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Common Types of Nails for Home Use

Bert spent 25 years working as a home-improvement and residential construction contractor in central Florida.

A few different nails from the author's toolbox.

A few different nails from the author's toolbox.

Understand the Nail

All types of nails have three parts: the head, shank and point. A nail uses either a standard flat, checkered or countersunk head. A checkered head limits slippage when the hammer strikes. The dimple on a countersunk head holds a trim carpenter's countersink tool in place during final installation. Choose a countersunk head when the project requires finish work and either a standard or checkered head for ruff work.

The shank of the nail extends from the top of the point to the bottom of the head. Shank styles most homeowners use include: the smooth, ringed, spiral or twist, and fluted. The typical smooth shank nail works well with most projects. Ring shank nails grip the wood better than smooth shank due the wood fibers filling the ring crevasses. The spiral or twist shank works well with hardwoods and fluted use vertical grooves to help it drive into concrete.

The point on a nail generally looks either flat or pointed. Most projects use nails with a diamond point; some, such as masonry work, require a blunt tip.

Does the project require a nail with a weather resistant finish? If so, choose either a galvanized coated or stainless steel nail. A galvanized coating, sometimes called hot dip galvanized, works for most non-marine projects that require a weather resistant fastener.

Three different common nails.

Three different common nails.

Common Nail

Carpenters choose the common nail for framing and general construction due to its sturdy design and wide size selection. The heavy shank provides sturdy support for framing and other rough work. Its large round head remains visible on the surface. This type of nail works best when strength and function are more important than appearance.

Use a galvanized finishing nail when working on exterior projects.

Use a galvanized finishing nail when working on exterior projects.

Finishing Nail

Often used to install baseboard and door trim, finishing nails are sturdy enough to secure most exterior trim work without splitting it. The indentation on the nail head prevents a countersink tool's point from slipping off the nail and damaging the project. Finishing nails are made from a 15- or 16-gauge wire. Nails made from wire this thin tend to not split moderately narrow or thin pieces of wood. However, finishing nails will split the wood faster than the thinner brad nail.

Brad nail

Made of 18-gauge wire, the brad nail's small size works best when used on fine woodworking projects, such as installing quarter-round or building picture frames. They look like a smaller version of the finishing nail. A brad nail's small head makes a tiny hole that hides easily and its thin shaft limits splitting. Brad nails are so small that it is easy to smash fingers when installing them. To prevent this, push the nail through a piece of paper and hold the paper when starting the nail.

This drywall nail has a concave head.

This drywall nail has a concave head.

Drywall Nail

Designed for use on gypsum board, a drywall nail typically has a 1 3/8- or 1 1/2-inch ring-shank shaft and a concave head. The ring shank limits slippage after installation. One of the reasons a contractor may choose drywall screws over the nails is because of the possibility of because of future slippage, especially when installing drywall on a ceiling. A drywall nail's cup-shaped head hides better after applying the finishing mud.

A short concrete nail.

A short concrete nail.

Concrete and Masonry Nails

Concrete nails, made from hardened steel, are designed to not bend or break when used with concrete or masonry materials. The concrete nail looks similar to a thick common-nail. However, a closer inspection reveals a finely fluted shaft. The flutes limit slippage and helps the shaft sink into the concrete.

Masonry nails have a rectangular cross-section that tapers from head to its' blunt point. Masonry nails cost less than concrete nails and are often used when installing furring strips on a cinder block wall.

Roofing Nail

The roofing nail's wide head design makes it the perfect choice for mounting shingles, flashing and other such materials. Normally found as either a smooth or ring shank. To resist corrosion, roofing nails are manufactured from either galvanized steel, stainless steel, copper or aluminum.

This cap nail uses a metal cap.

This cap nail uses a metal cap.

Cap Nail

The easily recognizable cap nail utilizes a plastic or metal disc to secure house wrap, sheathing and roofing felt paper in place. This disc gives the nail a greater surface area to grip the material; lessening the likelihood of rips and tears. Usually the shaft measures either 1 or 1 1/4 inch.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Bert Holopaw