Buying Guide

Types of Nails

Common, Box, Brad and Finishing Nails
Four types of nails are shown: Common, box, brad and finishing.

Common Nails

Common nails are the first choice for many framing, construction and carpentry uses. The heavy shank provides sturdy support for framing and other rough work where strength and function are more important than appearance, because the round head is visible on the surface.

Box Nails 

Box nails look similar to common nails but have thinner shank, making them less likely to cause splitting when driven into thinner pieces of wood. The thin shaft means they aren’t as strong but they are often galvanized to help prevent corrosion. 

Brad Nails

Brad nails, or brads, are made of 18-gauge wire and their small size makes them easy to mask in wood trim. In addition to being thinner than standard nails, they also feature a smaller head. This is useful if you want to prevent splitting on moulding and wood surfaces; their subtle appearance often makes for a clean finish in various woodworking projects. 

Finishing Nails

The smooth shafts of finishing nails, also known as finish nails, are strong enough to hold trim like door jambs, crown moulding and baseboards in place, but thin enough to not split these narrow and thin pieces of wood. Use a nail set to countersink beneath the surface.

Drywall, Flooring, Framing, Roofing and Specialty Nails
Four types of nalls are shown: Drywall, cut flooring, sinker and roofing.

Drywall Nails

These types of nails used for gypsum boards have little rings along the shaft to make it difficult to slip out after being driven. Another feature of these ring shank nails is the cupped shape of the nailhead, which makes concealment easier.

Flooring Nails

Selecting flooring nails depends on the material the floor is being attached to. Rings on the shanks of underlayment nails are good for solid installation of plywood floor or subfloor. Other wood flooring nails have a spiral shank to reduce slippage.

If flooring isn’t being attached directly to wood, fluted masonry nails can be used to attach furring strips and floor plates to uncured concrete. 

Cut nails, or hard-cut nails, are used in some flooring situations and many believe they are the best nails for hardwood flooring. Featuring a blunt point and tapered shank to reduce splitting, the four-sided design of cut nails increases resistance to bending and are difficult to remove.

Framing Nails

Common nails are the frequent choice for framing jobs, but some nails with other features can fall into the category of framing nails. “Sinkers” are thinner than common nails, have a smaller flat nailhead and are often coated so they can be easily driven flush, or even counter-sunk. 

Duplex nails feature a second head along the shaft to allow for easy removal from temporary construction like concrete forms or scaffolding.

Roofing Nails

Roofing nails have a wide nailhead to keep house wrap, sheathing and roofing felt in place. More commonly found as ring shank nails, they sometimes will have twisted shafts for holding power. Short and stocky roofing nails are galvanized to resist corrosion while keeping shingles in place. Copper nails are sometimes used for roofing.

Specialty Nails

Upholstery nails, corrugated fasteners and wood joiners are examples of specialty nails with specific functions.

Nail Sizes

Nail sizes are classified in a very specific way. Length is defined by the word “penny,” which has its origins in England. There, nails sizes were originally named for how much it would cost to buy 100 of a given size. For example, if 100 nails cost four pence, the nail size was termed “four penny” nails.

Today, this terminology corresponds with a nail’s measurement from the head to the tip of the point. Nail length is still indicated by the letter “d” on labels; the letter “d” is used to denote “penny” (this comes from the word “denarius,” a Latin name for the Roman equivalent of a penny).

Here are common nail sizes and their corresponding length.

  • 2d – 1-inch
  • 3d – 1-1/4-inches
  • 4d – 1-1/2-inches
  • 5d – 1-3/4-inches
  • 6d – 2-inches
  • 8d – 2-1/2-inches
  • 10d – 3-inches
  • 12d – 3-1/4-inches
  • 16d – 3-1/2-inches
  • 20d – 4-inches
  • 30d – 4-1/2-inches
  • 40d – 50-inches
  • 50d – 5-1/2-inches

Note: Nails 6-inches and longer are often referred to as spikes. 

A nail’s “gauge” is a measurement of its diameter and is seen mostly on finishing nails. The higher the number, the thinner the nail is.

Nail Design
An illustration of a nail shows its head, shank and point.

All types of nails are made up of a head, shank and point. Some have coatings and when their size enters the mix, there are thousands of varieties of nails. Here are some of the characteristics.

Nail Heads

  • Flat heads are the most common and the head remains visible as it rests on the nailed surface. The head offers a large striking surface and also gives additional holding power.
  • Checkered flat heads feature a grid-like pattern, designed to prevent slippage when hammering from awkward angles.
  • Countersunk heads have a conical shape designed to be countersunk or pushed out of sight below the surface. The angles of this cupped head range from tight on finishing nails to saucer-like on a drywall nail.

Nail Points

  • Nails with dull points are less likely to prevent wood from splitting but they require more effort to drive into material.
  • Most nails have diamond points that are slightly blunted and are good for general use.
  • Long diamond points resemble the tip of a needle and work well with drywall, where splitting isn’t an issue.
  • Blunt-pointed cut nails are often considered the best nails for hard wood flooring.

Nail Shanks

  • A standard nail shank is smooth, also called a bright shank, but modifications have been developed to increase holding power.
  • Annular ring or ring shank nails have a series of raised rings around the shaft, which compress wood fibers, making it more difficult to pull out of soft- and medium-density wood.
  • Barbed shanks have a pattern designed for use on dense hardwoods.
  • Spiral shanks are shaped like a helix and designed to twist into the wood to lock itself in.
  • Fluted or knurled threads can be found on some nails used for masonry and help prevent cracking.

Nail coatings

  • Most types of nails are not coated but some are treated with materials to lubricate the shank and improve driving efficiency or increase holding strength.
  • Galvanization is a process that coats nails with zinc which provides some protection from rust.
  • Cement coating offers added holding strength.
  • Vinyl coating on some nails is also designed to increase holding strength and to make them easier to drive.

Collated nails

Nails for nail guns are arranged in strips or coils held together by glue, plastic or paper tape and are available for a variety of types of nails. These strips are inserted into the nail gun’s magazine to allow for rapid driving by the air-powered nailers.

Tips For Using Nails
A person uses a hammer to strike a nail.
  • When working with harder woods or nailing into the end of a piece of wood, drilling a pilot hole will reduce the likelihood of the wood splitting when you drive in the nail. 
  • Turn the nail upside down and tap on it a few times with the hammer to blunt the point. Blunt nails are harder to drive, but they’re less likely to split wood. 
  • Nails driven through, or against, the grain lock into place while nails driven with the grain will slide out more easily. 
  • If you’re concerned about rust affecting nails, use aluminum nails, which resist rust even better than rust-resistant finishes. They are used most frequently on aluminum siding or screening. If you’re hammering into cedar or redwood, you’ll need to use stainless steel nails, which won’t corrode or break down. They also won’t streak or stain your wood.
  • Avoid driving multiple nails on the same grain line, as the increased stress is likely to cause wood to split.
  • Always wear eye protection when driving a nail into masonry.