On the Job

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Onboard accessory storage like on the Grex keeps the tip cap and front-plate wrench handy.

Credit: Photo: dotfordot.com

Varying jobsite conditions often conspire to identify the strengths or weaknesses of tools in ways not seen in the shop. So we brought the test group to a remodeling project I was working on where we were installing prefinished custom millwork, a perfect application for using pinners. Installing trim means using nails that leave holes that have to be filled, and even filled holes often remain visible. Twenty-three?gauge pinners usually leave such small holes they don't even need to be filled.

I used the pinners for a number of fastening jobs, including using 1-1/2-inch pins to fasten 7/8-inch-thick molding to cabinetry. By themselves, pins aren't strong enough to hold large moldings like this permanently, so we couple them with glue; the pins are enough to hold the pieces in place while the adhesive sets. I also used shorter pins to temporarily hold panels in place while they were being scribed or positioned for installing decorative screws. During these common scenarios, I discovered a few more things about the tools.

Jams. Removing the inevitable jammed fastener shouldn't slow you down on the job. While I didn't experience any jams during my test, all of the pinners reviewed have a removable cover plate over the front driver housing to remove jams if they occur. To make the removal process easier, the Bostitch, Cadex, Grex, Grip-Rite, Max, and Nikle have keyhole slots that allow you to remove the plate without taking the screws completely out. Of these, the Cadex, Grex, and Max provide an onboard hex wrench, eliminating the need to search the case, toolbox, or truck for that tiny elusive wrench.

Exhaust and Extras. In a dusty corner, a blast of exhaust air out the front of the tool can be quite a nuisance, especially because the air discharged could deposit oil and condensation onto your wood. Luckily, exhaust direction and diffusion have become design considerations on newer nailers. The best form of exhaust is rear-venting, found on most of the pinners. The Cadex, Grex, Max, Duo-Fast, and Omer models also feature a replaceable silencer, and Senco has a rotating rear diffuser cap. The two that do not have rear exhaust are the Nikle, which employs a rotating top diffuser cap, and the Spotnails, with its fixed top discharge

Belt hooks really proved their worth in the field, and were especially handy to have when working on a ladder. Cadex, Grex, and Max have a fixed hook on the left; Senco's rotates to either side.

Size Wise. I found that I preferred using smaller pinners on the jobsite; their ease of handling in awkward positions made them the choice over the larger guns. The smaller bodies of the Bostitch, Duo-Fast, Grip-Rite, Omer, and Porter-Cable made them the most comfortable to work with, but limited me to shorter fastener lengths. The shared body style of the Cadex, Grex, and Max, although slightly larger, was very comfortable and well balanced, as were the Nikle and Spotnails tools. Only the Senco had a large body, which felt very clumsy, especially when firing pins into delicate work.

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The Cadex pinner has a thumb-operated blower valve for clearing dust off finish work before pinning to it.

Credit: Photo: dotfordot.com

Pin length is a purchasing consideration with these tools as they have a fairly limited range of uses. Bigger isn't necessarily better, so choose a pinner based on your intended use. Although I absolutely loved the idea of being able to shoot a 2-inch-long pin, its application is very limited. When shooting perpendicular to the grain or into soft materials, the pins worked fine, but results were mixed when shooting at an angle to the grain or into harder woods. The tests I conducted with the longest pins in hardwood made me rethink their usefulness in that application. I had several pins curve back out through the face of the material, requiring some careful mending work and reminding me of the importance of keeping my free hand well away from the pinning site. A wayward pin curling through the face of painted millwork or cabinetry can cause quite a bit of extra re-work. And don't think that you can use the longer lengths for attaching trim through drywall; a 23-gauge pin is simply not strong enough for that application.

Keep in mind that pinners that shoot only shorter pins are smaller and easier to handle, especially during long periods of use. This is an important consideration when working on delicate prefinished woodwork because the smaller body is less likely to damage adjacent work.