The Difference Between Pin Nailers and Finish Nailers

With the wide variety of pneumatic tools available today, it can get pretty confusing for beginners who don’t yet have a handle on all the various types of tools constantly coming out. Most carpenters or handymen will have many different nail guns, all of which serve their own particular purpose, and without which certain tasks would not be possible.

For those who aren’t familiar with the many different kinds of nail guns, for example, often mistakenly think they’re all the same — just different brands. One reason for this is because pneumatic tools are for the most part, specialized tools, and are often Image of Finish Nail into Baseboardunnecessary luxuries for the average DIYer. Being expensive both on their own as well as requiring an air compressor, pneumatic tools are in most cases reserved for professional carpenters.

Thus, it’s no wonder why some folks don’t have the first clue as to the differences between nail guns and their individual uses. In this article I will outline the differences between two nail guns which, in my opinion, cause the most confusion due to their similarities in both appearance and use. — Pin nailers and finish nailers, also known as brad nailers.

Pin Nailers

This type of air nailer came into production due to the demand for near-invisible nail heads and holes. For example, ceiling trimming and base boards are usually glued and then nailed into place. However, until the advent of pin nailers, finish nailers were used to hold the trimming in place until the glue dried. The problem with this is that as small as the finish nail is, it still leaves a rather visible nail head on the surface of the board.

This is when tool manufacturers began producing what is called the pin nailer. With a thinner nail diameter as well as nail head, pin nails holding ceiling trim and base boards are nearly invisible from a normal standing position. Because the nails don’t need to do any long-term holding (only until the glue dries), they can be thin with no head to speak of. — Literally nothing more than a pin!

However, pin nailers cannot be used on anything other than wooden studs. For example, pin nails cannot penetrate studs made of light steel and will simply “curl up” in the trimming after being fired, marring the finished surface. Finish nailers are therefore the only option when securing trimming to light steel; but even then, one must be careful to hit only either the runner or the stud, not a place where runner overlaps stud, as even a finish nailer would be unable to penetrate this. (See image)

Light Steel Runner and Stud

You might be wondering about the situation in the first image above, where there is a wooden 2 by 4 stringer on which the steel runners are attached, and the trim nails aimed to the stringer. This is one way to do things, but doesn’t account for the thickness of the flooring and any subflooring or insulation that may be laid prior to the trimming which may render the stringer out of range. It’s also one more possibly unnecessary step in the construction process.

Finish Nailers

The term “finish nailer” implies a nailer that when used, leaves the nailed surface visibly unmarred. Well, although it is certainly good enough for some projects, it by no means does the trick for more elegant surfaces. Suffice it to say that many finished surfaces simply cannot afford to have any nails — no matter how thin — piercing them. So what then, are they used for?

Finishing nails in small numbers, have close to no holding power after vibration and movement — which is inevitable — have loosened its grip on whatever it was holding. This is why they must be used in conjunction with a bond of some kind. The job of Hitachi Pin Nailerthe finishing nail is over the moment the glue is dry. However, their holding power goes up significantly when used in large numbers from various angles of the work piece.

In this way, finish nailers can be used to quickly put together smaller, or flimsy framework for example, where larger screws or fasteners would possibly split the wood. As long as there is no significant torque on the joints themselves, several finish nails fired from different angles of the joint, will be more than sufficient. See my article Nail Guns, Types, and How to Use Them Properly and Safely for more information on nail guns.

They essentially can be used for any joints that don’t require high strength, and/or in conjunction with bond, any sensitive joints that have the tendency to shift easily with larger nails, such as miter joints or even normal butt-end joints. Being that a finish nail has a considerably thinner shank when compared to a normal nail, it doesn’t jolt or disturb the stock into which they penetrate nearly as much.


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