Buying Guide for Nails

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Buying Guide for Nails

A house is only as strong as the nails that hold it together. Used for centuries to fasten wood, shingles, and even stone together, nails are proof that good things do come in small packages. A single nail may not be much to look at, but its iron wired shape is strong enough to hold even the heaviest pieces of wood together. Buying nails is one of those common tasks that seems easy until the buyer gets to the home improvement store, or starts shopping on eBay, and is then faced with an overwhelming selection of nail boxes.

Boxed nails, duplex nails, hot-dipped nails, the list of different types just goes on and on. The key to buying nails is to understand their different parts and how they are best used on a variety of building projects. By purchasing the right nail for the job, the customer can feel safe knowing that his or her building project is going to hold together over time.

Nail Parts

A nail is a simple tool made out of three basic parts: a head, a shank, and a point. A common nail, for example, has a wide, flat head, a thick, uniform shank, and a sharp diamond point that helps it slice through lumber. Finishing nails have smaller heads that are almost the same size as the shank, and slightly dull points that keep wood trim from splintering. Each nail is designed for a particular building material.

Nail Heads

The head of the nail is the part that comes into contact with the hammer. Most heads are very wide and flat, though some have grooved cuts along the top to prevent the hammer from slipping. However, this is not universally true with all nails, particularly those that are meant to be covered up with paint or putty. Casing nails and finishing nails both have small heads relative to their shanks because they are meant to be concealed. Their heads are usually concave, which makes it easier to drive them flat against wood or drywall without the nail being noticeable.

Nail Shafts

The shaft is the longest part of the nail, stretching from just below the head to the top of the point. It is the part of the nail that takes the greatest load once it is pounded into the wall and so it must be very strong. Nails with thick shafts are stronger than those with thin ones.

The most common shaft design is a uniform, rounded shape. Certain varieties, however, improve upon this design for special purposes. Masonry cut nails, for example, either have tapered shafts or grooved sides that help hold heavy stone together. Herringbone nails have a barbed shaft that is ideal for slicing through durable hardwoods like redwood.

Nail Point

The point of the nail is its tip. All nails have a sharp tip for burying themselves into the building material. However, some types have a sharper tip than others. A good rule of thumb is that nails with sharp tips cut forcefully while dull tips are gentler. Therefore, it is better to use a nail with a rounded tip when working with delicate materials like plywood since its shape helps to prevent splintering.

Nail Sizes

Nails are measured in sizes that are referred to as pennies. This name comes from their English origins, where nails were named based on how much it cost to buy them, such as four pence nails and so on. Nails are marked with the letter 'd' which stands for the Latin word 'denarius', the Roman word for penny.


Length (inches)

Length (cm)






















The nail must be long enough to pierce through the building material. Heavier materials require bigger nails while delicate pieces like trimming need smaller ones.

Nail Types

There are dozens of different nail types out there, and a complete list is beyond the scope of this guide. However, some of the popular choices are featured here, along with some of their common nicknames. Always make sure to pick the right type of nail for the job.

Common Nails

Common nails get their name because they are frequently used in construction. When hammering a 2x4 (or 5x10cm) piece of lumber, no other nail does a better job. They come in several different lengths and are known for their wide heads, thick shafts, and sharp points.

Galvanised Nails

Many common nails, along with other types, are galvanised, which means they are dipped into hot zinc. Sometimes known as hot-dipped nails, this process helps prevent the nails from rusting. Galvanised nails are best suited to the outdoors.

Box Nails

Box nails are slightly smaller than common nails, having a smaller shaft and head. They are typically used on thinner pieces of wood, such as wooden boxes. However, because the head of the box nail is still relatively large when compared to its shaft, they are not often used on wood trim.

Finish Nail

The finish nail is even smaller than the box nail and features a head that is just slightly larger than its shaft. The point is also slightly dulled to avoid splitting the wood. This type, along with casing nails, is often used inside buildings for wood trim.


Brads are even smaller than finishing nails and are used only for very delicate work. They have small heads, tiny shafts, and blunt points like other types of nails required for piercing thin wood. Use brads for objects like picture frames or decorative woodwork.

Drywall Nail

The drywall nail, also known as the annular ring nail, looks like the offspring of a nail and a screw. Its head is wide like a common nail, but slightly concave to help it lay flat against the drywall. The shaft features several rings that help secure the nail into the drywall material and make it difficult to remove.

Duplex Head Nails

These strange looking nails serve a special purpose for temporary construction. For example, when building a house, support beams are installed and removed as the frame is built. Removing a common nail is a real chore since they bore down against the wood. Duplex head nails feature two heads, one of top of the other. The first head on the bottom stops the nail when it hits the wood. The second head remains above the wood grain and is easy to grasp with a hammer for removal.

Masonry Nails

Masonry nails tend to be thicker than other types because they have to pierce concrete, tile, and brick. Besides their large size, what sets masonry nails apart is the set of rings underneath the head. This allows the shaft to grip the material, making it difficult to remove.

Roofing Nails

Roofing nails have both large heads and large shafts with incredibly sharp points. They pierce through the wood and insulation on the roof with ease, and their large head helps weather the elements. Do not make the mistake of using roofing nails for siding, they are too large and can tear the material quite easily.

How to Buy Nails on eBay

eBay allows you to shop for nails and other building materials from the comfort of your computer screen. All types of nails can be found here, including special types used for masonry, roofing, and crafting. Of course, common nails are plentiful and can be bought in large quantities at great deals.

Start off by searching for 'nails' by typing the term into the search box. You might get results for things you do not want, such as fake nails for fingers. Adjust your terms by using words like 'building nail' 'common nail' or 'masonry nail' to get the right type of nail you need. You can also search for nails by their pack size by typing 'nail 100 pack' to get the best deal on wholesale boxes.

Most nails are sold in new condition. Some sellers do offer used nails, but this can be a risky proposition. Make sure any used nails still have straight shafts and sturdy heads. Nails are not very expensive, so it is usually better to just go ahead and buy them new rather than risk buying a faulty used one.


There is no reason to get overwhelmed by all the different nail types found online at eBay, or at the local home improvement store. The truth is that any nail does the job, but certain types are better at particular jobs. For example, a common nail can work with almost anything, but it does not look attractive on wood trim. Likewise, its shaft is not as strong as masonry nails and can easily get bent if it is hammered into brick.

Understanding different nail types and parts allows the buyer to make an informed decision between choosing one type over the other. Length is also important, especially when working with thin wood. The nail should be long enough to fasten the building material together without popping out the other side, or slightly smaller than the wood's width. Follow all of these tips and get the right nail for the job on the next big home improvement project.

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