All About the Different Types of Nails
Learn which type of common and specialty nails work best with different kinds of materials.
The most basic of fasteners, nails are essential for construction jobs where the extra strength and expense of a screw is unnecessary. Common nails are for general use and are available in many sizes — if thickness of material allows it, choose one that is at least three times longer than the depth of the thinner material being nailed. Specialty nails, traditional nails, and brads are designed for specific tasks or finishes and are made in sizes suitable for their purpose. Most nails are simply hammered in, although where wood is likely to split, or very close to an edge, you may sometimes need to drill a pilot hole slightly smaller than the diameter of the nail.
Nails have a head to receive a hammer blow, and a longer shank to provide the attachment. Most nails are made of steel or iron, although masonry nails are made of hardened zinc for strength. Many nails are galvanized (have an outer layer mixed with zinc to protect them from rust), which gives them a pale gray, mottled effect. Nails are normally sold by weight rather than quantity, so a rough calculation is sufficient for purchasing. Overbuy, since nails are always useful. Nail weights vary between manufacturers, and according to design and composition. As a rough guide, nails are sold by the pound.
The most widely used nail types are shown here. They may vary slightly between manufacturers. Design differences can improve some aspect of each kind. Some nails are lightweight, so, where strength is not an issue, you get more for your money. Others have grooves and twists that give them a greater gripping action to create a very solid attachment.
A general-purpose nail for joining wood. Widely used where "rough" finishing is acceptable — in studwork, for example. The round head provides a good point of contact for a hammer but may split wood if driven down too far.
Similar to round-head nails, but the head is much smaller, and sits flush with the wood's surface to give a neater finish with reduced risk of splitting. It can be recessed using a nail set to hide it completely.
Similar to the round finish nail, but oval in cross-section to minimize splitting of the wood. Most of the head sits below the wood's surface without the need for setting.
Commonly used to attach asphalt and for other roofing purposes. Smaller roofing nails are used to attach roofing felt. Because they are exposed to the weather, they are often galvanized to prevent rust.
This hard, thicker nail has a small head and is usually made of hardened zinc to enable it to penetrate masonry surfaces. It is generally used to secure wood to stone or brick.
Used for hanging drywall, the nail head is designed so that it does not cut the paper face and sinks 1 inch into the frame.
Annular Ring Shank
Similar to round-head nail, but has rings all along the shank, providing greater grip in wood that results in a more secure attachment.
Siding nails are galvanized. There are four types of galvanization and a variety of sizes are available.
Finish nails are designed for fine carpentry work. Their thinness makes them less likely to split wood. The small heads are designed to make them inconspicuous. Brass finish nails provide a decorative detail.
General-purpose nail for use on small moldings or thin plywood.
These very narrow nails give a neat finish to detailed work.
Decorative brads for visible nails, especially on brass door hardware.
Wedge-shaped nail used with putty to secure glazing.
Each of these is designed with features suitable for one particular purpose.
This nail has a plastic cap, and is used for nailing down building fabric, such as house wrap.
Small, decorative, dome-headed nails used for securing upholstery to furnishings. Available in a variety of finishes to suit the style of furnishings.
Used to hold vinyl siding materials. The shatterproof heads are available in a range of popular colors to help disguise them.
Used to hold down carpet before the introduction of gripper rods, and still used in awkward corners, especially on stairs. Also known as carpet tacks.
Although these do not look like nails, they perform the same function and, like nails, are driven into position with a hammer. The most commonly used are shown here, but a variety of fasteners is available.
Has a corrugated cross-section, and is usually used as an invisible connector for a mitered frame joint.
Staple The arched shape is designed to hold wire firmly in position — for example, on fence posts.
Position a fastener so that it bisects the joint at a right angle, then hammer it into place (Image 1).
Drive in another fastener across the joint, so that the wood is securely held in place by two parallel fasteners (Image 2).
These simple designs predate modern nails, and are still used to provide period detail in modern homes. Their rigid, broad design makes them ideal for securing large wooden sections.
An all-purpose nail, often used today for traditional-look, ledge-and-brace door construction.
Similar to the cut clasp, but the head’s flat design is suited to nailing down floorboards
You may wish to drive in a nail to sit just beneath the surface of the material it is securing. This is normally for aesthetic reasons and, in areas where people could brush past, may be needed to prevent injury or damage to clothing and other materials. The only tools needed are a hammer and a nail set. In many cases the hole is filled so the nail becomes completely invisible.
Use a nail set of the right size for the nail. Place its tip onto the nail head, holding the set straight so that the nail will be driven true (Image 1).
Lightly tap the head of the set with a hammer, striking it squarely. It will not take much force to drive the nail head below the surface. Hold the set between finger and thumb (Image 2).
Use a filling knife to press wood filler into the hole, covering the nail completely (Image 3). Then sand and decorate the surface.