Nails and screws are the popular fasteners in construction and carpentry. They bind and assemble your house framing and decking as well as your furniture. If you're in doubt about which to choose for specific projects, stay on this page. We have consulted the experts for you and here is what they recommend.
Nails are preferable for large projects because they are cheaper and faster to install and remove. They are best for lateral pressure and are less visible for finish carpentry. The types of nails to use include:
- Common nail
- Box nail
- Finishing nail
- Brad nail
Screws are preferred for mid-size projects and temporary jobs. They are easier to remove and best for load-bearing installations. The types you can use for this purpose are the following:
- Wood screw
- Drywall screw
Nails and screws may have similar functions but each has different strengths and specifications for each particular task. Keep reading as we delve into the details of each kind, its optimal uses, and what is best for each project.
Comparing Nails and Screws
Nails and screws offer similar functions that may lead you to believe that you can use them interchangeably but you can't. Each has different strengths and is best suited for specific tasks. We will discuss these fasteners side by side.
Nails are perfect for large projects such as house framing due to their strength and are less expensive. They can be installed faster and are easier to remove.
Screws are best for intermediate projects in woodworks and decking where inserting and removing them can be easily managed. Thus, these work best for temporary jobs such as scaffolding that you can easily remove later.
For projects where you expect that it is necessary to remove or reinstall the fasteners, screws are preferable to nails. This is because in removing, nails can damage the materials while screws need to be simply unscrewed.
Durability and Binding Capability
Tensile strength is the capability of the bonded surfaces to resist pressure. While working on your project, you need to establish if the bonded materials will slide sideways or tend to break up. Use nails if the materials will slide past each other and screws if the materials will break apart.
Nails can withstand lateral pressure when the joined materials will tend to slide sideways. These apply to structural joining in framing walls, plywood sheathing of outside walls, and also for siding and roofing.
Screws are superior to binding and preventing surfaces from breaking up. These work well for projects when joined pieces bear weight such as your kitchen cabinetry. However, screws have the tendency to snap under pressure.
Screws are preferred when installing subflooring or drywall. For subfloors, screws do not loosen their grip, hence, creating tighter joints and preventing squeaky floors in the long haul.
Screws have the better holding power to build jigs for small jobs like installing hinges, mounting hardware, and trim, and also for your cabinetry and joining furniture parts.
Nails Flex More and Get Concealed
Nails can easily flex to adjust if the wood expands and contracts. Their gripping strength still remains the same.
Another advantage is that the nail heads can be hammered deep down not to mar the surface with numerous nailheads. Thus, nails are perfect for finishing carpentry where fasteners need to disappear. They are best for your drywall, flooring, cabinets, and furniture.
Use of Ring or Spiral Shank Nails
A hybrid design of screws and nails is highly recommended among industry gurus. It combines the binding strength of screws and the flexibility of nails. The shaft rings boost gripping and can be used with softer woods such as plywood.
These nails can also be used alternatively for subflooring and drywall. The only disadvantage is that the flatheads are hard to remove and can leave uneven holes at the surface. In this case, you would need a resin solution to fill in the vacated holes to prevent insects, dirt, and mildew that may harbor and could cause unsightly marks to the surface.
Use of Tools
Smooth heads and shafts of nails can be inserted easily and faster with a blunt force of a hammer or nail gun.
Screws can be easily inserted with the aid of tools such as drills and wrenches other than manual screwdrivers, which require more effort and can be tiring due to torque. When inserting screws, there is low vibration which may not damage materials such as plasterboards and drywall.
Types of Nails
The parts of the nail are the head, shank, and the incised grooves at the shank. They function by displacing wood fibers when hammered and the pressure exerted provides the holding power. Most often it is made of either plain or galvanized steel.
We have listed here the most common nail types used for different wood projects:
- Common Nail - This is your everyday nail that is used for rough construction work and can be driven into hard materials. It is purchased in varying lengths from 1 to 6 inches (2d to 60d). The largest is called spikes. This is your first choice for framing and carpentry.
- Box Nail - This type looks close to common nails only that it has a thinner shaft so as not to cause wood splits when used. It is ideal for clapboard siding and hardwood floorboards. This type has less holding power and may cause structural issues. It could still be used where structural strength isn't critical. This is available in lengths from 1 to 3.5 inches.
- Finishing Nail - As the name suggests, this is your nail for finishing jobs for furniture and installing trim since you can hide the nailhead. The small barrel-shaped heads can be driven below the wood surface, making it ideal for detailed wood projects This is available in lengths from 1 to 4 inches (2d to 20d).
- Brad - This is best for building frames to attach plywood panels and cabinetry. This is a finishing nail type but is proportionately smaller in diameter and length (1 inch or less). This is great for detailed work such as securing molding, door jambs, and baseboards.
- Casing Nail - This type is slightly larger than the finishing nail and has more holding power. This is best for moldings for windows and doors where added strength is needed.
- Duplex Nail - This is a variation of the common nail. It has a second head along the shaft, ideal for temporary construction such as scaffolding. After driving snugly, it can be easily removed due to the protruding nailhead above the wood surface. This is the best substitute for more expensive screws for temporary installations.
- Drywall Nail - This type features rings at the shaft. It is used for hanging wallboards. The head is driven below the surface of the plaster panel creating a dimple that is then filled with plaster. Roughly the size of box nails, this is coated with resin for added holding power.
Types of Screws
Screw types may seem endless. It is because different projects require different types of screws. They can be classified according to the materials they fasten. Below is a list of the common types for wood framing:
- Wood Screw - Also called construction screw, this is best for connecting wood to wood. Examples are framing wall studs, attaching moldings, and building bookcases. The screw design features coarse threads to grip wood securely up to the top of the shank, thus allowing a tight connection for wood to wood.
- For a basic wood connection, the screw length should reach 2/3 of the thickness of the bottom board. In terms of size, the width varies from #1 (1/16" diameter) to #20 (5/16" diameter) with #8 (5/32" diameter) as the universal and preferred size. Nevertheless, the best size is still dependent on your project.
- Drywall Screw - Also called "bugle head screw", this is best for attaching drywall panels to wall studs or wood framing. The length varies from 1 to 3 inches. The screw design slightly countersinks at the surface without tearing the drywall's protective covering. Pre-drilling is not required since this self-tapping screw digs right into wood studs or joists.
Learning what to consider in choosing between nails and screws is essential before diving into your project. The type of stresses the fasteners are subject to, the project scale, whether permanent or temporary, tools to use, and materials to fasten, whether visible or not for the completed project, are the factors that should affect your decision.
Similarly, you might as well be familiar with the different types and specifications of nails and screws that are appropriate for each project. Design types vary as to the head, shaft, and corrugated grooves at the shaft to suit the materials to be fastened.
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