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In the Workshop: 5 FAQs About Nails

Filed Under: Tools, Know-How

nails, hammer

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If you think that all nails are created equal, think again. There are about as many different types of nails as there are species of wood. There are roofing nails, brad nails, joist hanger nails, finish nails, copper nails, and ring-shank nails, to name a few.

Here are answers to five of the most frequently asked questions about the original -- and greatest -- fastener.

What's a 16d nail?
This one dates back to 15th century England. The number designates how many pennies it took to purchase 100 nails. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the 'd' derives from the Roman denarius, which was a silver coin back in the day. In today's world, the term "penny" indicates the length of the nail, with the nail size going up 1/4" per penny. A 4d nail is 1 1/2", a 5d nail is 1 3/4" and so on. The pattern breaks down with 12d and 16d sizes (3-1/4" and 3-1/2" respectively), but it's good for the smaller sizes.

galvanized nailsGalvanized nails. (Fotosearch)

What are Galvanized Nails?
"Galvy" nails, as they're sometimes called, are covered in a zinc coating that prohibits rust and deterioration -- making them perfect for outdoor applications, such as decks. And while it's never a good idea to hold any nails in your mouth, it's a particularly bad idea with galvanized ones because you'd be absorbing potentially poisonous zinc.

What's a common nail and what's a box nail?
While the term "penny" indicates length, the words "common" and "box" are used to identify the diameter of the nail. The actual difference between the two varies for each penny (d) size, but what you need to know is that box nails are the smaller size and common nails are the larger size. Thus, a 16d common nail is going to be beefier than a 16d box nail.

Ring shank nails. (Fotosearch)

When should I use ring shank nails?
Ring shank nails are ideal in a situation where you don't ever plan on removing the nail. Ring shank nails have a series of ridges along the nail shaft which give the fastener a tremendous amount of holding power. Nails hold in place with friction and ring shanks add a 'wedge' quality to the mix. Because they're so difficult to remove, they're great for sub-floors, exterior trim, and siding.

finishing nailsFinishing nails. (Fotosearch)

What makes a finishing nail so special?
Finishing nails have little or no head on them, making them perfect for occasions when the nail will be visible on the finished product. Because of this minimal head, once the nail is driven flush to the wood, it can be further recessed with an instrument known as a nail set. Once this is done, it's easy to patch the indentation with a little wood putty and then make it completely disappear with a coat of paint.


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