I first discovered 23-gauge pin nailers when I was looking for a way to quickly attach small moldings after I found that 18-gauge brad nails, the standard for attaching small wood trim, would consistently split the material. At the time of my first purchase–about a decade ago–pin nailers shot a maximum 1-inch-length fastener. Back then, I felt this was more than adequate because I only envisioned using the pinner for attaching trim of 1/2 inch or less in thickness. What I did not expect, however, was how many other uses I would find for it.
In my shop, pinning has replaced clamping or taping when we glue up miters on delicate plywood- and MDF-core veneers. While both faster and more accurate, pinning also accomplishes this with nearly invisible holes, and the super-fine fasteners won't split MDF or thin wood like an 18-gauge brad will. My trusty pinner also found its way out into the field where it became indispensable for assembling mitered returns on crown and other moldings, and for installing prefinished trim on cabinetry. The only major shortcoming was its 1-inch limitation on pin length.
Many of today's pinners have overcome that issue, with some tools capable of shooting up to 2-inch pins. Other positive changes include improved nail magazines and safety triggers.
I tested 11 of these new models: the Bostitch HP118K, Cadex CPB23.50, Duo-Fast Sure Shot 2336, Grex P650L, Grip-Rite GRTPIN23, Max NF235A, Nikle NS2340A, Omer PR.28, Porter-Cable PIN100, Senco Finish Pro 11 4N0001N, and Spotnails SP2340.
Because my work is divided between the shop and the jobsite, I thought it most appropriate to test each pinner side-by-side in both applications. Most manufacturers recommend air pressure between 70 and 100 psi, but both Duo-Fast and Omer note a maximum pressure of 90 psi, so that's what I set the regulators at throughout. In addition, I used the same brand and length of fastener during all of my comparative testing.
Out of the Box
The first thing I noticed about these pinners was their body configurations. The Duo-Fast and Omer share the same body style, magazine, and trigger assembly, and the Cadex, Grex, and Max also are close in appearance with a few different feature details. The others all possess a body style unique to their brand. The Omer was the only tool without a rubber surface on its grip.
I rely on a comprehensive owner's manual to correctly operate and maintain my tools. All of these tools came with a detailed parts list, a must for ordering replacements. Most of the instructions adequately show model-specific features; however, the Duo-Fast, Omer, and Spotnails instructions are vague and generic–not specific to the actual tool model.
With the exception of the Duo-Fast and the Omer, the pinners come with a plastic case. Extra credit goes to Cadex, Grex, Max, Porter-Cable, and Senco for providing cases with quality sliding latches, not the flimsier snap latches found on the others. Most manufacturers include a bottle of tool oil that is required for daily lubrication. A warning: Senco's early manuals erroneously claim that its tool is oil-free, but it is not. It requires oil like the rest, and that's why every tool comes with a bottle of oil.
Pin Lengths. The pin lengths a nailer can handle is an important consideration when choosing a pinner; the size you need depends on what you plan to use the tool for. Porter-Cable offers the least versatility, shooting only 1/2- to 1-inch lengths; Duo-Fast's and Omer's capacity is 5/8- to 1-1/8-inch; Bostitch and Grip-Rite shoot 1/2- to 13/16-inch; the Max shoots 1/2- to 1-3/8-inch; and Nikle and Spotnails both use 1/2- to 19/16-inch pins. The Cadex, Grex, and Senco drive the very longest–2-inch pins. But while the Cadex and Grex shoot down to 5/8- and 1/2-inch pins, respectively, the Senco is less versatile with its minimum of 1-inch pins. In addition to 23-gauge headless pins, the Cadex and Nikle will shoot 23-gauge slight-head brads, which provide somewhat better holding ability and pull-through resistance.
Special Features. Unique details for some models include Bostitch's minimum/maximum power-setting switch, which controls the depth-of-drive, Senco's lock-off switch, and Nikle's especially long and narrow driving tip. The Cadex comes equipped with a pivoting air inlet and a built-in blowgun, and, along with the Grex, Max, and Senco, has a lockout mechanism that prevents dry-firing when no pins are in the magazine.