Types of Nails for Woodworking

Most of your house timber is probably held together with nails. Often dismissed as a second-best fixture, nails are invaluable in many DIY jobs. Nailing techniques are easy to learn and help to ensure that the finished job looks good, even invisible, as well as giving an extremely strong joint.

There is a huge variety of nails available. If you know the main types, DIY jobs will be much easier. They are sold pre-packed or loose by weight. Following is a selection of commonly used nails, but if you are unsure about what type to use ask your local DIY merchant or hardware staff for advice.

Round wire:

3/4 -6inch (19-150mm) is used for general woodwork. It may split the wood if driven close to the end of the wood.

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Oval wire:

1-6inch (25-150mm) is used on finished carpentry and joinery jobs such as door frames. It is unlikely to split wood and its head is easily punched in.

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Panel pin:

1/2-3inch (12-75mm) is used on glued joints, fixing moldings, and furniture making. Its head is easily punched in and the small heads become almost invisible.

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Molding pin:

1/2-1inch (12-25mm) is used for fixing small moldings and veneer. It is similar to the panel pin but with a thinner shank.

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Hardboard pin:

1/2-1inch (12-25mm) is used for fixing hardboard or plywood panels. Its head is easily driven below the surface but does not have a very strong grip.

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Ringed shank/annular:

3/4 -3inch (19-75mm) is used for fixing manmade boards like chipboard flooring. Its jagged shank prevents nails being pulled out.

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Cut clasp:

1 1/2 -4inch (38-100mm) is used for woodwork and fixing wood to masonry. It is unlikely to split wood and is difficult to remove.

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Cut floor brad:

2-2 1/2inch (50-65mm) is used for fixing floorboard to joists. It is unlikely to split wood and may be difficult to start.

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Plasterboard:

1 1/2inch (38mm) is used for fixing plasterboard and other manmade boards. Its jagged shank prevents the nail being pulled out. You may also want to check out our guide on the best screws for particle boards.

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Masonry:

1/2-4inch (12-100mm) is used for fixing timber to brickwork and concrete. Wear goggles when nailing into masonry.

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Glazing sprig:

1/2-5/8inch (12-16mm) is used for fixing glass to window frames and is much like a headless tack.

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Staple:

1/2-1inch (12-25mm) is used for fixing wire to wood and for rough woodwork. An insulated type is available for fixing electric cable to wood.

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Escutcheon pin:

5/8-3/4inch (16-19mm) is used for fixing small metal fittings to wood.

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Tack:

1/4-1inch (6-25mm) is used for laying carpet, fixing webbing or fabric to furniture frames. Improved types have two small lugs under large heads.

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Gimp pin:

3/8-1inch (9-25mm) is used for fixing braid to upholstered wood. There are a variety of different decorative heads available.

Nail Usage Safety

Choose the right technique to ensure a secure and discreet joint. Hit the nail squarely with the middle of the hammer face. When hammering in masonry nails wear safety goggles, as the nails may dislodge sharp pieces of brick and concrete.

Starting the Nail

  • Grip the nail firmly with thumb and forefinger and give it a few light short taps with the hammer until it grips by itself.
  • When nailing overhead, lean backwards so that you can drive the nail home with an ordinary forehand grip.
  • Using the wedge shape of a cross pein hammerhead to start off a small nail where you might otherwise be likely to hit your fingers.
  • Use pliers to hold a very small nail in place while you start it off.
  • Push small nails that are awkward to hold through a piece of thin cardboard before hammering. Rip away the cardboard before driving the nail home.

Joining different thicknesses

To join a thin piece of wood to a thicker one, always nail right through the thinner material, so that the nail goes at least halfway through the depth of the thicker piece.

Following the grain

Drive in oval and rectangular nails so that their longest dimension lies along the grain of the wood. This helps both to avoid splitting the wood and to make a stronger joint.

Staggering the nails

When several nails are needed to secure a joint, stagger them along the grain and across the piece to minimize the risk of splitting and to form a stronger joint.

Avoiding splits

Blunt the end of the nail with a hammer so it punches its way through the wood rather than forcing apart the grain.

Use a bradawl to start the hole before driving a nail home with the hammer. If it is near the end of a piece of wood, leave the wood overlength and saw off.

Avoiding dents

Stop short when your nail is nearly all the way in, and use a nail punch to drive the nail the rest of the way home. If you do dent the wood, lightly press a warm iron on to a damp cloth placed over the bruise. Hold it down for 30 seconds. Lift and repeat if necessary.

Improving a joint’s strength

Dovetail nailing uses nails knocked in at converging angles to hold the two pieces of wood. It gives a stronger join than straight nailing.

Skew nailing holds a T-joint tightly in place when you only have access to the sides of the joint.

Removing nails

  • If the nail bends as it goes in, or you find it going in at an awkward angle, remove it and start again.
  • Protect the timber with a scrap of plywood or card, then use a claw hammer to lever out the nail.
  • Use pincers to remove a nail if the head is tight against the wood. Protect with cardboard.
  • Use a tack lifter for extracting tacks and similar small nails.
  • Choosing the right hammer and nails for the job and applying these simple nailing techniques will give strong long-lasting joints.

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