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What Size of Nails Should You Use for Framing a Building?

A collage photo of nails and framing of building.

The devil is in the details, as they say: getting the right size nails for framing can make or break the project. Read this guide to understand framing nails so you can make the right decision.

Length and nail type depend on the construction

The type and length of nail you use will depend on the strength you need – how much structural support it has to hold up. There are specialized nails for different materials, which makes a lot of sense because the quality of drywall is so different from that of wood.

Drywall has its own nail. So does pressure-treated wood, roofing shingles and vinyl siding. Some nails have very wide heads to hold soft materials in place, such as Styrofoam boards, or very small heads so that they can be set below the surface of the wood and hidden with a filler, such as finishing nails.

There are nails that are coated with resin, or that have rings or twists in them to increase gripping strength. The kind of nails you want for framing are long, relatively wide, and have a smooth surface, with some notches close to the head.

There are two main types, which I will outline in the article, along with the contexts in which you would want to use both.

The ideal length of nails for framing a building

The nail lengths or nail sizes that are the most common include 6d, 8d, 10d, or 16d. Here, the letter ‘d’ signifies a penny. The diameters or pennies’ sizes differentiate between each nail size. So, the next question comes how to differentiate between various nail lengths. For framing, you can either use a nail gun or a hammer. A nail gun is a lot more efficient and precise.

DEWALT Finish Nailer Kit, 18GA, 5/8-Inch to 2-Inch (DWFP12231) , Yellow

1. 8D Nails

Framing is actually a multi-step process, that involves a lot more than joining 2-by-4s. You often have to attach furring strips, sheathing, subfloors and other materials for which you don’t need large nails. For all these parts of the jon, 8d common nails, which are 2 1/2 inches long, are often the best choice.

Some hardware stores even stock 8d vinyl-coated sinkers, which, like their 16d counterparts, are slightly narrower than common nails.

HILLMAN FASTENERS 461281 2.5" 8D Galvanized Com Nail

2. 16D nails

You’ll see two types of 16d nails at a hardware store (the “d” is an archaic English abbreviation for “penny”). Common nails have a smooth head, while sinkers have a textured head that prevents hammers from slipping. 

The main difference is that sinker nails feature a waffle-like style at the top while the common ones feature a smooth top. Out of these options, 16d sinkers are great for framing. As they arrive with vinyl, cement, and epoxy coating, these nails slide better into the wood.

NATIONAL NAIL 65195 5-Pound 16D Sinker Nail


What is framing a building?

So you may also be wondering what exactly framing is, and how it’s done. Framing is where your building actually begins to take shape. If you work in web development, it’s kind of like the wireframes of the website.

The frame is the skeleton that supports all the finishing features: to mix metaphors, the bone that supports the flesh and skin. It is an extremely important structural feature of a home, or any building: a shed, a sauna, a barn. No matter what you’re building, it is vital that you do your research, get the right materials, and pay attention to detail.

It is not, however, the same as a stud. A stud is really the structural foundation of the building, think of it like the fence post, and actual fence is the frame. There are many building codes around how studs and frames are put up, so its important to also consult these before getting started on any project.

Modern light-frame structures(the framing between the studs) usually gain strength from rigid panels (plywood and plywood-like composites such as oriented strand board) used to form the entire or parts of wall sections; until recent days carpenters employed various forms of diagonal bracing (called “wind braces”) to stabilize walls.

Diagonal bracing remains a vital interior part of many roof systems, and in-wall wind braces are required by building codes in many municipalities or by individual state laws in the United States. Wood is the most common material used in frame construction, and it has to be treated and cured to prevent twisting and warping.

In some cases, metal beams can be used, especially these days when wood is so expensive, it can significantly cut down the costs of a construction project.

3 types of framing a building

There are three predominant forms of framing: balloon framing, post and beam framing, and platform framing.

1. Balloon framing, on the other hand is one of the earliest wood construction methods. It entails constructing light frames of wood around studs that run continuously from the top to the bottom of the building. It starts with studs that do the same, and then studs are also added to the desired height of each room.

2. Finally, post and beam construction is a technique that relies on heavy timber instead of dimensional lumber. It results in extremely durable structures, which can be seen in the structures still standing that were built in medieval times.

3. Platform frame construction is very common in residential projects, and entails framing every floor independently, and uses less wood than other methods. Every floor becomes a separate unit by nailing a horizontal frame member to the top of the wall studs.

Step by Step Instructions: Building a Frame

1. Construct a floor

If constructing on a foundation, the first step is to construct a floor on the foundation. Sill plates are anchored to the foundation, then the floor joists are fastened to the sill plates and their ends boxed in with joist headers.

