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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A pile of nails.

In engineering, woodworking and construction, a nail is a pin-shaped, sharp object of hard metal or alloy used as a fastener. Formerly wrought iron, today's nails are typically of an alloy of steel, often be dipped or coated to prevent corrosion in harsh conditions or improve adhesion.

Nails are typically driven into the workpiece by a hammer,a pneumatic nail gun, or a small explosive charge or primer. A nail holds materials together by friction in the axial direction and shear strength laterally. The point of the nail is also sometimes bent over or clinched after driving to prevent loosening.

Nails are made in a great variety of forms for specialized purposes. The most common is a wire nail. Other types of nails include pins, tacks, brads, and spikes.



Nails can be hammered or shot into materials such as wood.

Nails go back at least to the Ancient Roman period. The provision of iron for nails by King David for Solomon's Temple is mentioned in the Bible.[1] Until the end of the 18th century, they were made by hand, an artisan known as a Nailer providing them with a head and point. Until the early 17th century there were workmen called Slitters who cut up iron bars to a suitable size for Nailers to work on, but in 1590 the slitting mill was introduced to England, providing a mechanical means of producing rods of uniform cross-section. In the 19th century, after the invention of machines to make "cut nails", some nails continued to be made by hand, but the handmade nail industry gradually declined and was largely extinct by the end of that century.

Manufactured cut nails were first introduced in America at the end of the 18th century. Cut nails are machine-cut from flat sheets of steel (originally iron). They are also called square nails because of their roughly rectangular cross section. Though still used for historical renovations, and for heavy-duty applications, such as attaching boards to masonry walls, cut nails are much less common today than wire nails.

Different types of nails: 1) asphalt, 2) asphalt with broad head, 3) copper, 4) steel with missing head, 5) flathead steel, 6) screw-shank, and 7) ring-shank with barbs

Types of nail include:

  • brass tack
  • bullethead nail
  • canoe tacks
  • carpet tack
  • casing - similar to finish nails but on a larger scale
  • clout
  • coil nails
  • coffin nail
  • corrugated
  • Dheadnails
  • double-ended
  • fiber cement
  • finish
  • horseshoe
  • joist
  • lost-head
  • masonry - fluted nail for use in concrete
  • oval brad
  • floor brad (aka 'stigs') - flat, tapered and angular, for use in fixing floor boards
  • panel pin
  • plastic strip
  • gutter spikes
  • roofing tack
  • ring shank
  • shake - small headed nails to use for nailing sidewall shakes
  • square
  • T
  • Teco - 1-1/2 x .148 shanks nails used in metal connectors (usually hurricane ties)
  • veneer pin
  • wire
  • wire-weld collated


Most countries, except the United States, use a metric system for describing nail sizes. A 50 x 3.0 indicates a nail 50 mm long (not including the head) and 3 mm in diameter. Lengths are rounded to the nearest millimeter.

For example, finishing nail* sizes typically available from German suppliers are:

Length Diameter
mm mm
20 1.2
25 1.4
30 1.6
35 1.6
35 1.8
40 2.0
45 2.2
50 2.2
55 2.2
55 2.5
60 2.5
60 2.8
65 2.8
65 3.1
70 3.1
80 3.1
80 3.4
90 3.4
100 3.8
90 3.8
100 4.2
110 4.2
120 4.2
130 4.6
140 5.5
160 5.5
180 6.0
210 7.0
  • Drahtstift mit Senkkopf (Stahl, DIN 1151)

United States penny sizes

Nails are usually sold by weight either in bulk or in boxes. In the US, the length of a nail is designated by its penny size. The term "penny" in relation to nail size is based on the old customary measure for nails in England. This classification system was still used in England into the 20th century, but is obsolete there today. Opinions differ as to the precise derivation[2]. Nails were referred to in penny sizes in England at least as far back as the fifteenth century. [3][4]

One modern explanation is that a hundred nails that sold for six pence were "six penny" nails. The larger the nail, the more a hundred nails would cost. Thus the larger nails have a larger number for its penny size.[5]

A different explanation stated apparently authoritatively[6] in the early years of the twentieth century is that nails were made to a certain number of pounds weight to the thousand nails. A six-penny nail would come from a batch of a thousand nails that weighed six pounds. The change in name from "six pound" to "six penny" nails came about from the English colloquial abbreviation "pun" for "pound". The Oxford English Dictionary does not mention this explanation and does state that the price per hundred was the source of the name.

