Brad Nailer vs Pin Nailer: When to Use Each Nail Gun

similarities and differences between a brad nailer vs pin nailer

As you embark upon your woodworking projects, it is important to make sure you have the right tool for the job. You may be deciding on purchasing a brad nailer or a pin nailer and are having a hard time deciding which one is a better buy. Both offer distinct differences and advantages.

​Frankly speaking, the conversation about these two types of nail guns can be very confusing. This brad nailer vs pin nailer review will help you understand the differences in the two nail guns and provide you the information you need to make your purchasing decision easier.

What is a Brad Nailer?

A brad nailer is a powerful nail gun you can use to drive nails into wood trim or other finishing treatments that you are using attaching in your home or woodworking project.

A brad nailer typically uses 18-gauge nails to adhere to surfaces together. These nails are 3/8 inches to 2 inches in length. They have a smaller head and leave only a small mark as they are driven into a wood piece.

These nail holes, in most instances, are not terribly noticeable and may not require any further action to cover them up.

Because a brad nailer is most often pneumatically-powered, or cordless in some models, you can make your way along a lengthy wood piece adding nails where you see fit.

A high quality brad nailer is able to drive nails in thinner wood trim pieces with ease and unlike other nail guns prevents splitting unless, of course, the wood is extremely thin such as a piece of veneer.

When to Use a Brad Nailer?

You will want to use a brad nailer to adhere two pieces of wood together such as trim pieces or cabinetry. A brad nailer does not, however, work well when driving through very thick pieces of wood such as plywood or MDF.

when to use a nailer?

Photo credit: twilightzero on Flickr / CC BY

In most instances, it is used as a temporary holder to affix to wood pieces together until the glue dries and is strong enough to hold on its own, or to align the pieces so you can screw them together. You can also use a brad nailer to adhere baseboard wood.

It leaves a relatively small hole with the nail head which can easily be covered with putty. But, in most instances, it is small enough that no cosmetic coverage is necessary, making it an ideal nail gun to use to quickly complete a woodworking project.

Related: ​Learn the Differences in a Brad Nailer vs Crown Stapler​

What is a Pin Nailer?

A pin nailer, on the other hand, is a power nail gun that you shoot pins or nails without a head into thin pieces of wood. These nails are smaller than a brad nail at 23-gauge and are typically only 1-inch long. 

Like a brad nailer, you use a pin nailer in a similar fashion to move along a wood piece and pneumatically drive nails into a wood piece.

​This leaves only a very small hole as there is no nail head to contend with. A powerful pin nailer can shoot these nails through many surfaces with ease. 

There is no need to use wood putty to cover a pin nailer’s tracks as you won’t be able to see the pin’s head since there isn’t one at all.

When to Use a Pin Nailer?

You will want to use a pin nailer in wood applications that are temporary. The pins that these nail guns drive are designed to not be the permanent connection between the two pieces. They work well in jobs where you are using glue as the primary adhering source.

The pins from a pin nailer can add extra support and allow your wood piece to stay together until it has dried. 

A pin nailer is also a good nail gun for very thin finishing work. Veneers, as well as delicate furniture trim, can be added simply with a pin nailer. It will not split these fine woods and doesn’t require any wood putty to cover its tracks after. It can turn out these wood trims with relative ease and without damaging the wood surface in any way.

similarities and differences between a brad nailer vs pin nailer

Photo credit: Mark Hunter on Flickr / CC BY

Brad Nailer vs Pin Nailer

​Now its time to talk through what these two nail guns have in common, where they differ, and when you'll want to use each. ​When considering a pin nailer vs brad nailer for your home DIY projects, start by understanding what characteristics they share. 

Similarities

Brad and pin nailers have a lot in common (that's why they are so easily confused). Lets review some of the similarities:

  • Both are designed to drive nails into wood surfaces without leaving a large hole
  • Both nail guns allow you to adhere two pieces of wood together easily without worrying about having to add wood putty to cover the nail head
  • You can use a pin nailer and a brad nailer to drive nails into a wood piece as a temporary holder
  • One of the advantages of both a pin nailer and a brad nailer is their ability to drive into thin wood pieces without splintering
  • While both nail guns have a decent amount of driving force, they are both unable to go through thicker wood like plywood or MDF. Not only are the nails that these nail guns use smaller in diameter, but they don’t have the driving force to penetrate these wood surfaces.

