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Trim nailer tips.

Back when I was a beginning carpenter, trim nailers were expensive and rare. Then, about 20 years ago, prices came down and I decided to give them a try. As expected, they made nailing faster and a lot easier on my arm. But as I learned to use them, they also made my work faster, easier and better in lots of ways I didn't expect. In the following pages, I'll show you some of the tricks and benefits that make trim nailers an essential part of my daily work.

Use a block to push baseboard

When baseboard--or the floor--isn't straight, I force the trim down with a 2x4 block. The block gives me a broad surface to push against and lets me apply a tot more pressure. This trick also works with uncooperative crown molding.

Tongue-and-groove the easy way

With a trim nailer, you can install tongue-and-groove paneling in a fraction of the time. Some carpenters use a finish nailer for this, but I like to use my smaller, lighter 18-gauge brad nailer, especially on ceilings. Brads don't have the holding power of 15- or 16-gauge nails, of course, but I make up for that by shooting two brads into every stud or joist.


I always found it difficult to keep parts aligned when screwing cabinets together. Then I discovered that a couple of shots with my finish nailer or brad nailer will keep the parts aligned while I drill pilot holes and drive screws for strong joints.

Easy on old walls

I do a lot of work in old houses. And hammering nails through those old plaster walls is a recipe for cracks. A trim nailer, on the other hand, drives nails instantly, without the repeated blows that can cause cracks. I like my 15-gauge nailer best for these jobs; the nails are stout enough to push through the hard plaster and long enough to bite into the framing behind it.


In the blink of an eye, a nailer can shoot a 2-in.-long nail into whatever is in its path. Injuries can be just as fast. I could tell my own injury stories for an entire lunch hour. So I've become a believer. Always wear eye and hearing protection. And remember that nails sometimes go off course, making a U-turn and popping out where you don't expect them. So keep your hands and feet out of reach of errant nails.


One of the best things about trim nailers is that you don't have to worry about beating up the wood, unlike with a hammer. That means you can finish parts before assembly. I especially like to finish trim before installation, which gives me better results in less time. Just be sure that the soft rubber tip that came with your nailer is actually on the gun before you shoot.


The working end of my pinner is just 6-3/8 in. long and goes where none of my other nailers fit.

Invisible nail holes with a pinner

Pins are tiny and headless, so they're hard to see even before you fill them. Afterward, nobody but you will know they're there.


With a coat of slippery glue. parts will slide out of alignment while you're desperately trying to clamp them. My solution is to tack the parts together with a couple of nails. That keeps the parts aligned while I apply serious pressure with clamps.

Pinners are perfect for crafts

I make a lot of gifts for friends and family. My pinner is the go-to tool for delicate assemblies like these and saves me the torture of gift shopping.


Studs aren't always located where we need them. When I need to nail trim where there's no stud, I dab some construction adhesive on the back of the trim and then drive nails into the drywall at 45-degree angles. That holds the trim tight against the wall while the adhesive cures. This "trap nailing" technique works fine with brad nailers and even better with finish nailers.

Tack trim for marking

To eliminate measuring errors, I like to hold trim in place to mark the length. When the piece is too long to hold alone, I tack one end to the wall with a brad nail. Then I mark, yank the trim off the wall and remove the brad. (I use nippers to pull the brad through the back of the trim to avoid damaging the face of the trim.) That gives me an accurate cutting mark and only one extra nail hole to fill later.

Extend your reach

Starting a nail with a hammer takes both hands--and that limits your reach. So I used to spend more time moving my ladder than driving nails when I was installing crown molding. A trim nailer, on the other hand, lets me reach way over to shoot a nail. And using a bench, rather than a ladder, lets me nail off even the longest runs in only two or three moves. My aluminum bench (Werner AP-20) costs about $75 online.


A 23-gauge pinner almost never splits wood, even on very small parts. In most situations, I like to dab on a little wood glue to give the joint more strength than pins alone can provide.

Position parts with a gauge

With a nailer in one hand and a gauge in the other, you can position parts perfectly--without measuring or marking. A combination square is a precise, adjustable gauge, but I often make a custom gauge just by tacking a couple of wood scraps together.

Dealing with stray nails

My only gripe about trim nailers is "blowout." Careless aim is sometimes the cause, but other times the nail inexplicably takes a turn inside the wood and pops out. When this happens, I grab a hammer and try to drive the nail up so I can grab the head with pliers and pull it out. This often works with 15- or 16-gauge nails, but 18-gauge brads almost always bend when I try to drive them back. In that case, my only solution is to grab the nail with pliers, bend it back and forth until it breaks off, and sink the remainder of the nail with a nail set.

By David Radtke

David Radtke is a Field Editor, designer, remodeler and cabinetmaker in Minneapolis.
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Author:Radtke, David
Publication:The Family Handyman
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2013
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