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Get to Know Your Nails

Nails are fasteners; their purpose is to connect materials or hold something in place. And at first glance, nails are a deceptively simple fastener. Hanging on the wall of a hardware store, all in a row, it’s hard to tell them apart. But different nails can perform vastly different functions! We’re here to share a few of the most common nail types and when you should use them.


Nails go back–like, way back. Pre-history back. The ancient Romans hand-forged their own nails (infamously so). Folks in medieval England also made nails by hand, and were called nailers, introducing the last name “Naylor.” Nails were so hard to come by (and so coveted) in Revolution-era America, that families would burn their houses down when they moved just to pick the nails from the ashes. 

It wasn’t until around 1800 that the British and Americans figured out how to standardize nail making with machines and factories. As time went on, we began mass-producing steel wire nails instead of hand-forged iron ones–bringing us to the extensive selection of specialized nails we have today.

Anatomy of a Nail


The hammer-end of a nail. Heads can also vary in size depending on the nail type. The head can also vary based on its smoothness (textured heads allow for better grip) and shape (rounded heads are most common).


The shaft or longest part of the nail. These can vary in diameter and length depending on the type of nail. You can find a shank that is smooth or has a groove, like a screwdriver. These grooved shanks are best for hardwood and serious construction jobs, while the smooth, more common nail is perfect for everyday DIY projects.


The pointed end of the nail; the driver.



The diameter of a nail. A smaller gauge means a larger diameter; large gauges mean a smaller diameter. Many nail types are made in a set gauge (pin nails, for instance, are typically 23 gauge).


Nails are categorized by length in two ways: by inches and by the penny classification method. Originally meant to express how many pennies it cost to buy 100 of the same type of nail, it’s now shorthand for DIYers. The higher the number, the longer the length. The penny classification is shown with a number and the letter “D” so, “2D” and so on.

Types of Nails

Common nails

Everyday nails for general use projects. Assembly, hanging, building, and framing DIY projects all use common nails. The nails we all know.

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Brad nails

Sometimes called wire nails because they’re almost as thin (and flexible!) as wire. Brads are so small that they don’t leave visible holes in the wood, so you often won’t need to spackle or hide them as you work. There are also collared versions for nail guns.

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Most often, framing nails come collated together to be fit into a framing nail gun. They’re held by either wire, paper, or plastic and can have either spiral or smooth shanks.

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Similar to common nails but with a smaller gauge that helps prevent wood splitting. Best for decorative or DIY projects that don’t require structural support.

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Distinctive for their textured head for easier hammer grip. Meant to be driven flush with the wood (or other material). They are thinner than common nails so that they are easier to drive into wood.

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Duplex nails have two smaller heads and are meant to be temporary fasteners. The first head is what drives into the material and the second allows for you to easily pop it out with a hammer.

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Like the brad, these are meant to be used with a gun. They’re tiny and don’t have a head, so they aren’t visible after being nailed in. 

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These nails are often short with a wide, decorative head. They’re built to adhere fabric to the frame and also add a decorative element to the piece of furniture. 

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Roofing, Masonry, Siding, Drywall, Floor

There are so many specialized nails that are meant for specialized tasks. Whether you’re attaching siding, laying a floor, adding a new roof, there’s a nail for that.

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