Thumbnailers and v-nailers


SGF, Supreme Grumble Framer
Jun 13, 2002
Fingerlakes Region of NYS
I am researching the acquisition of a new piece of equipment for my new store... did search the archives to find some input from 1999 - but would like up to date input.

I have great success with most thumbnail/pushpin/wedge joins I purchase from my vendors BUT have recently received several all so poorly "drilled" (?) I had to request replacements from one specific manufacturer - 5 different frames, 3 done on the same order, same moulding - not a problem in past.

Recent problem I have is that I (duh-umb me) did not check the frames themselves when they came in - I checked in the overall order - so this realization came at the 11th hour - as I am trying to meet my deadline. Now I am behind schedule. Any way to compensate for this without joining equipment?

Since I have no equipment at all for joining and have limited space, not huge quantities of frames (yet!) but want to be able to join my own. I am resisting equipment that requires a compressor for both the noise and space constraints of my shop. I would welcome input regarding tabletop v-nailers, foot operated, thumbnailers, etc... best way to add to my equipment without overbuying for my level of needs and the direction of my business - which is not to be a production house.
The main problem with Thumbnailers is the cheap plastic Thumbnail inserts themselves. They break in very short order due to the natuaral expansion, contraction of the wood. People have suggested that Thumbnails are not designed to actually join the frames, but just to hold them together while the glue dries. The instructions that come with a Thumbnailer clearly state that you should use glue sparingly. Thumbnailers are little more than toys, I would advise against wasting your money on such junk.

If you want a great all around joining system that will join just about any moulding you have, I would highly recomend the Hoffmann joining system. This machine is hands down about the best piece of joining equipment I have ever purchased. It does have a very slight learning curve and is a little more costly than a Thumbnailer. The big difference is that your corners will align perfectly, Thumbnailers will not, and your corners will stay locked together, with or without glue.

I also use two pnuematic Cassise joiners that also work great, but I think for your situation, Hoffmann is the way to go.

I love my foot-powered Cassese v-nailer. I also own a foot-powered chopper. I love that too. Since I am not a high volume shop, I see no need for a compressor. I’m not sure it could join much faster anyway, and I also feel that I have more control

It's the most cost effective piece of equipment I have purchased. It's like owning a computer; you can't remember how you lived without it.

It has a footprint of 17 1/2" x 23 1/2" and tucks nicely up against a worktable to help support the frames. You can join most frames in less than a minute. I believe I paid about $1000 for the Cassese and $750 for the chopper used.
We use a Pistorius VNA-2 system and swear by it.

I found it pre-owned for about $1500 through a chat board, and the seller shipped it to us. You can often find these at great prices on the web, from companies that recently went under. (also found a mint Fletcher 3000, mint Mors0 F chopper, 3 sets of blades, and 4 Stanley vises as a package for $2000) I couldn't find an Esterly Speed-Mat 4060 on the used market, so we had to buy that new.

We picked up a cheap ($99) Home Depot compressor and found it to be VERY loud. I drilled a small hole in the floor for the air hose and put the darned thing in the basement. Now you can't even hear it. This may be an option if you have a basement. When this 'toy' compressor goes, I'll invest in a better quality unit.
Originally posted by Mike @ GTP:

We picked up a cheap ($99) Home Depot compressor and found it to be VERY loud. I drilled a small hole in the floor for the air hose and put the darned thing in the basement. Now you can't even hear it. This may be an option if you have a basement. When this 'toy' compressor goes, I'll invest in a better quality unit.
Mike, I think we are using the same compressor, got mine at Home Depot also. It kind of sounds like a jack hammer, not what I was expecting, and I am sort of looking forward to the day it does bite the dust. :rolleyes:

-The Other Mike.
I agree with John on the Hoffman. It was originally made for the woodworking/cabinetmaking industry and adopted into the picture frame industry. It is a very rugged unit and makes a very strong joint. They have all sorts of models and options available that the Thumbnail hasn't even dreamed of yet (actually, I'll acknowledge that the Thumbnail people must keep an eye on the market and know what Hoffman has and probably do a little daydreaming. Or is it nightmares? ;) )

Besides, they're made in Germany. That's got to be a good thing
I have used both the Thumbnailer and Fletcher CornerLock. I personally like the Fletcher better than the Thumbnailer because the groove is routed in a slight arc and seems to make a tighter joint. The only corner wedge that I have had fail is one where I had the machine adjusted improperly and the wedge was significantly tighter than suggested. I also use it to join octagonal frames. If you don't want a air compressor due to the noise factor, the thumbnailer and cornerlock both make many times more noise than an air compressor. There are also the woodchips that make a pretty big mess regardless of the vaccuum attachment that you will use.

We have a FrameSquare manual underpinner for most of our joining, but there are some profiles where I prefer to use the cornerlock wedges.
Originally posted by Hobbes03:
...When this 'toy' compressor goes, I'll invest in a better quality unit...
Don't hold your breath, gentlemen. I bought one of those "jackhammer" compressors from W.W. Grainger in 1995, and it's still going strong.

