We don’t think much of the history of nails, but did you know that nails date back to 3400 BC in the times of Ancient Egypt? There are times where you hear an experienced Carpenter refer to specific nails as “4 or 6 penny”, the term "penny," as it refers to nails, is thought to have originated in medieval England to describe the price of 100 nails. For example, 100 3-1/2" nails would cost 16 pence, whereas 100 2-1/2" nails could be purchased for six pence. This system of classifying nails by size according to price was in place by 1477 A.D. The letter "d" used to represent "penny," stands for the Latin name given to Roman coins, Denarius. Traditionally, nails used for wood-to-wood applications (decking, wood siding, framing, etc.) are referred to in penny sizes, while nails for non-wood applications (roofing, siding, etc.) are referred to in inches.
Today, nails haven’t really changed much, larger variety, different metals and coatings used and obviously, different shapes and sizes. Each one has a specific use, you don’t want to use some nails outdoors for fear of rusting, and then there are some nails that don’t work well in certain woods due to chemical reactions such as treated lumber, and that can be catastrophic. Regardless of which nail you use, make sure to wear safety glasses.
Common or Brite
Ideal for general construction, carpentry, and framing. Bright finish. Flat head and diamond point, no rust protection, typically used indoors
Sinker or Coated
Countersunk head sinks flush and the coating on the nail acts like a glue when driven into wood.
The double-headed nail driven into the wood up to the lower head. The second head remains exposed to allow easy pulling when temporary nailing project is complete.
Galvanized for outdoor use and with ACQ treated lumber, for general construction, including carpentry, and framing.
Spiral Shank Galvanized
Spiral shank provides additional holding power for hardboard siding, trim, fencing, decking, etc. It’s a great all-around nail outdoors.
Ring Shank Galvanized
Specially designed for split-prone woods such as cedar and redwood. Slim, sturdy shank and special blunt point virtually eliminate splits, ring shanked for additional holding power and galvanized.
Excellent for attaching furring strips and floor plates to uncured concrete, tempered hardened steel fluted shank, used with concrete and masonry
These hardened cut masonry nails, manufactured are ideal for attaching wood members to cinder block walls as well as to fresh concrete. The blunt point and tapered shank cause minimal spalling during penetration and offer even greater pull-out resistance than wire masonry nails.
These nails, designed for hardwood trim, are made from tempered hardened steel to prevent bending while nailing and have brad-style heads for subtle concealment.
With the small head, this nail is perfect for projects where to you need to hide the fastener. If you don’t have a nailset, you can use a nail upside down, head-to-head to tap in the nail a little further into the wood
Ring Shank Drywall
For attaching gypsum boards to wood studs. The long diamond point reduces cracking in drywall, the rings or ridges give the nail holding power and are not designed to be easily removed.
With its large head and short length, this nail is ideal for roofing applications, in addition to having a corrosion-resistant galvanized coating.
Can I just say… “You totally nailed it” with this post!! I did not know the different shapes and characteristics of nails helped determine their optimum use, your post is very informative. I often find myself in the nail aisle helping customers, it can be a bit overwhelming, the above information will be very helpful, thank you!
Designs fashioned with nails on front doors in Boston and surrounding historical towns of Massachusetts were always pointed out during my school field trips when I was a student in Boston. The more nails and the greater size of the heads in a front door would say that the family within held great wealth, and have a notable presence.
House of Seven Gables, Salem, Massachusetts
I now understand the terminology of the “penny nail” so much better, thank you! Maureen