There's more to nails than just getting hammered

February 28, 2009|By PAT LOGAN / Creators Syndicate

Dear Pat: My house needs a lot of repairs. I am going to need a selection of nails. There is an entire aisle of various nails at the hardware store. Which type should be used for which projects? - Macie W.

Dear Macie: There are literally hundreds of different sizes and types of fasteners from which to select. Many of them look similar. But there are actually slight design variations that make each type of nail the best choice for certain kinds of projects and materials.

There are four basic categories of nail designs, with many design variations within each category. These categories are common nails, casing nails, finishing nails and brads. Understanding the basic differences makes it easier to select the proper fastener.

When you think of a typical nail with a flat head, it is usually a common nail. Builders use common nails to construct 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 "penny." 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.

Because 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 within the thicker piece of wood.

Casing nails are also designed for strength, but they have a much smaller head than a common nail, and their shafts can actually be thicker. Casing nails are used on cabinets or interior trim where the head is exposed. Generally, the head of a casing nail is countersunk, meaning it is driven in below the wood surface. The hole in the wood above the nailhead is covered with wood filler.

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

Brads are short, thin nails with small heads similar to those of finishing nails. They actually look like a short piece of wire. Brads are relatively weak, so they are used to hold lightweight trim together or to hold pieces in place during assembly. The sizes of brads are designated by length instead of by penny size.

Wood filler works well for filling in over a countersunk nailhead when the finished woodwork will be painted. When assembling a project in which the wood will be 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.

o Copyright 2009 Creators Syndicate Inc.

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