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Different Types of Nails and How to Use Them

A heap of silver nails laying in a pile

Walking into the nail aisle at your local hardware store can sometimes feel overwhelming. All these little bits of sharp metal that all look almost exactly alike but aren’t, and presumably, all have different functions. Where to begin?

One characteristic of nails is that they are designed to fasten pieces of material together. Nails are a simple and basic type of fastener that has been used in construction in one form or another for upward of 3,000 years, making them one of the most time-tested items used in building. Typically, nails are used to fasten pieces of wood or timber, but can also have other uses. The wide variety in nail shape, size, and design makes them functional for specific uses. With this in mind, let’s explore the variety of types of nails to understand which types are suited for what uses.

Nail Size and Design

Gold, silver, and nickle colored nails lined up next to each other decending in sizes.

Nail size is determined by both length and gauge. Nail length is indicated by the letter “d,” which is a system of measurement that dates back to old England and originally represented the word “pennies.” Nails come in many lengths ranging from 2d all the way to 50d with corresponding lengths.

  • 2d – 1 inch
  • 3d – 1 1/4 inches
  • 4d – 1 1/2 inches
  • 5d – 1 3/4 inches
  • 6d – 2 inches
  • 8d – 2 1/2 inches
  • 10d – 3 inches
  • 12d – 3 1/4 inches
  • 16d – 3 1/2 inches
  • 20d – 4 inches
  • 30d – 4 1/2 inches
  • 40d – 5 inches
  • 50d – 5 1/2 inches

The nail gauge is the measurement of the nail’s diameter. The higher the gauge, the thinner the nail. Different purposes will require a different nail size and gauge. A good rule of thumb is that you should use a nail that is three times as long as the thickness of the material you are fastening.

Nail Types

Nail Precision

Nails are an entire world in and of themselves, but with a little guidance and help, you can easily navigate your way to find which nails are the most precise fit for your project.

While do-it-yourself projects can be fun and fulfilling, there is always a potential for personal injury or property damage. We strongly suggest that any project beyond your abilities be left to licensed professionals such as electricians, plumbers, and carpenters. Any action you take upon the information on this website is strictly at your own risk, and we assume no responsibility or liability for the contents of this article.


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