Can you say s-a-b-o-t-a-g-e ?
We had a similar problem with our compressor. It HAS to be about 5ft away from my u/pinner. I made up a box out of heavy corregated cardboard- I used 2 of the cartons we get our over size mattboards in. A double layer of cardboard with ventilation holes top and bottom and you can hold a normal conversation beside the compressor while it is operating. I noticed at the last framing fair that one company has several compressors operating and they were definitely not intrusive. By the way our compressor has been operating with this covering for 3 years with no overheating problems. Only problem- you forget to service it because you forget it is there.
A P.S. to my last post. The compressors at the framing fair had boxes constructed of what we call M.D.F.board- Medium Density Fibre Board. There was a good article on soundproofing compressors in Profile magazine a few editions back.
I had the same problem when I opened this shop last year. Being an "old timer", I was used to the vice & nail and wanted to have "control" of what I was doing :confused: Anyway, I bought a Mitre-Mite VN Manual underpinner by ITW AMP (around $1k). I like it. Most of the profiles work fine, although I run into a few that don't lend themselves to underpinning (i.e. deep shadow box moldings, etc.) Like others on this board I wouldn't go back to the old way. Looking forward to justifing additional toys :cool: Good luck on your choices.
I've never used an underpinner before but I am getting an one because I cannot possibly go through another holiday season with my thumbnailer. I hadn't used a thumbnailer until last year. It was here when I assumed the shop, which reminds me, don't "assume" anything, it'll make an ass out of you and me. Anyway, it is so tedious. I had four rather wide frames a couple of weeks ago, three wedges needed in all corners. I had to route out 96 of those wedge holes. Boring, boring, boring. Talk about wasting my time. I have had trouble with the wedges breaking in a previous life, framing elsewhere far far away. I do believe that was due to poor gluing way way before I got there to set everybody straight on the correct way to build a frame. I bet I saw one a week for about a year being returned due to breaking wedges. I didn't have any returned after the framers had been retrained.

I also agree the thumbnailer makes far more noise than an air compressor. I have my shop vac hooked up to it too, so you have both running at the same time. One of the shops I worked at had a compressor that had to remain in the work area. It had a fairly big tank so I was able to fill it in the morning and shut the compressor off so it wouldn't run. Of course that won't work if you have a lot of volume.

My two cents worth.
In past posts I have said I would not bother with a foot operated Casesse v-nailer (CS88) so of course one was offered to me dirt cheap and I bought it thinking I could always sell it for more. Lo and behold, the darn thing actually works. There is a bit of a learning curve (such as not letting your foot slip off the pedal) and I've had to fuss with it a little due to jams but overall it surprised me. It doesn't like the 15MM wedges and don't try to stack in get really nasty jams that way. Would I pay $1600 for it??? Not sure. I'd have to shop around and see what else is available but if you can pick up a clean used one for around $7-800 it would be worthwhile.

Almost all air compressors make noise. The silent ones are available but they're not cheap by any means. LJ used to sell one for about $13-1400. You can buy 4-5 decent contractor grade compressors for that! If you do decide to get a compressor (and I recommend that you do) don't go for the "oilless" compressor. They tend to run hotter and at a higher RPM so are noisier and wear out sooner. They're meant for homowners to fire up on the weekends not for steady use. I use an Emglo contractor model that I've had for 5 years and am very happy with it. Home shops usually stock a couple of Emglos and DeWalts (same company now)(around $300) and a bunch of cheaper units (DeVilbis, Porter Cable, Oilless SpeedAirs). I really believe that every shop should have an air pinner (18 gauge nailer) and an air stapler or two, once you get used to using them you'll never go back to hand tools.
I found it pre-owned for about $1500 through a chat board, and the seller shipped it to us. You can often find these at great prices on the web, from companies that recently went under.

Can you tell me how to find this chat board? I'm just opening up a frame shop in Maine and have been going round and round and back and forth trying to decide on an underpinner. I'm very fussy and will not stand for any gaps! Any suggestions?
I agree on the cheapie air compressors. I bought a cheap Campbell-Hausfield in 1999 and it is STILL running like a sewing machine!! Noisy isn't a good descriptive word for the sounds that it makes!

My underpinner of choice is the Euro 9009. I have had one fkor the past 16 years and it is a real workhorse. Go to John Knoell & Sons website to see them and get a price.

Undead Thread alert!!

Kinda cool that this one resurfaced on its second anniversary, though.
Aw, man, I always fall for those undead threads!!!

I gotta start reading the posting dates before posting to a subject from somebody who has since passed me in age!

(So sorry, Roz, I meant nothing personal by that catty remark.)

I haven't been posting much so I was confused when I saw my name and the (as Ron noted, 2 year anniversary) date!!

And FGII, hmmm.... I don't think any offense was taken.... did I pass you!? I thought I got off the birthday freeway!

Well, there you have it, the "rest of the story"!!

My only fear is that one of these days a prison road cleanup crew will come by, find my rusted remains, bag me up in a bright orange sack, and toss me in the dumpster!