PHOTO: J. Keeler Johnson
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August 27, 2019

If you’re a hobby farmer who loves DIY projects, you probably own a hammer or two, plus a few boxes of random nails. Whether you build fences, repair outbuildings, modify wagons or build custom items to suit your needs, you probably reach for nails almost as often as your trusty electric drill.

It’s part of the DIY ethos to dive in without many instructions, but you might be using nails in a less than optimum way. Whether you realize it or not, they come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, all designed for different projects and purposes. There are a lot of factors to consider. Do you want steel or zinc nails? Should they be galvanized to prevent rust? Should the shank be smooth, or should it be ridged to provide greater holding strength under pressure?

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The answers to these questions vary depending on the project. But first, it’s a good idea to learn the broad categories and identify the type or types you need. Here are a few of the most widespread and useful nails.


Common Nail

When you think of a classic “nail,” this is probably what comes to mind. (It’s the one on the left in the photo above.) While these naturally come in different sizes and gauges, common nails are typically thick and strong with narrow, round heads. They’re perfect for general farming construction projects.

Roofing Nail

Roofing nails have much larger heads than common nails. They head is designed to hold thin items in place by means of pressure. For example, a regular nail with a smaller head might have trouble keeping roof shingles in place; the nail passes through a thin sliver of material and can’t bind in place the way it can in a thick piece of wood. The larger heads of roofing nails, however, address this issue, by using the head rather than the shank to pin the shingles down in the manner of a pushpin or thumbtack.

Box Nail

A box nail is essentially a smaller common nail, designed for more delicate pieces of wood that might split if larger nails are applied.

Finishing Nail

A finishing nail is more refined than a common nail. (It’s on the right in the photo above.) Its small head is designed to be less noticeable than the heads of other nails. This makes it ideal for precision “finishing” work on visible surfaces, where a clean appearance is ideal.

Staple Nail

This is one of my favorite varieties. (It’s in the center in the photo above.) I always keep a supply of staple nails on hand. These arched nails are shaped like staples and are perfect for attaching fencing materials (such as welded wire, individual strands of wire, plastic mesh and so on) to wooden fence posts. They’re a little trickier to use (you pound two shanks instead of one that has a head attached), but their ability to hold impenetrable materials in place is unmatched by others.

There are several other types of designed for specific projects—brad nails for super-fine finishing work, masonry nails for working with concrete and bricks—but the ones mentioned above are the basics.

By expanding your knowledge of different nail types, you can improve the quality of your DIY projects and build items that will last for years to come.

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