Brad nail vs Pin nail: Which nail should you use?

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In this article, we shall be doing a detailed brad nail vs pin nail comparison- you might be a beginner and you’re unsure about which of the two nails should you pick for your carpentry project.

Let’s dive right in:

Brad nail vs Pin nail: Which nail should you use?

One thing is clear even before we look at the specifics: Each nail type has its place so what is important for you is to understand the projects that each is intended for.

That way, you’ll surely make the right decision.

So again the key question is: Exactly what are you going to use the nails for?

Let’s start by looking at the key differences between the two nail types:

What are brad nails?

In the simplest word, a brad is simply a fine, 18 gauge wire that is formed into a sharp nail (which is typically T-shaped).

In terms of lengths, 18-gauge brads go up to 2 and 1/2-inches long.

The most important thing to keep in mind is this: Even though they do not have the best holding power – that is provided by finish nails- brads have way more holding strength than pin nails (or pins, as they’re simply called- more on this shortly).


What are pin nails?

Pin nails are typically narrow 23-gauge nails that folks like calling pins (the reason is that it’s headless unlike conventional nail types).

In fact, of all the different types of nails on the modern-day market, Pin nails (or just pins) are the thinnest!

And just in case you do not understand how gauges rank, a higher gauge equals a lower diameter!

Just so that you can see it in black and white, 23-gauge equals 0.024 inches (in diameter) while 18 gauge equals 0.040 inches.

Turning to their length, there are pins lengths from ⅝ inch to 2 inches in the market today.

Back to their diameter and you might be wondering if they really have any advantage now that we have seen that they have next-to-nothing holding power.

Well, the answer is a big YES- since they are headless, your work will always look cleaner (the finish is nearly invisible so you don’t need to worry about unsightly filler!).

Pin nail vs Brad nail: What is the greatest difference?

Now, the outstanding difference between pin nails vs brads is that the former are headless while pins are nothing else but tiny headless nails (and this, again, means they have very little holding power).


Where to use brad nails

Brads suit a higher number of applications – what gives 18ga brads more versatility is the extra holding power they are usually designed to have which comes from their longer length along with the head on them.

In a nutshell, you can use these nails everywhere where greater hold strength is needed (Choose brads plus the filler option over headless pins anytime you’re worried about the hold strength).

So is this is the way to go if you’re securing something larger, say a cabinet (or even a drawer box) during glue-ups.

Where to use pin nails

Because they’re thinner by far, pin nails are the best choice for absolutely delicate trim work (thing about projects like tiny furniture trim, super thin veneers, and the like which risk splitting if the larger-gauge brads are used).

In other words, we urge you to go for 23ga pins if you’re tacking during glue-ups and for similar jobs.

That said, it is not common for brads to split wood unless it is extremely fragile but the point is: There is less chance of you splitting a piece with a pin!

Here is the rule of thumb to help you decide: Pins are not for something permanent.

Or, to put it in a nutshell, the 23-GA pins are ideal for trims and things like inlays.

On the other hand, 18 GA brads are for anything substantial including trim / crown molding.


Can you use brads for base?

Yeah, you can use brads for base but you must shoot your nails in at two(2) different angles to create a v-shape (Ensure you use a properly-calibrated Brad nailer).

This grabs the wood better and you won’t end up with giant finishing nail holes that are near impossible to hide!

Just like for base, 18ga brads should work find for casing though you will need 16 or 15-gauge finish nails if you’re hanging doors particularly solid core doors.


Quick summary

18ga nails – best for casings/ baseboard/ quarter-round / shoe molding (any stuff up to ¾-inch thick)

23 ga pins– use for kitchen scribe /3/4″ paneling/nailing returns on trims

A word on brad nailer vs pin nailer

Needless to say, you need a brad nailer to shoot brads. Similarly, you will require a pin nailer to fire pins.

Here is something a lot of beginners don’t know: You can instead buy a combination 18-ga 2″ brad nailer/stapler (here is one).

This takes narrow staples usually 1/2 to 1-1/2″ (that is what is more readily available anyway) and 18-ga brad nails (from 5/8 to 2″).

The downside of these combo guns is when you’re nailing into some finished surfaces such as mouldings- the striker often leaves a ¼” wide indentation in soft woods when shooting brads.

Otherwise, it’s really a nice do-all tool and it will effectively take care of about 90% of your regular needs.

There is something I would like to point out if you are planning to get a 23-ga pinner: Be sure to watch out if using longer pins such as 1.5-2″..


They somehow tend to like curling around in hardwood..

If you don’t believe me, ask anyone you know with a 23-ga pinner about how many times they have gotten pinned because of having a hand in wrong spots… It is that serious so you will need to be careful.

Brad nail vs Pin nail: Recap

Brad nails provide greater holding power so they tend to be useful for a bigger number of carpentry projects than pin nails.

Indeed, you can use brad nails for anything substantial including installing trim / crown molding but bear in mind that the holes they leave are much bigger (and might need patching and painting).

If you’re gluing, then pins should be fine (It’s strong enough so it should have no trouble holding on the trim waiting for the glue to dry)- and no heads mean no filling of holes.

An 18-gauge brad nailer is the most versatile nail gun and hence the nailer you should go for unless you are tackling super fine trim work(here a 23ga nailer would be more suitable).



Brad nail vs Finishing nail: Which would be better?

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