In essense, ​a brad nailer is far more diverse, and can be used on a lot more projects, than a pin nailer. ​Lets walk through the differences:

​Differences

With all that these two nailers have in common, you might think they are more similar than different. That isn't the case, however. While many are subtle, there are actually quite a few things that separate a pin nailer and brad nailer:

Brad Nailer
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    ​​Uses a larger 18 gauge nail
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    ​Provides more holding power
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    ​Can not be used on very thin wood
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    ​Can be used on thicker wood pieces
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    ​Can permanently adhere trim 
​Pin Nailer
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    ​Uses a smaller 23 gauge​ nail
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    ​​Leaves no visible nail hole
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    Can be used on very thin wood
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    ​Can not be used on thick wood pieces
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    ​Provides a temporary hold only

​For starters, brad nailers use a much larger 18 gauge nail. This nail has a much larger diameter head, which is why a brad nailer leaves a visible nail hold that must be covered with putty.

Pin nailers, on the other hand, use a smaller 23 gauge nail. This is why pin nails leave virtually no sign of them being put in the wood, and why you don't need to go back and fill them in.

​This is perhaps the best aspect of a pin nailer: you don't have to come back to fill in the nail holes.

Close up of difference in brad nail head vs pin nail

Close up showing brad nail head

A pin nailer drives pins that have no head, so there is no visible hold from the nail with this nail gun. You will probably never have to use wood putty with a pin nailer, making it convenient to use this nail gun when you are looking to complete your woodworking project quickly.

However, the thinner nail head means that a pin nail has very little permanent holding power. You'll use pin nails to temporarily hold something in place, while your wood glue dries or you can drive larger nails or screws in. ​​​

​And this is perhaps the best aspect of the brad nailer: its convenience combined with its holding power.

​​​​​A brad nail provides more holding power​ than a pin nail. This is mainly due to the fact that brad nails have nail heads, whereas pin nails do not.  ​

​A pin nailer is really a temporary support system that is usually glued before a wood project is completed.

​You can use a brad nailer to adhere baseboard trim permanently while a pin nailer would not be able to adhere the wood to drywall with any strength or support.

Wood Type

​As you determine which would be best for you, start with the wood application you are most interested in working with:

  • Pin nailers are ideally suited to thinner wood pieces, as it has less driving force and uses smaller gauge nails that will not damage delicate wood surfaces.
  • A brad nailer, conversely, can be used on thin as well as thick trim work as it uses larger gauge nails and is powerful enough to adhere surfaces together permanently.

​You can use a pin nailer on much thinner wood pieces than you would ever be able to use a brad nailer on. Veneer, as well as furniture trim, can easily be affixed to surfaces without having to worry about the splintering of the wood.

A brad nailer would easily damage this thin and delicate wood with its nail driving force. But, a brad nailer can be used on thicker wood surfaces such as wood baseboards and crown molding, making it an ideal nail gun for home improvement projects.

Nail Gun Safety

​Even though they can seem harmless, nail guns are dangerous, and it is important you take precautions when using them. Watch this video to ensure you are using your nail gun properly and to help stay safe.

Final Verdict

When it comes down to choosing a pin nailer or a brad nailer for your workshop, ​a brad nailer is a more flexible nail gun that can adhere two surfaces together with as much strength as other traditional nail guns. It can operate as a temporary support and also be permanent in its holding capabilities.

You’ll find that you are able to get more functionality out of a brad nailer compared to a pin nailer and be able to use it in more woodworking applications for your home. It is the ideal nail gun for a variety of wood projects and would make a nice addition to any woodworking shop.

Opt for a pin nailer only when you need to hold two pieces of wood together temporarily. This is a great option for this situation, though, as a pin nailer doesn't leave visible nail holes in your wood. 

​Fun Nail Gun Facts

  • The nail gun was designed by Morris Pynoos the Spruce Goose. The wooden fuselage was nailed together and glued, and then the nails were removed. The civil engineer Pynoos was credited with the invention. Wikipedia
  • The very first nail gun utilized air pressure and came onto the market in the mid-1950's to help with fast construction of floors. Wikipedia
  • Approximately 42,000 people every year go to emergency rooms with injuries from nail guns. ​CDC

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