A joist is a horizontal structural member used in framing to span an open space, often between beams that subsequently transfer loads to vertical members. The headers and outside joists should fit flush with the outside edges of the foundation. After the deck or floor has been constructed, you’re ready to construct and erect the walls.

2. Construct the walls

The walls consist of sole plates nailed to the subflooring, or anchored with anchor bolts to the concrete slab. Studs are nailed to the sole plates and top plates are nailed to the studs. The next step is to lay the sole plate and top plate side by side, and determine any door and window locations, as per the plans or your building design.

You must know the rough-opening sizes of any doors and windows. Using a carpenter’s square, mark these rough opening locations on both. The tongue of the square is 1-1/2-inches wide, the exact width of kiln-dried 2-by framing materials.

Then mark the stud locations, again on both sole and top plate at the same time. This measurement may be on 16- or 24-inch centers, depending on building design or local codes.

3. Add the Headers

Headers are horizontal members used to transfer loads to jack studs. Once the studs are in place, frame in the door and window openings, and then add the headers. Headers may be constructed full width by using 2-by-10’s, or they may be created by using 2-by-6’s filling in above them with cripple studs.

Traditional headers are created by nailing 3/8-inch plywood spacers between the header boards to create the same thickness in the header as the 3-1/2-inch width of the studs. The headers are supported by trimmer studs to create doubled studs in the openings.

Cripple studs are fastened between the trimmers beneath the door and window openings, and spaced to match the other studs on the same 16- or 24-inch centers.

4. Square the Frame

In some instances walls are constructed without additional bracing, using plywood or OSB sheathing at the corners to brace and square the wall section. In some cases the sheathing is applied to the wall frame before erecting the wall.

In either case, the wall section is first squared by measuring diagonally from corner to corner, then from opposite corner to corner, then shifting the wall section to create an equal measurement and a squared wall. A large wooden 90-degree triangle can also be used. A temporary brace is then installed to hold the wall square.

5.  Raise the Walls

Two’s a party when erecting a wall. It can be a fairly easy job, but you want two people to make it go smoothly. Erecting on a subfloor is easier than on a slab. Simply slide the wall close to the edge at its location and tilt it up.

If installing the wall on a concrete slab, slide it up to the anchor bolts, then you will have to lift the wall up and position it down on the anchor bolts. Again, this is at least a two-person chore, even for a short wall.

6. Support the walls

With the wall up in position, drive 2-by-4 stakes in the ground and provide temporary supports anchored to the wall studs and stakes. Duplex nails used for constructing foundations are good for this step, as they can more easily be pulled later. Make sure the wall is plumb and correctly in position before anchoring the bracing.

If placed on a slab, fasten the sole plate in place with washers and nuts over the sole plate and on the anchor bolts. If on a foundation/floor, nail the sole plate down on the subfloor and into the floor joists and headers. If the wall is to be built in sections, build the next section, erect it, brace in place and fasten to the previously erected wall.

Note the wall joints are always on a stud.

7. Nail Plates

The tops of the walls at corners and wall section joints are joined by nailing a second top plate down over the top plate, crossing over all joints to tie them securely together. This second top plate creates the final wall height of a standard 8-foot wall. Corner blocking is needed at each interior wall corner to provide for fastening interior wall coverings.

Building a frame is really hefty task, one which you should not take lightly, but should also not shy away from. It’s a huge accomplishment for non-professionals, and could be a really enjoyable journey for you.

This short guide gives you an easy step by step process to understand what you’re undertaking, but you should definitely research building codes, talk to experts, and get some help when taking on this job.

The nail size is important: for some parts of the frame you need a shorter nail that will be flush with the edge, while for others you need one that goes deep enough to support and connect beams through their thickness. The two main sizes outlined at the beginning should set you up for success!

There are a lot of technical terms for the parts, materials, gauges, and skills. There is also decision making around what kind of wood you will use. If you want a guide to 18 Different Types of Lumber, check out our other article on the topic!

Then, if you do want a more comprehensive look at different types of nails, check out our deep dive on the topic with 29 Different Types of Construction Nails.

History of nails in construction

To say nails are an old technology or tool would be an understatement. It’s unknown exactly when nails were first invented, but archeological evidence shows nails were used in Ancient Egypt around 3,400 B.C. Since then, little has changed regarding their design.

It’s interesting to have so many advanced tools for construction, but some like the hammer and nail that have remained steady in their simple design since the beginning. While they have mostly been a commonplace item, the American Revolution actually led to a widespread nail shortage throughout the country.

Back then, most nails were manufactured and sold in England. Nowadays, they’re manufactured all around the world. Once the 13 American colonies declared independence from England, England stopped supplying them with nails.

Nails were in such as a short supply, in fact, that many communities would burn down old houses and buildings just to recover the nails. Luckily, we don’t have to do that today; you can just walk to your local hardware store and pick up whatever variety you’re in need of.