There are few things I enjoy less as a type-A perfectionist than filling and sanding the divots made by my finish or brad nailers or dealing with split wood, especially when working with delicate trim materials and veneers. It is tedious and monotonous, and it often feels like I can still see every single mark afterwards, even when others can’t or simply wouldn’t notice, something that many DIYers, makers, craftspeople, and builders can attest to when scrutinizing their own work.
So what’s someone like me to do? Thankfully, magical little machines exist for this very application, and those machines are called pin nailers.
What is a Pin Nailer?
Pin nailers are the smallest nailers on the market today and typically drive very narrow 23-gauge pin nails into wood, though slightly larger versions also exist at 21G.
The 23-gauge pins are about the size of a common sewing pin at 0.025-inches(0.64 mm) in diameter (21-gauge pins are about 0.84 mm) and are called “pins” rather than “nails” partly for this reason, and also because they are often consistent in diameter from top to bottom and often lack the head that other gauges of nails have, though pin nails do also come in varieties that have small heads (“slight-headed”) on them (usually 21 gauge nails).
The 23-gauge version is also known as a micro-pin nailer or simply pinner.
The pin nailer is ideal for finishing jobs as the small-sized headless nails leave almost no mark and avoid splitting which is a real problem with hardwood trims.
Pin Nailer Holding Power
Pin nailers are certainly nice to have on hand for specific tasks, but their use is generally limited to delicate projects and finish-work due to the extremely light holding power of the pin nail bond. For this reason, pin nails are usually used in conjunction with adhesives to provide the bulk of the bond strength. This means that the customer base for these tools is also somewhat limited to users such as finish carpenters, cabinet makers, fine woodworking enthusiasts, and the like.
That said, contrary to the popular belief, the 23 gauge pin nails hold surprisingly well with sufficient penetration into the wood. In fact, the pinned wood joints have enough holding power for most trim work and light-duty woodworking projects though they can not be used for structural applications.Tip: To increase the strength of the joint, drive the 23G nails at opposite angles. This “toe nailing” technique will prevent the wood pieces from pulling apart.
What are the Benefits of Using 23-Gauge Pins?
The most obvious and useful benefit of using such a small nail is twofold:
1) Driving them into the wood with a nailer leaves only the tiniest, hardly visible divot in your workpiece; and
2) The narrow diameter of the pin nails means a greatly reduced likelihood of splitting your wood, especially on very thin and intricate pieces.
Another unique aspect of using a pin nailer that may be considered either a disadvantage or an advantage, depending on the user, is the fact that pin nailers typically do not incorporate the usual “compress to fire” or “full sequential trigger” safety mechanism that is common with larger nail guns, otherwise known as actuation of the contact bracket.
This mechanism requires the nozzle tip of the nailer to be completely compressed against a surface prior to pulling the trigger and it must be reset by releasing from the work surface and releasing the trigger prior to each pull. Instead, pin nailers are often equipped with a double-action trigger and can fire with each pull regardless of whether the tip of the nailer is compressed. This makes quicker work of things but can also present a safety concern.
On the flip side, headless pins offer relatively lower holding power.
As a relatively small niche market, there is a fairly small selection of pin nailer products available with the most common type of pinner being pneumatic (uses compressed air rather than electric power) in design. A small selection of battery-powered pin nailers are also available, but the selection is much more limited than for the larger and more versatile battery-powered cousins of the pin nailer, such as the brad nailer or the 16G finish nail gun, of which many different brands and styles are quite easy to come by.
23G Pin Nailer Uses
So, what is a pin nailer used for? Following are some of the most common uses of a 23 gauge pin nailer.
1. “Pinning” Until Adhesive Dries
Pin nailers really shine when used in combination with adhesives. If you have ever used wood glue, you know that the glue layer can act as a lubricant and can be very slippery. This will cause the two wood pieces to move out of their aligned position. The solution is to apply, keep the pieces in position and drive a couple of 23-gauge nails and clap it.
These pins will arrest the lateral movement while the wood glue dries and cures and leaves no visible mark.
Pin nails, alone, generally do not provide a strong enough bond to hold pieces of wood together securely over time. A brief return to our sewing pin metaphor may be helpful to understand this.
You probably wouldn’t run errands in a shirt that was merely pinned together (unless, of course, you were interested in being unclothed in public at some point during the day), but there is a strong likelihood that pinning together all of the different pieces of your shirt was an important part of fitting them together prior to permanently joining them with thread. Pin nails play a very similar role in joining separate pieces of wood – they allow the user to fit pieces together and hold them in place until the adhesive sets.
2. Delicate Trim-Work
A pin nailer wouldn’t be a great choice for larger trim, like baseboards, simply due to their limited holding power. However, they are an awesome choice for thin, light decorative trim as a temporary placeholder until the adhesive dries because the holes the pin nails make in the trim are so small that they are easily filled with paint or simply not noticeable at all. Wood can typically be stained or painted without having to fill the holes made by the nails. They also allow the user to place long stretches of trim and temporarily hold up the ends while the adhesive dries.
3. Cabinet Faces and Trim:
For much the same reason as mentioned above, pin nailers are great for securing delicate pieces of decorative molding, fixing small splits in wood, or adding a backer board to cabinets. Common cabinet woods like maple and oak have a tendency to split easily when using a brad nailer or other nailers of a higher gauge. The pin nailer does not have this issue, and as we discussed, the pinholes are typically so small that filling the resulting nail holes isn’t always required.
4. Securing Thin Veneer
Because of their non-headed design and because pin nailers help prevent splits in wood and are nearly invisible when driven into both light and dark-colored wood, they are the perfect choice for securing thin sheets of veneer after adhesive has been applied.
5. Corners and Crevices
As mentioned, pin nailers usually lack the “compress to fire” head mechanism. Apart from allowing quick re-firing of the nails, this difference also provides a smaller visual point of reference for where the pin will be driven, meaning a greater line of sight for the user and greater precision. Additionally, having no or slight heads, pin nails are able to embed themselves into tighter spaces than headed nails. These characteristics work well for corners and crevices of moldings, frames, and other projects.
6. Small Projects Requiring Only a Light Hold
Think of picture frames, bird houses, crafts, etc. Using an adhesive is still recommended for these types of projects, but the stakes aren’t nearly as high as, say, investing a bunch of cash into beautiful dentil crown molding and installing it with pin nails without adhesive only to have it inevitably fail in the middle of the night because only tiny little sewing pins were holding it up.
An intricate scroll-saw nameplate might be a better place to place all of your trust in just pin nails, but even that isn’t recommended without adhesive.
7. Door and Window Casings
With a high-end pinner that can drive 2-inch long pins, you could even assemble the window and door casing with the long pins passing through the drywall and penetrating into the underlying wood frame.
Caution: The 2-inch extra-long pins sometimes curl around, especially if they hit the hardwood.
- What is a Pin Nailer?
- 23G Pin Nailer Uses