Hardware Nails Simplified

Know which type of nail is suited for any project

Hardware Nails Simplified

While they may all look similar, there are a multitude of different nail types, each designed for a specific job. Common nails, box nails, hard-cut masonry nails and hot-dipped roofing nails are just a few of the available options. This guide will teach you about head types, points, shanks and finishes so that you can ensure you have the right nail to fit every project.

Nail Design

All nails consist of a head, shank and point, each of which comes in numerous styles. Nails are differentiated in part by the characteristics in each of these three sections.e platea dictumst.

Nail heads:

Flat heads

  • Most common
  • Offer large striking surface
  • Solid holding power
  • Ideal for sheathing and insulation

Checkered flat heads

  • Textured to prevent slippage
  • Ideal for framing

Countersunk heads

  • Conical shape
  • Designed to be countersunk or pushed below the surface
  • Can be concealed with putty for smooth finish
  • Ideal for finishing jobs

Cupped heads

  • Concave
  • Facilitate concealment
  • Often used for drywall

Nail points:

Diamond points

  • Most common
  • Good for general use

Long diamond points

  • Easier to drive into harder materials
  • Work well on drywall

Blunt points

  • Reduce the chances of splitting wood
  • More difficult to drive

Nail shanks:

Smooth shanks

  • Most common
  • Provide versatility for everyday use


  • Herringbone pattern
  • Better holding pattern
  • Designed for use on hard woods and other dense materials


  • Provide strong hold in soft- and medium-density woods

Fluted or knurled

  • Feature vertical thread for strong hold
  • Used on cinder blocks and other masonry to prevent cracking

Nail Sizes and Types

Nail length is defined by the word “penny,” indicated by the letter “d” on labels. Different types of nails are designed specifically for flooring, framing, masonry and roofing. Gauge determines how thick a nail is, with lower numbers indicating greater thickness

Nail sizes are classified in a rather unusual way. Length is defined by the word “penny,” which has its origins in England, where nails were originally named for how much 100 of a given size cost. If, for example, 100 nails cost four pence, they were “four penny” nails.

Today, this terminology corresponds with a nail’s measurement from the head to the tip of the point. The letter “d” is used to denote “penny” (this comes from the word “denarius,” a Latin name for the Roman equivalent of a penny). Two penny, or 2d, nails are 1-inch long, and subsequent measurements are given in ¼-inch increments up to 10d (i.e., 4d nails are 1 ½-inch long, 6d nails are 2 inches long, etc.).

After that, the system becomes a little trickier. 12d nails are 3 ¼-inch long, 16d nails are 3 ½-inch long and 20d nails are 4 inches long. From there, each 10d adds another ½-inch, so a 50d nail is 5 ½-inch length.

Job Application Nail Type


  • Underlayment
  • Hard-cut flooring
  • Hard D/S flooring

Framing & General construction

  • Common
  • Box
  • Sinker
  • Duplex


  • Hard-cut masonry
  • Hard-fluted masonry


  • Roofing
  • Shingle

Trim work

  • Bright finish
  • Bright casing


Nail Type Features


  • Provide superior holding power
  • Feature a ringed shank
  • Used to fasten particleboard, plywood and
    subflooring over existing wood floors or joists

Hard-cut flooring

  • Used to secure hardwood strip flooring to subfloor
  • Used to secure wood framing or furring strips to brick, block or concrete

Hard D/S flooring

  • Used to secure hardwood strip flooring to subfloor


  • Ideal for many framing and construction application


  • Usually have a lighter gauge
  • Typically feature a cement-coated or
  • galvanized finish


  • Shorter and thinner than common nails
  • Easy to drive
  • Commonly feature a cement-coated finish


  • Feature two heads
  • Ideal for temporary construction
  • Easy to move

Hard-cut or hard-fluted masonry

  • Used to secure wood framing or furring strips to brick, block or concrete


  • Used to apply asphalt shingles and insulation board
  • Feature a large head and heavy gauge


  • Used to secure thinner sidewall shingles
  • Feature a large head

Bright finish

  • Used for light fastening of interior trim
  • Ideal for finish carpentry
  • Work well when nail must be concealed

Bright casing

  • Used in situations where trim requires additional strength
  • Work well when nail must be concealed

Tips & Features

There are three basic nailing techniques – face nailing, end nailing and toe nailing. Each can be utilized depending on the type of nail and the surface you’re working with.


  • 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.
  • Driving nails at an angle, or toe nailing, can help you achieve a strong hold in situations where you can’t use as long of a nail as you’d like because the backing material is too thin.
  • Face nailing entails driving a nail through the face of one surface into the face of another, while end nailing involves driving nails through the end of one material into the end of another
  • If appearance isn’t important, use nails that are long enough to drive all the way through the backing, and then hammer the exposed tip down until it’s flush with the surface.
  • Nails driven through, or against, the grain lock into place while nails driven with the grain will slide out more easily.
  • Avoid driving multiple nails on the same grain line, as the increased stress is likely to cause wood to split.
  • Heavy mallets may be better than hammers when it comes to driving in masonry nails


  • Finishes provide an array of benefits. Cement and vinyl coating provide greater holding power while hot-galvanized and electrogalvanized finishes provide rust resistance.
  • 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.
  • For very fine work, use brads. They are similar to nails, but feature smaller heads and lighter gauges that allow them to be concealed more easily.
  • Once you’ve pounded finishing nails most of the way in, you’ll need a nail set to countersink them. Some feature protective guards that keep your knuckles safe from the hammer’s head, internal pins that make striking the mark easier and even hammer-free construction, whereby a spring-loaded head attached to the nail set is used in lieu of a hammer.