allowing you to install trim, baseboard, crown molding, and more. These nails will leave a small hole from the head, but since they’re only 18-gauge, the hole is small and barely visible as is, and it can always be filled after.

When to Use a Pin Nailer
  • Delicate furniture trim
  • Thin veneers
  • Holding two small wooden pieces together while glue dries
  • When you can’t risk splitting a delicate piece
  • When you don’t want a visible hole from a nail head

When to Use a Brad Nailer
  • Baseboard
  • Standard trim work
  • Crown molding
  • When you need more holding power than a pin can offer
  • When you can cover the nail holes with caulk, putty, or filler


Quick Look: Our Top Choices

Image Product Details
Our Favorite Pin Nailer BOSTITCH Pin Nailer BOSTITCH Pin Nailer
  • Can shoot pin nails up to 2 inches in length
  • Recess nails in hardwoods like oak with ease
  • Oil-free operation
  • Our Favorite Brad Nailer PORTER-CABLE 20V MAX Cordless Brad Nailer Kit PORTER-CABLE 20V MAX Cordless Brad Nailer Kit
  • Sink finish nails faster than ever
  • can set the depth adjustment without any tools
  • 3-year limited warranty
  • Our Favorite Pin Nailer: BOSTITCH Pin Nailer

    BOSTITCH HP118K Pin Nailer

    If you need to drive 23-gauge pin nails, this Bostitch Pin Nailer is the tool we’d recommend. Unlike many pin nailers that top out at 1-inch pins, this machine can shoot pin nails up to 2 inches in length. It can recess nails in hardwoods like oak with ease and features a tool-free depth adjustment to easily control the depth. Oil-free operation means there’s very little chance of staining your work and the tool-free jam release makes it easy to get back to work if the gun jams.


    Our Favorite Brad Nailer: PORTER-CABLE 20V MAX Cordless Brad Nailer Kit

    PORTER-CABLE PCC790LA Cordless Brad Nailer Kit

    Forget all those heavy, loud air compressors and miles of air hose just to sink a few finish nails. The PORTER-CABLE 20V MAX Cordless Brad Nailer puts an end to all that with battery-powered convenience that lets you sink finish nails faster than ever before. You can set the depth adjustment without any tools, just like the jam release that ensures you never waste time fiddling with annoying jams. Included in the kit are the gun, a battery, and a charger, so you’ve got everything you need to get rolling. To top it all off, this tool is covered by a 3-year limited warranty, so your investment will be around to help you complete many projects.

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    Conclusion

    Both pin nailers and brad nailers have their uses. Often, you can use either, but the pin nailer is going to be better for you if you’re planning to glue the pieces in addition to nailing, while the brad nailer is better for when you’re not going to be gluing at all.

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