Types of Nails

Know which types of nails are suited for any project

Hardware Nails Simplified

There are endless types of nails and nail sizes, each designed for a specific use. This guide explains what types of nails and nails sizes exist to help you hold together all the DIY projects you can tackle.


Nail Design

All types of nails consist of a head, shank and point, each of which comes in numerous styles. Different types of nails are identified in part by the characteristics in each of these three sections.

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

Barbed


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

Ringed


  • 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 sizes are classified in a rather unusual 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).

Size Indicator Length (in.)
  • 2d
  • 3d
  • 4d
  • 1
  • 1-1/4
  • 1-1/2
  • 5d
  • 6d
  • 8d
  • 1-3/4
  • 2
  • 2-1/2
  • 10d
  • 12d
  • 16d
  • 3
  • 3-1/4
  • 3-1/2
  • 20d
  • 30d
  • 4
  • 4-1/2
  • 40d
  • 50d
  • 5
  • 5-1/2


Nail gauge sizes indicate how thick a nail is. The lower the number, the greater the thickness of the nail.

Job Application Nail Type

Flooring


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

Framing & General construction


  • Common
  • Box
  • Sinker
  • Duplex

Masonry


  • Hard-cut masonry
  • Hard-fluted masonry

Roofing


  • Roofing
  • Shingle

Trim work


  • Bright finish
  • Bright casing


Brad nails, flooring nails, and many other types of construction nails are sold in magazine form for use in air-powered nailers. 

Nail Type Features

Underlayment


  • Provides superior holding power
  • Features 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

Common


  • Ideal for many framing and construction application

Box


  • Usually has a lighter gauge
  • Typically features a cement-coated or galvanized finish

Sinker


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

Duplex


  • Features 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

Roofing


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

Shingle


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

Bright finish


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

Bright casing


  • Used in situations where trim requires additional strength
  • Works 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. 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. 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.

Tips:

  • 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. 
  • 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.

Features:

  • Nail finishes provide an array of benefits. Cement or vinyl coating provides greater holding power, while hot-galvanized or electro-galvanized 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 brad nails. They 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.