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Here's How: What Is the Best Type of Nail for Various Projects?

James Dulley on

Dear James: I got a new tool set and plan on doing some repair projects. I went to buy some nails, but the selection is overwhelming. What types of nails are best for various projects? -- Alison R.

Dear Alison: Selecting among the tremendous numbers of nails and other fasteners can be overwhelming because many of them look about the same. As you become a more experienced DIYer, you will appreciate the functional advantages of some of these subtle differences among them.

Most nails that you will be needing fall into four basic categories: common, casing, finishing and brads. Once you understand the basic differences among these, it will be easier to select the proper fastener and size.

When you think of a typical nail with a flat head, it usually is a common nail. Builders use common nails to build the framing for walls and other projects where strength is required. The heads are reasonably large and unattractive, so common nails are used where the heads are hidden from view. The nailheads are typically hammered down just flush with the wood surface, but not recessed.

The size of common nails is referred to as the "penny," such as 2d, 3d, etc. A certain penny size nail has a definite shaft diameter and length. The penny size probably used to refer to the weight of a given number of nails in pennies, but now it is just a generic number.

Since common nails are used for strength, selecting the proper size for a specific project is important. If you are nailing two pieces of wood together, the length of the nail shaft should be three times the thickness of the thinner piece of wood. The nail should be driven in through the thinner piece so most of the nail grips the thicker piece.

Casing nails are also designed for strength, but they have a much smaller head than a common nail, and the shaft may actually be thicker. These are used on cabinets or interior trim where the head is exposed. Generally, the head of a casing nail is countersunk (driven in below the wood surface), and then the hole is covered with wood filler.


Finishing nails are used in the same way as casing nails, but they have a slightly rounded head. They are driven in flush with the wood surface, so no wood filler is used. Brass ones can be attractive in the wood. When using these, try to space them as evenly as possible across the wood surface.

Brads are short, thin nails with a small head similar to a finishing nail. They actually look like a short piece of wire. Brads are not strong, so they are used to hold lightweight trim together or to hold pieces in place during assembly. The sizes of brads are designated by their length instead of by penny size.

Wood filler works well for filling in over a countersunk nailhead when the finished work will be painted. When assembling a project where the wood will be just stained, peel up a sliver of wood with a sharp knife. Drive the nail into the groove where the sliver was removed, and countersink the head. Glue the sliver back over the groove so the grain matches perfectly.


Send your questions to Here's How, 6906 Royalgreen Dr., Cincinnati, OH 45244, or visit www.dulley.com. To find out more about James Dulley and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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