You know, Sean, the Japanese have a saying… ‘The nail that sticks out gets hammered.‘The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006)
So, you’re about to start a project. You have your materials list and you’re following it by the letter. But when you get down to the bottom of the checklist, all it says is “nails.” Before you start to panic and hit the forums, take a deep breath and check out this quick guide to some common questions about nails. Don’t worry, it’s never as hard as you think it will be.
Before we cover a few of the vast array of nails out there, let’s make sure everyone is up to speed on the basics. Nails typically have three parts- the head (which you hit with the hammer), the point (which drives into your medium), and the shaft/shank (everything in between).
All three sections of nails can have different properties as well. Some heads will be flat, while others will be patterned. Shanks can be modified with little barbs or rings that add a bit more grip. Even tips can come in different shapes and sizes, from the common diamond point to the less common blunt point.
Woodworking nails work by displacing the wood they are driven into, not compacting it down. As such, nails that are driven haphazardly into the grain, or nails of the wrong type, can cause unwanted splitting, possibly even down the entire length of your board.
Steel nails are by and far the most common, but you can also buy nails made from iron, copper, aluminium, or brass. Most nails are also available to purchase galvanized. Galvanizing is a process where iron or steel parts are coated with a thin layer of zinc, adding some weather resistance. Almost all galvanized nails are steel.
Let’s get into a few different types of nails. First is the common nail. It’s pretty much exactly what you would picture a nail looking like. Common nails, as the name suggests, are used fairly commonly. They make up the majority of nails used in woodworking.
Probably the next most common nail is the finishing nail. Finishing nails generally have small, barrel-shaped heads barely wider than their shank. These nails are meant to be driven down past the flush of the wood using a nail set. This essentially hides the nail from view. Finishing nails are most commonly used to nail mouldings to walls. Couter-sinking the nail then allows you to paint over the tiny dimple left and hide the nail.
Brad nails are very similar to finishing nails, but are generally smaller in both scale and length. They are also used in mouldings, but because of their size, can be used in smaller frames and trim as well.
The little roofing nail has a larger head that is designed to firmly grip roofing and asphalt shingles to a structure. Most roofing nails are either galvanized or made of copper. When copper corrodes it actually strengthens its weather-resistant properties.
Box nails are similar to common nails, but have a thinner shank. This means they are less likely to split your wood, but they are also weaker. Framing nails and concrete nails are designed for- you guess it- framing and concrete, respectively.
The rings around the drywall nail are designed to help hold it in place once it is driven into drywall. Because of the composition of drywall, smooth nails have a much harder time holding.
There’s no shortage of nail variety out there. There are plenty of other factors to consider as well, such as length and thickness. All this can make buying nails a little more complicated than it may seem at first, so hopefully this short guide can help you navigate the initially overwhelming world of nails.