Your Guide to Buying Nails

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Nails seem like an obvious part of everyone’s world. But when it’s time to buy nails it suddenly becomes obvious that there are more kinds of nails than most people imagined. At the very least, there are too many kinds of nails to choose among without knowing more about what each nail does and when it’s appropriate to use.

Some nails are long and skinny; some are silvery shiny. Some have big tops that look like they’d be very easy to hit with a hammer, some have spirals around their shanks, and some, for seemingly inexplicable reasons, come rolled up in bundles like a mobster’s ammunition magazines.

So, with a particular project in mind, it’s time to choose the right nails. Whether it’s a repair to the deck, a shelf to be built, or a chair rail and wainscot to be installed in the dining room, instead of trying to make a random selection of nails, here’s some guidance. Below is basic information about nails; what kinds of nails are used for what projects; guidance for the length of nails needed; and information about whether a nail gun or a hammer is best for certain projects.

Basic Information About Nails

Below are some of the most common terms used to describe nails and definitions to help make the nail buying process easier.


Gauge, abbreviated ga, refers to the gauge of the wire from which the nail is made. The lower the number, the heavier the wire. Most often, brads and finish nails are described according to their gauge. An 18 ga nail would typically be a brad, used for lightweight interior work.

Ten Penny Nail

A ten penny nail is a nail 3 inches long that gets its name from its original price per 100 in the 15th century. It is abbreviated on packaging as 10d, according to the Roman abbreviation for denarius, which the British retained for penny.

Finish Nail

A finish nail is a nail made of 15 gauge or 16 gauge wire that is sturdy enough to support crown moldings and other interior finishes that are too heavy for brads, which are 18 gauge.

Galvanized Nail

A galvanized nail has had a coating of zinc applied to the outside to protect against rust. These nails are typically used in outdoor or framing applications. The zinc may be applied as a hot dip or electroplated.

Brad Nail

A brad is an 18 gauge nail with a very small, cylindrical head. The entire head of the brad is enclosed in the wood when brads are used for fastening. This leaves a relatively level surface that often needs no further filling before painting or finishing.

Angled Nails

Angled nails are designed for use in nail guns and are convenient for easily nailing in corners and other tight spots. They also can make it easier to "toenail" two elements together that are perpendicular to each other.

How Many Nails Are in a Pound?

When working on a project that requires a large quantity of nails, it is sometimes cost-effective to buy nails in bulk. Bulk packaging of nails is usually done by weight rather than number of nails, so they are sold in pounds. The number of nails in a pound depends entirely on the kind of nails. Here are some approximate guidelines for several kinds of nails typically sold by the pound:



Common Nails

Finish Nails

Galvanized Roofing Nail

1 inch

11 ga


1.25 inch

11 ga


1.5 inch




1.5 inch

11 ga


1.75 inch

11 ga


2 inch




2 inch

11 ga


2.5 inch




2.5 inch

11 ga


3 inch




3.25 inch




3.5 inch




4 inch




The number of nails in a one-pound package of these frequently used types can vary from as few as 30 to as many as 530, depending on the size and weight of the particular nail.

What Kinds of Nails Are Used for What Projects?

In various home improvement projects, a range of kinds of nails might be required for different kinds of activities:


Kind of Nail



Common nails

The quintessential nail: dull gray, large head, long shank of 2.5 to 4 inches


Roofing nails

Galvanized, 1 to 2.5 inches long or copper for copper roofs


Siding nails, which are slightly different for wood, aluminum, and vinyl siding

Galvanized or stainless, with ring- or spiral-threaded shanks to maximize holding power

Framing Basement Interiors

Often, concrete or masonry nails will be required

Heavy gauge, 0.5 inch to 1 inch long, with ring- or spiral-threaded shanks to maximize holding power

Decks and Porches

Common nails

Stainless steel or hot-dipped galvanized to best stand up to weather

Doors and Windows

Finish nails, roofing nails

2.5-inch finish nails; 1.5 inch roofing nails


Special paneling nails or finish nails

Made of aluminum and colored to match typical paneling materials


Finish nails or brads

Usually 16 to 18 gauge, depending on the weight of the molding


Finish nails or hardwood floor cleats designed specifically for this purpose

Usually installed with nail guns or pneumatic nailers


Drywall nails

Have large heads, ringed shanks, and a phosphate coating to help resist corrosion.


