Types of Nails
The purpose of all nails is to fasten pieces of material together. Variations in nail size and design make them suited for specific uses. This guide describes the differences and functions of types of nails to help you find the best nails for your projects.
These are some of the most common types of nails:
- Common nails: 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: Look similar to common nails but have thinner shanks, making them less likely to cause splitting when driven into thinner pieces of wood. The thin shaft also means they aren't as strong. They are often galvanized to help prevent corrosion.
- 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. They are 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: Also known as finish nails, are strong enough to hold in place trim such as door jambs, crown moulding and baseboards. They are also smooth and thin enough to not split these narrow and thin pieces of wood. Use a nail set to countersink beneath the surface.
- Cut nails: Or hard-cut nails, are used in some flooring situations and are often considered 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 makes them difficult to remove.
- Drywall nails: Used for gypsum boards. They have little rings along the shaft to make them less likely to slip out after being driven. The nail heads of ring shank nails have a cupped shape, which makes concealment easier.
- Duplex nails: Feature a second head along the shaft to allow for easy removal from temporary construction, such as concrete forms or scaffolding.
- Flooring nails: Have different designs for fastening to different materials. Underlayment nails have rings on the shanks for firm installation of plywood floor or subfloor. Other wood flooring nails have a spiral shank to reduce slippage.
- Framing nails: Or nails for framing applications, are often common nails. Some nails with other features can fall into the category of framing nails. "Sinkers" are thinner than common nails, have a smaller, flat nail head and are often coated so they can be easily driven flush, or even counter-sunk.
- Masonry and concrete nails: Made from hardened steel and designed for use with concrete and concrete block. Concrete nails have fluted shafts, while masonry nails can be round, square or fluted. Masonry nails have grooved shafts that can cling to concrete or brick, making them less likely to loosen or slip when supporting an object. Masonry nails are less expensive than concrete nails and less likely to bend or break. 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.
- Roofing nails: Have a wide nail head to keep house wrap, sheathing and roofing felt in place. More commonly found as ring shank nails, they sometimes will have twisted shafts for increased holding power. Short and stocky roofing nails are galvanized to resist corrosion while keeping shingles in place. Copper nails are sometimes used for roofing.
- Siding nails: A strong and weather-resistant nail designed for fastening siding.
- Joist hanger nails: Designed for both indoor and outdoor use, these nails are typically double-dipped galvanized or stainless steel and specifically designed for installing joist hangers.
- Specialty nails: Designed for specific applications include upholstery nails, corrugated fasteners and wood joiners.
Nail sizes have a specific classification that originated in England. 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," used to denote "penny."
These are the 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 - 5 inches
- 50d - 5 1/2 inches
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.
Tip: Nails 6-inches and longer are often referred to as spikes
All types of nails consist of a head, shank and point. Given the differences in size and potential coatings, there are thousands of varieties of nails. Listed below are some of their design characteristics.
- Flat heads: The most common. 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.
- 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.
- 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 to help prevent cracking.
- 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 to provide some protection from rust.
- Cement coating offers additional holding strength.
- Vinyl coating on some nails is also designed to increase holding strength and to make them easier to drive.
- Nails for nail guns are arranged in strips or coils held together by glue, plastic or paper tape.
- Available for a variety of types of nails, these strips can be inserted into the nail gun's magazine to allow for rapid driving by the air-powered nailers.
Consider these tips when using nails:
- 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 wood grain lock into place. 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.
Understanding the various types of nails and their differences in design and use can help you choose the best nails for your project, potentially saving you time and money. Need help identifying a nail? Find products fast with image search in The Home Depot Mobile App. Snap a picture of an item you like, and we'll show you similar products.