Nails and Screws 101

A pile of nails and screws.

The majority of DIY projects around the home will require the use of nails or screws at some point. While picking out a metal fastener may sound easy, there are so many different kinds on the market that finding the right one can be hard. Here is a quick guide on everything you need to know about nails and screws for your next project.

Nails 101

A hammer next to a pile of nails.

A nail is one of the easiest ways to connect two objects. Nails are made out of a variety of materials but are most commonly steel. They also feature different coatings, such as galvanized, blued, or cemented, which help increase the strength of the nail and avoid rusting. Nails are usually sold based on their penny size. Back in the day, the penny size referred to the cost for 100 nails, and the system has stuck ever since, even though stores now sell them by the pound. Nails that are under 1 inch long are referred to as brads while anything more than 6 inches long is a spike.

Common Nails

Common nails are used when driving through thick and heavy materials. They are usually made out of wire and feature a robust head that is perfect for hammering into wood.

Box Nails

Box nails are smaller than your average nail and are great for lighter projects. Box nails are commonly used in DIY projects around the home.

Drywall Nails

These nails are created specifically for securing drywall. They usually feature rings and protrusions on the shaft that enable them to keep the drywall nice and snug.

Roofing Nails

Roofing nails are typically galvanized to help prevent rust. They also feature a massive head to make them easier to drive in without damaging the shingles underneath.

Finishing Nails

Finishing nails are used in projects where you do not want to see the head of the nail. They are very light compared to other nails and feature a tiny head for better concealment.


Tacks come in all shapes and sizes and are used to secure fabric and carpet to wood surfaces. You may be familiar with upholstery tacks, which feature decorative and plastic heads.

Masonry Nails

Masonry nails are used to penetrate through concrete and come in three different types: square, fluted, and round. Masonry nails are not made to support objects and should not be used in projects where a lot of holding power is needed.

Screws 101

Screws with a screwdriver.

While nails are a good option for securing two objects together, screws take holding power to another level. Not only can screws give you more strength, but they can also be removed if needed. Screws come in a variety of shapes, sizes and head types, so you want to make sure you use the right screw for the job. In most DIY projects, wood screws will get the job done just fine.

Sheet Metal Screws

Sheet metal screws are used to attach pieces of metal together. Sheet metal screws come in different types, including pointed panheads for light work and blunt panheads for heavy jobs.

Wood Screws

The most common form of wood screw is made from steel. These screws are ideal for projects that involve wood, though you may consider getting brass, copper, nickel, or bronze wood screws if you think corrosion may be an issue.

Machine Screws

Machine screws feature a blunt end and are typically used to hold two pieces of metal together. They come in all sorts of coatings and head types, including round head, oval head, fillister head and flat head.

Round Head Screws

A variety of tools on a workbench.

Round head screws are versatile and can be used with hard or soft materials, including wood and metal. Round head screws are usually either partial-tapping or self-tapping, which are used for heavier jobs.

Screw Drive Types

The drive type of the screw is just as important as anything else. Drive types include Phillips, slotted, combination, square, torx, socket, and one way. Phillips and slotted are the most common, though drives like torx are easier to screw through hard materials.