Different Nail Types and Their Uses

With lots of types of nails to choose from, finding the right nail for your project can be daunting. If you're new to tasks like construction, woodworking or home repairs, our handy guide will help you learn more about nails for wood, construction, roofing and other project types.

Anatomy of a Nail

Every nail is made up of a head, shank and a point. While there are many varieties available, you will likely only use a few common types. Here are some of the basic styles you should get to know:

Nail Heads

  • Flat heads
    The most common option, flat nail heads are easy to strike and have extra holding power. 
  • Checkered flat heads
    These nails have a grid-style pattern designed to prevent slippage when you're nailing at an odd angle.
  • Countersunk heads
    These are made to be countersunk or pushed below the surface of the material you're working with.

Nail Shanks

  • Bright shanks
    Also called a smooth shank, these are smooth from head to point. Bright shank nails are very common.
  • Ring shanks
    These shanks sport a series of rings. This reduces pull-out when working with softer wood types.
  • Barbed and spiral shanks
    These two shank types are made to burrow and lock into wood, preventing slippage. They're particularly useful for heavy-duty jobs like building an exterior barnwood wall.
  • Fluted shanks
    Common on masonry and concrete nails, fluted shanks prevent cracking and damage when driving them into hard surface.

Nail Points

  • Dull points
    These nails provide maximum hold but require more effort to drive. They also help keep wood from splitting.
  • Blunt point nails
    Excellent for hardwood, these nails are harder to drive, but offer excellent fastening power.
  • Diamond points
    Slightly blunted on the end, nails with diamond points are easy to drive, but provide ample support. Diamond point nails are most common.
  • Long diamond points
    Easier to drive, these points are needle-like in nature. They're especially useful for drywall where splitting isn't a major concern.

Popular Nail Types

With so many types of nails on the market, it’s good to familiarize yourself with some of the most common types:

Common Nails

Ideal for framing, construction and carpentry, these nails provide durable support. An exposed nail head makes them a good pick when strength matters more than style, or when the nail will be hidden from view.

Box Nails

Like common nails, box nails excel when used with thinner pieces of wood.

Brad Nails

Made from 18-gauge wire, these nails are smaller, thinner and feature a reduced head size. That makes them a good choice for woodworking projects like building or repairing a desk, nightstand or bookcase.

Finishing Nails

Finishing nails are often used for baseboards, crown molding and door jambs because their small size means they won't split thin pieces of wood. They're also easy to hide from view.

Specialized Nail Types

Looking for a nail not listed above? Specialized nails are made for a range of applications like construction, flooring and more. Here are some of the go-to specialized nail types you should be familiar with:

Drywall Nails

Also referred to as ring nails, these nails are used to hold drywall sheets in place at their perimeter. Their main benefit is that they don't tear the paper on drywall sheets, which can lead to cracks and a weakened structure later.

Roofing Nails

Made to keep roofing felt, sheathing and house wrap in place. Durable roofing nails are galvanized or made from copper to resist rust.

Framing Nails

Like common nails, most framing nails are coated or slightly thinner so they can be counter-sunk or driven in flush to a surface.

Flooring Nails

Flooring nails is a blanket term that encompasses a few different designs. For underlayment, flooring nails with ringed shanks are often used for plywood subfloors. Flooring nails with spiral shanks are designed to reduce slippage for long-term installation.

Masonry Nails

Crafted for hardened steel, masonry nails are made to be used with concrete or brick. Their grooved shafts help to reduce slippage.

Duplex Nails

These specialty nails are often used for temporary construction because they have a second head that allows for easy removal. They're often used on construction sites for access via scaffolding.

Choose the Right Nail for Your Project

You've got the lay of the land when it comes to nails, but you're not quite sure which type to pick. Here are a few tips to help you choose the right nail for your project:

Shop by Material

Most nails are labeled with their intended use. Choose nails for wood if you're working with wood, for example.

Choose your Length Wisely

Available in small 2d or 1-inch lengths all the way up to 50d or 5 1/2-inch sizes, you've got options when it comes to nail length. As a general rule, nails should be 21/2 times the thickness of the material you're working with.

Pick your Gauge

Construction plans often indicate the correct nail gauge, and when possible, adhere to these guidelines. In general, thinner nails reduce the chance of splitting, but they won't have as much holding power. 15, 16 and 18-gauge nails are most common, with smaller varieties like 23-gauge nails often used to hold materials in place while adhesive sets.

Consider Coated Nails

Galvanized nails are coated with zinc to provide rust protection. Cement-coated nails provide extra hold, while vinyl-coated nails offer a secure hold and a slick shank that makes them easy to drive. Copper nails, while not coated, are sometimes used for outdoor projects like roofing where rust protection is required.

Ready to start a new project? We've got nails for construction, woodworking, home repairs and more online and in-store. Shop with us today to find the right nail type for every task on your to-do list.

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