In the Shop
Most of our woodwork is prefabricated in the shop before being installed on site, and many of our smaller wood-to-wood connections are made with a pin nailer. To get a feel for the tools in the shop, I started out by using them for tacking assemblies being glued up, one of the pinner's greatest uses. Since this was my first exposure to this new generation, a few notable features stood out right away.
The Max pinner has spring-loaded guide pins typical of side-loading magazines and a large reload indicator window.
Credit: Photo: dotfordot.com
Safety. All but one of the pinners have a secondary safety trigger that must be depressed in conjunction with the main trigger before the driver will actuate and fire a pin; these safety triggers reset themselves when released. The Grip-Rite alone employs a simple on/off trigger-blocking lever that doesn't reset itself and can be easily left in "fire" mode. Bostitch and Spotnails share the dubious distinction of being the only guns that cannot be picked up or carried in the "safe" position; the secondary trigger is too large to be reliably avoided when you're holding the grip. The Senco also has the additional safety feature of a lock-off dial switch.
But despite any safety devices, it is important to remember that all the guns are designed to "free-fire" pins without being in contact with a nailing surface; there is no contact-safety like on most nailers.
Dry-Fire Lockout. One nice additional feature on the Cadex, Grex, Max, and Senco tools is their dry-fire lockout that disables the trigger when the magazine is low on pins. Dry-firing requires you to re-shoot the areas where no pins were fired, which can double the number and width of surface holes and can result in much wider holes left by the driver blade itself being overdriven. The first three tools have a bypass lever that requires a third finger to hold but will allow you to override the lockout function and fire the last several pins. This lever also releases the tension on the loaded pins, making it easier to remove partial sticks.
Loading Pins. Pinners have either side-loading or bottom-loading magazines. The Duo-Fast, Omer, and Porter-Cable load from the bottom. On the Duo-Fast and Omer, you set the pin length with a special sliding switch prior to dropping the pins in. This is a nice feature when you want to check the loaded fastener length at a glance. However, loading the Porter-Cable was much easier because its magazine automatically adjusts to the pin size.
The other eight pinners load from the side, a magazine style I found to be far superior. They were easier to load and won't dump all their pins if accidentally opened during use.
Nikle has the narrowest nose; its front key-holed plate allows for jam clearing without having to remove its bolts.
Credit: Photo: dotfordot.com
Cadex, Grex, and Max had the smoothest-operating magazines. All of the guns except the Omer have a window in their magazine for viewing the load status of the pins, but the windows in the Bostitch, Duo-Fast, Grip-Rite, Porter-Cable, Nikle, and Spotnails are so small they don't really give enough advance notice of when pins need to be reloaded. Twenty-three?gauge pins come in sticks of 100, and only the Bostitch, Duo-Fast, Omer, Nikle, and Spotnails have a magazine large enough to hold two full sticks of pins.
Tips. My work in the shop also revealed what the nailing tips were like. Four of the pinners–the Cadex, Grex, Max, and Senco–come equipped with a removable, soft, anti-marring cap and a spare stored on board, but I find caps pretty much unnecessary. When using a pinner, I need to see exactly where I am aiming the pin, and the soft cap simply gets in the way.
The nailer tips have some variations in shape. The Duo-Fast, Omer, and Senco have what I call a blunt or flat tip, the Nikle has the sharpest, and the remaining seven all share a medium profile tip. The best was the Nikle; I really appreciated its longer, sharper point, which made it the choice for those tight corners and delicate reveals.
Driving Power. Every one of the pinners I reviewed worked well enough for most general tasks I put them through, so I tested them on a variety of materials to determine performance differences. With 90 pounds of pressure, they all could sink 1-inch pins into softwoods; the Bostitch was the only one that struggled with driving pins into MDF crown molding, leaving the pins flush to the surface rather than countersunk.
Shooting into hardwood molding, I found that the Cadex, Duo-Fast, Grex, Max, Nikle, Omer, and Spotnails had no problems countersinking the pins. The Grip-Rite, Porter-Cable, and Senco left many pins flush rather than countersinking them all consistently. The Bostitch was the sole poor performer (even with the power switch set to "high"), consistently leaving pins above the surface of the wood.
We go through quite a variety of hardwoods every year, and exotic woods are becoming increasingly popular for a wide variety of custom woodwork. Many of these exotic species I regularly work with are very dense and hard and demand a lot out of any nailer. Testing the pinners on ipe really revealed which guns performed well in tough applications. After driving several thousand pins, the Cadex, Grex, Max, and Nikle came out on top by sinking their pins below the surface. All the rest just couldn't set theirs deep enough.