Brad versus Pin Nailer: Which Nailer to Choose?

Nail guns are designed to complete fastening jobs quicker than using a hammer. With a pull of a trigger, you can fire nails deep into the surface of your material, locking two pieces together, in less than a second. The only thing is that not all nailers are created equal.

There are numerous types of nailers out there for use in different applications. Sure, they all fire nails, and they’re used to attach trim or connect boards, but there are very minute differences that woodworkers need to know. Take, for instance, the pin nailer and brad nailer – both fire thin-gauge nails relative to finish nails, but they’re not to be used in identical applications.

So what exactly are their differences? In what situations would a pin nailer or a brad nailer be the optimal tool of choice? What drawbacks does each of these nailers have? These questions and more will be answered in this article so you, dear reader, can make an informed decision regarding which of the two tools to add to your shop.


What is a Pin Nailer?

Pin nailers are the somewhat unknown type of nailer among the woodworking community. They’re not that commonly used, despite pins’ obvious advantages over brads and finish nails.

A pin nailer is a type of nail gun that fires pins (duh…). Pins are headless, extremely thin, 23-gauge nails used mainly to attach trim work. The pin’s thinness allows it to pierce the surface of delicate workpieces with very little risk of causing cracking or splitting. Pins can range from 3/8 to 2 inches long, and many pin nailers have the capacity to load and fire pins of various lengths.

Pin Pros

Obviously, the pin’s diameter allows them to enter thin, delicate workpieces without leaving damage in its wake. This will come in handy when fastening trim or other delicate pieces since you don’t need to use wood putty to cover tiny pin holes.

In a way, the pin’s thin diameter also makes it a great option for connecting large (not thick) boards, especially if you plan on using wood glue to hold them together permanently.

Pin Cons

Although pins do have some major benefits, there are several drawbacks that you need to keep in mind. The first of which is the limited holding power they provide. Being only 23-gauge thin, you can’t realistically expect them to fasten large, thick boards permanently without the help of wood glue or another type of fastener.

The second drawback is its weak structure that doesn’t allow them to pierce through hardwoods or plywood. At most, the pin’s point can dig into these materials a few millimeters deep, and hammering them the rest of the way through will just end in disappointment.

Pin Nailer Applications

Since pin nailers are the smallest variety of nailers available, their uses are somewhat limited. Most woodworkers use pins to hold boards together after brushing on a layer of wood glue. Small pins also excel at holding small molding and cabinetry. If you’re building small-sized pieces of wood-based art – e.g. birdhouses – then a pin nailer would definitely be the most efficient nailer to use.

What is a Brad Nailer?

Brad nailers are perhaps the most widely used nailer in woodshops. They have a ton of applications in woodworking and general home repair projects.

What makes a brad nailer different from pin nails is its ability to fire – you guessed it – brad nails. Brads are thin, 16- to 18-gauge nails that are mainly used to connect boards in woodworking projects. The length of brad nails typically range from 5/8 to 1-1/2 inches long. Like pins, brad nails are headless so don’t even think of whacking a brad on the head with a hammer since it’ll just bend, and pulling them out is next to impossible.

Brad Pros

Since brads are thicker than pins, it only makes sense that they are more capable of holding larger boards together. However, they are still rather thin, so brads won’t be able to connect thick, heavy boards without the use of wood glue. In fact, like pins, their main job is to keep your boards aligned as the glue cures.

Another benefit of thin brads is its ability to fasten delicate trim work. In fact, just like pins, they’ll be able to fasten trim without snapping or cracking them. Also, because they’re thicker than pins, there’s virtually no risk of the brads failing over time.

Finally, just like pins, brads are quite small and thus do not require wood putty to conceal any holes. Basically, brad nails offer more holding power than pins while still remaining small enough for both temporary and permanent fastening applications. Of course, it’s all relative to the size of the board and the length of the brad.

Brad Cons

Brads are just like pins in the sense that they’re thin, have limited holding power, and aren’t made to pierce through dense work objects. You’re not going to want to use brads for final assembly except to align your boards while waiting for the wood glue to set. Other than that, brads are used exclusively to fasten delicate trim and nothing more. For final assembly, take a look at finish nails.

Pins vs. Brads – Which to get?

Pins and brads are identical in numerous ways that deciding which to get can be a bit tricky.

Looking at pins, we can conclude that their 23-gauge structure is not going to fare very well in fastening applications beyond trim work. You can use pins to keep boards aligned as glue sets, but that’s practically all they’re good for.

Brads, on the other hand, are thicker and thus better equipped for larger fastening jobs. Of course, you’ll still need to use wood glue or screws to keep large boards together, but brads can help with temporary alignment of heavier boards.

All in all, there aren’t that many differences between pins and brads. They’re both thin, they both hardly leave a hole in their wake, and they’ll both bend or snap when fired into hardwood. If you’re looking for something with a little more structure and a lot more holding power, consider getting a finish nailer.

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