An extensive guide to nails for different construction purposes. We also included helpful tips on working with nails and choosing the right type.
Nails are one of the most enduring and most common construction materials. Building a wooden house alone can entail 20,000 to 30,000 of nails used. Originally, nails were made of bronze. Then came copper and eventually iron.
The earliest crafted nails were made by ancient Egyptians and date back 3400 B.C. It was also common for families to make nails for themselves although blacksmiths made them for commercial purposes.
Table of Contents
- Styles and Designs of Nails
- Tips for Working More Successfully with Nails
No surprise here, but this is the most common, everyday type of nail that is used for a variety of simple and complex jobs. Of course, they can be used for business-related tasks as well and they range in size from one to six inches in length. Taken together, these types of nails are often called spikes and they can be used in everything from basic inside chores to more complex outside jobs. Even though nails were once sold by terminology defined by the penny — for example, three-penny nails, four-penny nails, etc. — today they are merely sold by the pound regardless of their type, making them a little easier to measure.
Box nails look a lot like common nails but are a little thinner. They are less likely to cause splits in the wood, thanks to their size; however, because they are so thin, they are not good for projects that need a lot of structural strength as they have less holding power than common nails. When purchasing box nails, keep in mind they range in size from one inch to three-and-a-half inches in length.
Roofing nails have round, large heads and heavy shafts and are usually made of aluminum or a highly galvanized material, which is done to prevent them from rusting. These nails are designed for tasks such as holding roofing materials in place, in particular asphalt-based and composite materials. Most roofing nails range in size from three-quarters of an inch to one-and-three-quarters of an inch, making them the perfect size for these types of jobs.
Masonry nails are what you want if you need to drive nails into a rock-hard surface such as bricks or concrete walls. There are several types of masonry nails available and they may be rectangular in sections or have shafts that are fluted. They are made this way so that they do not bend or break when driving them into a hard surface and you can use them for a variety of different projects. Because the concrete or brick may chip and fly away while you’re working, it is always recommended that you use safety goggles when working with this type of nail.
When you’re working on moldings or other projects that require the nail head not be obvious in the final product, the finishing nail is your smartest option. These nails are used in a variety of finishing jobs and have very small heads; therefore, they can be driven below the surface of the wood, making them unnoticeable once the job is complete. They are available in sizes from one inch to four inches in length and are used for a variety of different projects.
Casing nails are very similar to finishing nails but are a little larger and thicker. It has a little more holding power than the finishing nail and you can use it to attach moldings such as door and window casings or in other projects that require a little extra holding power.
Brads are unique in that they are finishing nails with a little less size and length and they are usually no more than one inch in length. If you need to make frames, perform basic cabinet work, or attach plywood paneling, brads are the perfect nails for you.
Cut Flooring Nails
A relative of the cut nail, this type of flooring nail is strong and large and it is most often used in automatic nailing machines.
Spiral Flooring Nails
Although most workers use nail guns and the nails that go with them in place of these nails today, the spiral flooring nails were once used in subfloor work and have shafts that come in a spiral shape.
Annular Ring Nails
These nails are used for projects such as holding shingles or clapboards in place as well as paneling and under-layments. Commonly called siding nails, annular ring nails are usually made of galvanized steel and are thin, rust-resistant, and lined with rings so their holding power can be stronger.
A variation of the common nail, the duplex nail has dual heads with the second one being found a short distance down the nail’s shaft. It is most commonly used for temporary jobs that include staging and scaffolding, in part because it can be driven snugly into the material yet it is also easy to remove.
There are other, less-common nails that are used by both laypeople and professional construction workers alike, including nails that are coated with cement and with resin for extra holding power and drywall nails that are mostly used for hanging wallboard. In fact, any type of nail that doesn’t fit into a regular category or that is uncommonly used can fit into this category.
Round Wire Nail
Used mostly for rough carpentry jobs where strength is crucial, the round wire nail ranges in size from three-quarters of an inch to six inches in length. Even though it is strong, it is not necessarily an attractive nail so it’s best to use it when looks aren’t important or for jobs where the nail will be hidden.
Oval Wire Nail
Unlike the round wire nail, this one is attractive but can also be driven below the surface of the wood. It is good for joinery work and isn’t very likely to split the wood, especially when its longer sides are parallel to the grain of the wood. The oval wire nail can be from half an inch in size to six inches long and are easily punched below the surface.
A tack is a very short nail and it has a flat, wide head that is often used for repairing floorboards, fixing carpets, and stretching fabric onto a piece of wood.
Round or Lost Head Nail
This type of nail is very strong and has numerous purposes. It is a great nail to use if you need one that you can punch below the surface of the wood. It ranges in size from half an inch to six inches in length.
