Pin Nailer Vs Finish Nailer: Pros, Cons and Uses.

Selecting the right tool for a task is critical in any project, and choosing between a pin nailer and finish nailer is no exception. These two tools, although similar in their purpose of driving nails into various materials, bear significant differences in their design, applications, and results.
Man using Finish Nailer or Pin Nailer?

This guide will help you understand these differences to choose the right tool best suited for your job.

Key Takeaways

  • Pin nailers, using smaller, headless nails, are ideal for delicate, lightweight projects where a nearly invisible finish is required, often in combination with adhesives.
  • Finish nailers, which use larger, thicker nails, are perfect for heavy-duty tasks involving denser materials and provide stronger holding power.
  • The choice between a pin nailer and a finishing nailer ultimately depends on the material, weight, and size of your project, as well as the desired final appearance.

Understanding the Tools: Pin Nailer vs. Finish Nailer

What is a Pin Nailer?

Put simply, a pin nailer is a nailing gun that fires small nails, usually 23-gauge nails without heads, into thin materials. Because the nails themselves are so small, they are normally designed to hold in place light, thin materials such as wood.
Using pin nailer to make wooden box
Pin nails most often have no heads, so it is quite difficult to see them on the surface once they have been driven into the material. They are also used to hold very light materials that do not require wood glue or other adhesives to hold in place.

What is a Finishing Nailer?

A finish nailer is a power nailer that is designed to drive thicker (15 to 16-gauge) nails into dense materials. It is often used for installing baseboards, crown molding, or door and window casings.

The finishing nailer is designed to fasten thicker and denser woods that are out of reach for pin or Brad nailer guns.
Man using finish nailer to install trim
When you compare with the more delicate pin nailer, which employs slender 23-gauge pins, the finish nailer stands out with its use of longer and thicker nails for more demanding tasks. Finish nailers also come in two versions – straight and angled magazine styles, each designed to cater to specific needs and tasks.

Although the application is the same, an angled nailer makes it easier to fit into tight corners. This is perfect for trim or crown molding that is too thick for a pin nailer, but its location makes it poorly suited for a straight nailer.

However, the straight finish nailer is quite popular on larger projects, home repairs, and the like. They tend to use the slightly thinner 16-gauge nail as opposed to the thicker 15-gauge nail found with the angled finish nailer.

Pin Nailer vs Finish Nailer Comparison Chart

  Pin Nailer Finish Nailer
Nail Size 23-gauge 15-gauge or 16-gauge
Nail Length 3/8″ to 2″ 1″ to 2-½″
Nail Type Headless With head (clipped head)
Hole Size Small – Doesn’t require filler Large – Need to be filled
Delicate trims Yes No
Thin Molding Yes No
Veneers Yes No
Baseboards No Yes
Crown Molding No Yes
Chair Rail No Yes

Pros and Cons: Pin Nailer Vs Finishing Nailer

Advantages of Pin Nailer

  • Virtually Invisible Nail Holes
  • Less Likelihood of Splitting Delicate Trim
  • Fast & Easy to Apply

Perhaps the biggest advantage is that the nails used are so small and without heads that they are difficult to see. This makes them perfect for applications where wood glue is used, and you need extra support to keep the materials in place until the glue dries.

Add to that the nails being so small that they are less likely to split or damage delicate trim. The result being that you can choose delicate materials in your projects as the pin nailer is highly unlikely to damage them.

And finally, because the nails are so small and the nail gun is also lightweight and is easy to use.


The very reasons that make the pin nailer a powerful tool are also its disadvantages. The small size of the nails means that it has less holding strength and you can only apply them for certain applications.

  • Limited Length of Nails & Gauges
  • Lacks Holding Power
  • Bent Pins

A common problem with 23-gauge nail when working with hardwood is “fish hooking” where the nail bends due to its slender build and hardness of wood to form the shape reminiscent of a fish hook. This not only compromises the nail’s holding power but also makes it extremely difficult to remove at a later stage.

Whether in terms of the size and strength of the materials or how much weight they will hold, the pin nailer is limited in this regard.

Advantages of Finish Nailer

  • Strong Penetrating Power
  • Can Go Through Thicker, Harder Materials


  • May Crack Thin Woods
  • Leaves Large Nail Holes Behind

The large nail hole means that you will need to use filler or putty which requires more time and effort. For larger jobs where the nails are fewer and further between, that is not too much of an issue. But for projects that require several nails it can be time-consuming.

Common Uses: Pin Nailer Vs Finish Nailer

Pin Nailer Uses:

The most common use of a pin nailer is to keep in place delicate trim (clamp aid) and other softer woods until the wood glue dries.

You will find the pin nailer most used for the following.

  • Cabinets
  • Furniture
  • Interior Millwork
  • Temporary clamping aid
  • Secure large pieces of wood together during the gluing process.

The pin nails serve to maintain alignment and prevent the wood pieces from slipping out of place under clamping pressure. By firing a couple of pins, you can secure the wood pieces during the gluing process, even when using clamps.

The pin nailer is well suited for holding molding in place which often has irregular shapes that make it difficult for other types of nails to work properly. The pin nailer is a handy, versatile tool for light work, especially when used in combination with adhesives that hold the materials together.

Finish Nailer Uses

The finishing nailer is used to put together larger projects such as furniture, wood panels, and similar jobs.

Some of the common uses of finish nailer are,

  • Installing baseboards
  • Window and door casings
  • Installing crown molding

Put simply, the finish nailer are useful for heavy trims and carpentry work.

Which Nailer Should You Use?

The simple comparison is that the finishing nailer is bigger, more powerful, and uses thicker nails for heavier work. When choosing between a pin nailer and finish nailer, the most important factors are as follows.

  • Material Size, Weight, & Type
  • Desired Finished Appearance
  • Type of Projects

The pin nailer is best suited for trim and other light materials in which wood glue is being used. The tiny nail holes most often do not need any filler, so you get the desired appearance.

The finishing nailer is for larger, heavier projects where the nails are the primarily source of fastening the materials. The large nail holes left behind will need filler, but the goal is to assemble projects made from heavier, denser wood.

Another option for woodworking enthusiasts to consider is the 18-gauge brad nailer which offer a good compromise.
The flat headed brad nails are thicker than pin nails but smaller than finish nails, often providing an ideal compromise for tasks that require more holding power than a pin nailer offers, yet a subtler finish than a finish nailer.

Brad nailers are especially effective when working with thin or delicate trim that may split with a larger nail, yet requires more holding strength than a pin nail can provide. You can also use Brad nailers for installing quarter round or shoe molding and similar decorative trims.

The Bottom Line

In summary, both pin nailers and finish nailers serve distinctive purposes in woodworking and construction.

The pin nailer, with its smaller, headless nails, is perfect for delicate, lightweight applications where a virtually invisible finish is desired. On the other hand, the finish nailer, utilizing larger, thicker nails, is ideal for heavy-duty tasks involving denser materials.

Understanding the strengths and limitations of each tool is key to choosing the right one for your project, thereby ensuring quality results and efficient work processes.