The penny size is written with a number and the abbreviation d for penny (e.g. - 10d). D is an abbreviation for denarius, a Roman coin similar to a penny; this was the abbreviation for a penny in the UK before decimalisation. A smaller number indicates a shorter nail and a larger number indicates a longer nail. Nails under 1¼ in., often called brads, are sold mostly in small packages with only a length designation (e.g. ½" (12 mm), 118" (28 mm), etc.), or with length and wire gauge designations (e.g. 1" 18 ga, or 3/4" 16 ga).

penny size length
(nearest mm)
2d 1 25
3d 32
4d 38
6d 2 51
7d 57
8d 65
9d 70
10d 3 76
12d 83
16d 89
20d 4 102
30d 115
40d 5 127
50d 140
60d 6 152


  • Box - a wire nail with a head; box nails have a smaller shank than common nails of the same size
  • Bright - no surface coating; not recommended for weather exposure or acidic or treated lumber
  • Casing - a wire nail with a slightly larger head than finish nails; often used for flooring
  • CC or Coated - "cement coated"; nail coated with adhesive (cement) for greater holding power; also resin- or vinyl-coated; coating melts from friction when driven to help lubricate then hardens when cool; color varies by manufacturer (tan, pink, are common)
  • Common - a common construction wire nail with a head: common nails have larger shanks than box nails of the same size
  • Duplex - a common nail with a second head, allowing for easy extraction
  • Finish - a wire nail that does not have a "head"; can be easily concealed
  • Galvanized - treated for resistance to corrosion and/or weather exposure
  • Electrogalvanized - provides a smooth finish with some corrosion resistance
  • Mechanically galvanized - deposits more zinc than electrogalvanizing for increased corrosion resistance
  • Hot-dip galvanized - provides a rough finish that deposits more zinc than other methods, resulting in very high corrosion resistance that is suitable for some acidic and treated lumber; often easier to bend than other types of nails
  • Head - round flat metal piece affixed to the top of the nail; for increased holding power
  • Helix - the nail has a square shank that has been twisted; this makes the nail very difficult to pull out; often used in decking
  • Length - distance from the head to the point of a nail
  • Phosphate-coated - a dark grey to black finish providing a surface that binds well with paint and joint compound and minimal corrosion resistance
  • Point - sharpened end opposite the "head" for greater ease in driving
  • Ring Shank - small rings on the shank to prevent the nail from being worked back out often used in flooring
  • Shank - the body the length of the nail between the head and the point; may be smooth, or may have rings or spirals for greater holding power
  • Sinker - Same thin diameter as a box nail, cement coated (see above), with a grid embossed on the head to keep the hammer from slipping; these are the common nails used in framing today
  • Spike - a large nail (usually over 4" - 100 mm)

See also


  1. ^ Bible, 1 Chronicles 22:3.
  2. ^ "Penny". Retrieved 2010-01-10.  
  3. ^ H. Littlehales (1905). Medieval Rec. London City ChurchCited in the Oxford English Dictionary under "Penny" with a quote from 1426-1427.  
  4. ^ Norman Scott Brien Gras (1918). The Early English Customs System. Harvard University Press, Cambridge (MA). p. 701Cited at [1] with a quote from 1507.  
  5. ^
  6. ^ Stanley Rule and Level Co. (1914). "Tool Catalogue No. 34". p. 137. Retrieved 2010-01-10.  

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