Cut Floor Brad
The cut floor brad is rectangular in shape with an L-shaped head and ranges in size from one inch to six inches in length. The nail is almost always used to nail floorboards to joists.
A lightweight nail that is round in shape, the panel pin is perfect for putting small moldings into place and for basic cabinet-making tasks.
Square Twisted Nail
As the name suggests, this nail has a twisted shaft that performs a screw-like action when you drive it into wood or other materials. Although a tad more expensive than regular nails, square twisted nails are more permanent and do a better job of attaching two items together for good.
Masonry nails are made of very solid and strong steel and you can use them for basic masonry jobs and for attaching wood to brick, among other tasks.
Clout Head Nails
This nail is short and has a very large, flat head. It is usually made of galvanized steel and it is mainly used for soft materials such as roof felt and plasterboard.
If strong joints are required, annular nails are the nails you want. They have sharp ridges around the shank and become embedded deeply into the wood for a grip that is very tight and strong.
Corrugated fasteners are perfect for securing butt or mitred joints in rough framing jobs and for reinforcing a weak wood joint.
Spring-Head Roofing Nails
These nails have an inverted cup head and a twisted shank, both of which work well if strength is what you need for your project. If you want to affix corrugated sheeting to timber, this is the nail that you want to purchase.
Hardboard nails have heads that are diamond-shaped and when driven into wood, they are nearly invisible. They are available in sizes from three-eighths of an inch to one-and-a-half inches in length.
Cut Clasp Nails
Rectangular in section, cut clasp nails are almost impossible to remove and are extremely strong in jobs that involve pre-drilled masonry and wood. They are available in one- to six-inch lengths.
Upholstery nails usually come in brass, chrome, or other metallic finishes. Their dome head gives the project a very decorative look and there are numerous sizes available. They are often used as a secondary fixing with tacks.
A sprig is a very small nail that doesn’t have a head and it is often used to hold glass in place in window frames before a putty job. The putty job then covers up the sprig and it ranges in size from half an inch to three-quarters of an inch
A staple nail looks a little similar to a regular staple with a U shape and two points at the end of each side. Most often used to hold different wires in position, staples have linings that are insulated and are perfect for repairing electric and flex cable.
Styles and Designs of Nails
- Checkered Flat Heads: Perfect for framing, they are textured to keep them from slipping.
- Counter-Sunk Heads: These have a conical shape and are designed to be pushed through the surface of the wood; ideal for most finishing jobs, they can be covered with putty if they need to be.
- Flat Heads: The most common type of nail, it has strong holding power and is ideal for insulation and sheathing.
- Cupped Heads: With a concave shape, these nails are perfect if you want nails that are easy to conceal and they are frequently used for drywall.
- Barbed Shank: With excellent holding power, this nail is designed to be used on strong, hard woods.
- Smooth Shank: These provide a lot of versatility for dozens of jobs, which is why they are the most common type of nail.
- Knurled or Fluted Shank: Consisting of a vertical thread to make it strong, this type of nail can be used in masonry and cinder blocks to prevent cracking.
- Ringed Shank: These are used most for soft- to medium-density woods.
- Long Diamond Points: These points work well on drywall and are easier to work with when using materials that are harder than usual.
- Blunt Points: These can be difficult to work with because of the blunt tips but they do a good job of working with the wood without it cracking.
- Diamond Points: These are very common nails and used for a variety of general-purpose jobs.
Purposes for Various Types of Nails
Different nails have different uses and below are some of the recommendations made by the experts if you’re curious which type of nail you should buy for your particular project.
General Construction and Framing
- Duplex nail
- Sinker nail
- Common nail
- Box nail
- Bright casing nail
- Bright finish nail
- Hard D/S flooring nail
- Under-layment nail
- Hard-cut flooring nail
- Hard-fluted masonry nail
- Hard-cut masonry nail
- Shingle nail
- Roofing nail
In case you’re wondering about some of these nails, below are some tips that should help you learn more about them.
- Under-layment: These have excellent holding power and a ringed shank; they are excellent for installing plywood and sub-flooring over wood floors or joists.
- Hard-Cut Flooring Nail: These are great for securing wood framing, attaching furring strips to concrete or brick, and much more.
- Hard D/S Flooring Nail: These are good for attaching hardwood strip floors to subfloors.
- Duplex Nail: These have two heads, are easy to remove, and are easy to move.
- Box Nail: These have a lighter gauge and usually some type of coating on them.
- Common Nail: These are used mostly for construction and framing jobs.
- Sinker Nail: These are easy to drive; are thinner and shorter than common nails; usually have a cement coating.
- Hard-Cut (hard-fluted) Masonry Nail: These are great for securing wood framing and attaching furring strips to concrete blocks.
- Roofing Nail: These are used to apply insulation boards and asphalt shingles; they are heavy-gauge and have large heads.
