Whether you’re hanging a picture, building a fence, or constructing a deck, you’re going to need the right hardware for the job. Nails and screws are both used for connecting two surfaces and each item is available in various sizes and strengths. But is one better than the other for certain projects?
Nails and screws are both metal spikes with flat heads, used to fasten one surface to another. The nail has a smooth body, whereas the screw has a raised spiral thread. Typically made of steel, both are available in different types of metal, including aluminum, brass, and copper. You can also find coated varieties to prevent rusting over time.
Nails are less expensive, have greater ductility, and drive faster. They have better shear strength, meaning they can withstand opposing forces (sideloading). If you sink both a nail and a screw halfway deep into a plank of wood and then hammer each on their sides, the nail will bend. The screw is far more brittle and will break due to its much lower shear strength.
There are types of nails devoted to specific applications. Use roofing nails to nail shingles to a roof. If you’re working with a temporary structure, choose a two-headed nail that is designed for easy removal. You drive the nail down as far as the first head, and then pry it out by the top head later. When building a deck, use wood nails and hammer the nail in at a slight angle to avoid splitting the wood. Finishing nails, as the name suggests, are a good choice when you want to hide the nail heads, such as furniture making or with paneling.
Screws make up for their lack of shear strength with a greater tensile strength; they are less apt than nails to break under tension. The same nail that can withstand a blow to the side will more easily pop out when pulled. The screw stays put thanks to its helical band keeping it tightly fastened. Screws are easier to work with than nails and pose less risk of damaging the surface you are removing them from. And while screws are a little more expensive than nails, a power screwdriver costs less than a good nail gun.
If you’re hanging a heavy picture, painting, or mirror on a plaster wall, go with a screw and a plastic anchor. When building a structure subject to multiples forces and loads, such as a bookshelf, use screws to fasten the slats and box together. Sheet metal screws are designed for projects like building and mounting sheet metal shelves.
So what does this mean for you and your home projects?
There is an ongoing debate among builders regarding nails versus screws. Some maintain that nails are always the best choice, whereas others say there is nothing a nail can do that a screw can’t do better. There’s a reason building codes have minimum nailing requirements – nails are the superior choice for framing and structural applications. Nails are best for attaching beams and joists to a frame because of their better shear strength. However, screws provide a secure hold and will not pop out like nails might over time; they are a good choice when fastening down a structure.
You will need both nails and screws on hand.
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