Upholstery nails in various finishes

Large, often decorative heads

Hanging pictures, blinds, curtains

Small brads or finish nails

Usually included in package along with fixtures

Several specialty kinds of nails are also available, including:

  •     Cable nail clips, which anchor cables to walls or baseboards; and
  •     Mirror " nails," which actually are screws with a decorative top that is attached after the mirror has been fastened to the wall.

    How Will Nails Be Installed?

    Hammers and pneumatic hammers, or "nail guns," are the tools commonly used to install nails.

    Hammers are one of the first tools in any toolbox and remain valuable no matter how extensive the woodworker’s toolset. Fine wire nails such as finish nails and brads are best installed with a lightweight tack hammer. A tool called a nail set or nail punch is used to push the heads just below the surface of the wood. A standard claw hammer is used for general purpose nailing.

    Nail guns are often purchased for large projects or when a homeowner has discovered a passion for woodworking that leads to multiple projects. Pneumatic nail guns install each nail with a single blast of air.

    Some nails for nail guns are purchased in sheets, like staples, that are inserted into long chambers at the bottom of the nail gun. Other nails with larger heads are attached in coils and the user removes the section desired and drops that section of the coil into the nail chamber of the nail gun.

    What Length Nail Is Needed?

    The section of nail that is inserted into the wall, second piece of wood, or stud is what actually holds your project together. The rule of thumb is that the total length of the nail should be three times the length of whatever you are nailing. So to nail a 0.75-inch molding to a bookshelf, a 2.25-inch nail would typically be used. But common sense also rules. If what is being nailed is lightweight, will bear more or less weight, or is being nailed into something that is more or less likely to split from the thickness of the nail, the selection of nail should be made accordingly.

    How to Shop for Nails

    It’s not true that every kind of project requires a specific kind of nail, but one kind of nail won’t do for every kind of project. So once you know what you plan to use your nails for, you are in a good position to choose the nails you need.

    If you simply want to have nails on hand for hanging pictures and the odd repair, a household nail assortment could be your best bet. It will get you started with a selection of lengths and gauges to handle basic needs, organized in a convenient divided box, leaving you free to expand on your collection later as needed.

    If, on the other hand, you have a specific project in mind, then you might start by consulting the table above for general information about the kind of nails used for that project. Nail length is most likely to be approximately three times the length of the item being joined.

    You can find nails in larger and smaller quantities in discount stores, warehouse home improvement stores, smaller neighborhood hardware stores, home stores run by charities that build and rebuild houses, and various online marketplaces, including eBay.

    Buying Nails on eBay

    When you’re shopping for nails on eBay, you can start by searching for Nails within the Home & Garden category . To narrow the selection to nails used for carpentry and woodworking, you may want to make choices that are related to your project. You may see suggestions related to specific kinds of nails, such as framing nails or finish nails. You may also want to consider tools related to nails, such as various kinds of nail guns. You will find that a wide selection of options is available.

    Identifying Quality Sellers

    Whether you are buying a new box of nails, a partially used box left after a project, or a nail gun, you want to be sure you are purchasing from vendors who provide quality products. On eBay, two ways to confirm a vendor’s reliability are to check the feedback left by prior customers and to choose to purchase from top rated sellers. These are vendors who have demonstrated, over many transactions, that they provide top levels of reliability and customer service.


    As common as nails may be, there are many kinds used in ordinary woodworking. The person who is getting started may choose to purchase a kit of assorted nails to have on hand a small number of various sizes and weights for needs that may occur. But once specific projects are undertaken, the nails appropriate for those projects will be required.

    Buying the right kind of nail is not a great mystery. Nails are categorized by size, gauge, and the metals used to make or finish them. The shank form also helps determine the suitability of a particular nail for a given project.

    With just a little experience, choosing the right nail will seem no more complicated than choosing the right wrench. You pick the nail that fits the job. Soon enough, that sense of "fit" will become almost intuitive.

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