- Bright Finish Nail: These are great for light fastening of trim on the inside of a home; they also work well when nails should be concealed.
- Bright Casing Nail: These are used when extra strength is needed and when nails need to be concealed.
- Shingle Nail: These have very large heads and are good for securing sidewall shingles that are thinner than usual.
Other Suggestions for Using the Right Type of Nail
Pay attention to the finishes on the nails. For greater holding power, choose nails that are coated in cement or vinyl; for better resistance to rust, choose nails with electrogalvanized or hot-galvanized coatings.
Decide how important rust resistance is to your project. Aluminum nails resist rust the best and if you are working on screening or aluminum siding, this is the nail to use. Stainless steel nails won’t break down or corrode; therefore, they are great if you’re working with redwood or cedar. Furthermore, stainless steel nails won’t streak or stain your wood.
Pay attention to all aspects of your project. If you are working with very fine materials, brads are the best nails to use. This is because brads have lighter gauges and smaller heads than other types of nails, allowing them to be concealed a lot more easily.
Vinyl Coatings: These coatings serve two main purposes: they reduce friction and therefore the nail is easier to drive, although the friction still generates a certain amount of heat. The second purpose has to do with the vinyl melting after it is driven into the wood, which causes the vinyl to adhere to both the wood and the nail. This means that the nail is more difficult to remove but if you want something permanent, this is a good thing. In addition, most vinyl coatings are usually yellow or green in color.
Hot-Dipped, Galvanized Coatings: These coatings make the nail resistant to rust and if you’re worried about moisture causing the fastener to deteriorate, these galvanized nails are the perfect solution. They are also great for wood that is pressure-treated because the copper used in the treatment of the wood could corrode metal nails if they weren’t galvanized.
Stainless Steel Coatings: These aren’t technically a coating but they do a great job of making the nails rust-resistant. Although a bit more expensive than regular coated nails, they are well worth the cost if resistance to rust is something crucial for your project.
Nail sizes are usually measured in pennies, indicated by the letter “d.” The longer nails get, the bigger the diameter of the wires gets, and the largest nails, which are six inches in length, are usually called spikes. Below is the size in pennies versus the length of the nails in inches.
- 2d – 1”
- 3d – 1.25”
- 4d – 1.5”
- 5d – 1.75”
- 6d – 2”
- 7d – 2.25”
- 8d – 2.5”
- 9d – 2.75”
- 10d – 3”
- 12d – 3.25”
- 16d – 3.5”
- 20d – 4”
- 30d – 4.5”
- 40d – 5”
- 50d – 5.5”
- 60d – 6”
When buying nails, keep in mind the old system that some stores still use. Nail size is indicated by the letter “d,” which signals the word penny. Many decades ago, if 100 nails cost three pence, that measure was known as “three penny nails,” 100 nails costing four pence were called “four penny nails,” and so forth. Although most stores now sell nails by the pound, it is good to be a little familiar with this type of measurement in case you run into a store that hasn’t changed their way of measuring nails. As a general rule, the gauge indicates how thick a nail is; the thicker the nails are, the lower their numbers are.
If you’re interested in buying different sizes of nails, try reputable stores such as Walmart, which can be found by visiting Walmart.
Tips for Working More Successfully with Nails
- For harder woods, drill a pilot hole in order to reduce the chances of the wood splitting once you starting driving in the nail.
- Toe-nailing, or driving nails at an angle, can make your stronghold a lot more efficient for your project, especially in situations where you aren’t able to use a very long nail because you are using backing material that is very thin.
- When you’re using masonry nails, instead of using a hammer, try heavy mallets instead; these often work better than regular hammers for these types of nails.
- If you’re worried about splitting the wood, blunt your nails a little to make this scenario a lot less likely. All you have to do is turn the nail upside down and tap on the point a few times with a hammer. This makes the point a bit more blunt and might be a little more challenging to drive but it is also much less likely to split wood.
- If appearances are unimportant to your project, consider using longer nails and drive them all the way through the wood, then take a hammer and hammer the exposed tip until it is flush with the wood or other surface you’re using. It may feel a little as if you are cheating but it goes a long way in making your project more aesthetically pleasing.
- If possible, do not drive more than one nail on the same grain line because this causes more stress that is more likely to cause the wood to split. It may not be possible to avoid this in every situation but it is a good general rule to follow.
- There are two main types of nailing: face-nailing, which involves driving your nail through one surface’s face and into the face of another surface; and end-nailing, which means driving nails through the end of one type of matter into the end of another type of surface.
- If you want nails that lock into place better and therefore produce a stronger hold, try driving your nails through or against the grain. If you drive nails with the grain, however, the nail will slide out more easily. Both of these are excellent tips and it just depends on your objective when you’re trying to decide which one of them is best for you.