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What are the alternatives to nail guns? I need to install new MDF based baseboards and trims. Buying a new nail gun with air compressor or a battery powered nail-gun is quite costly. I see there is also nail tacker or hammer tackers available. Will they do the job, or they tend to be for other purposes? For example, I'd like to use brad nails 1-1/2"

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  • My opinion is pneumatic brad nailers are the way to go, you can get a cheap pancake compressor that will run a brad nailer under 60$. That or go back to old school finishing nails a hammer and nail set other than a hammer stapler most of those hammer devices have pros showing them off. when a consumer purchases they gouge the trim and still need to set the brad, makes me think of the electric hammer I saw advertised a few years back. – Ed Beal Dec 29 '20 at 17:40
  • A manual "squeeze"-type brad tacker won't be able to shoot the length of brads to secure the molding. – ojait Dec 29 '20 at 18:06
  • You can rent those tools for a pittance. That's what I'd do. – isherwood Dec 29 '20 at 19:26
  • I found a brad nailer for $30, and a compressor that comes with an air line for $50. Add a box of nails and we're still under $100. In my profession it'd be unreasonable to not own either, but even I don't have a cordless trim nailer. – Mazura Dec 29 '20 at 20:00
  • @Mazura A cordless trim nailer is the "bees knees" and I'm just a home-owning web developer; no cord, no loud compressor, no hassle :-) – MonkeyZeus Dec 29 '20 at 21:04
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You could get something called a trim screw. They also sell them in white if you wish to match the color and not cover the hole with putty.

GRK 1.25 inch trim screw

It sounds like you don't feel comfortable with trim nails as you might damage the surface of the material with your hammer. Quite frankly, that will likely happen if you're a novice.

A brad nailer is great for speed but if you have time then screw in a few trim screws and call it a day.

The only downside is that if you ever need to remove the trim and re-use it then you will likely need to know where to unscrew the screws. I would imagine that pulling the trim off without unscrewing the screws would damage the trim beyond re-use.

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  • does this work on MDF boards as well? I worry the screws will crush the boards? – Mark Dec 29 '20 at 18:23
  • the screws won't crush the mdf boards, just stop once the head of the screw is flush. Have you looked at possibly renting an electric brad nailer? – Phaelax z Dec 29 '20 at 18:32
  • @Mark Yes, they will be excellent for MDF. The heads are so small that they just sink in without damaging the surrounding material. However, if you're worried then test it out on some scrap MDF. I think you will like the end result :) – MonkeyZeus Dec 29 '20 at 18:42
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    You'd want to counterbore for these. If you try and drive them flush you'll have bulging. Pilot for the screw head to its depth, then pilot through the trim to the screw shaft size. Don't pilot the framing. – isherwood Dec 29 '20 at 19:27
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Once upon a time we used hammers.

Just pre-drill (pilot) for hardened trim nails.

Hardened trim nails are narrower and stiffer than mild steel nails. I'd use 2" length, which should leave about 1" of penetration into the framing. They'll drive like butter and they'll set nicely. You can even use one of the nails as a drill bit.

Other tips

When setting baseboard, nearly all of your nails should be near the top. This keeps the top edge tight and looking professional. Driving nails down low can cause the board to tip into the depression created by drywall sheets or imperfect walls. Find the studs and set one nail in every other one, then backfill on the other studs just where you need to tighten gaps. After that, add a very few nails down low just to keep it from moving.

Also, be sure you understand the reason for and methods of doing cope joints. Inside corners should not be mitered unless you're using fully square (craftsman-style) trim. Cut a hair long and flex into place for a great fit.

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  • A hammer will do, but it's not very novice-friendly. There's a fair chance you'll end up with a bunch of dents in the soft-ish MDF if you aren't experienced enough. It just takes one blow that's a bit harder than necessary to drive the nail in flush and then dent the surrounding MDF with the excess energy. – TooTea Dec 29 '20 at 19:56
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    Sure. Every tool has a learning requirement. I can't imagine anyone wanting to do home improvement and not wanting to learn to use a hammer, though. – isherwood Dec 29 '20 at 19:58
  • Oh yeah, sure, no disagreement there. I just wanted to add a heads-up for the newbies: Be extremely careful with the hammer here, there's no way to get the dents out afterwards. This is certainly not the right job to train your hammer skills. – TooTea Dec 29 '20 at 19:59
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I would recommend a nail spinner, it looks like this:

enter image description here
Image from somewhere on Pinterest. This particular one is a Vermont American tool (to make finding one easier, not a recommendation or endorsement).

I used one for many years before my FIL purchased a finish nailer that I can borrow from him when I need it.

You chuck the nail spinner into your drill and drive the nail most of the way in, then you finish with a nail set and a hammer.

Slower than a nail gun. Slower than just using a hammer, but much less likely to split the wood (though MDF doesn't really split), and minimizes the potential for damage from a missed hammer blow since you're only hitting the nail set, not the nail itself.

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construction adhesive + nails/hammer would be another option. You could space out the nails less frequently than you would with a nail gun.

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