Nails Vs. Screws — a Clear Guide on What to Use When.

Nails vs. screws: Which one is best? I think we have all been to the point where we have asked this question. It can be confusing when you are trying to build something with wood. If you like to make a piece of furniture at home or do some framing work, it can be hard to choose between using nails vs. screws for holding things.

You will ask yourself: What is the difference between nails and screws? What are they used for? And how do I know which one I need for this particular project I’m working on?
To get your answers, you need to understand these types of fasteners, so you will know exactly which one to use when.

In short, the difference between nails vs. screws is that nails are less brittle than screws with their thinner shanks. Due to their strength, nails are mainly used in construction and carpentry applications, where the parts of the wood joints can move opposite each other and create shear pressure due to environmental influences such as wind and moisture. Where there is no danger of movement in a joint or shear pressure, screws can be used.

In this clear guide, I will go more in-depth into this. That way, it will be much clearer for you. Remember that there is no good, bad, or superior fastener. It is about knowing your project, the different types of fasteners, and understanding what the best option is for that particular project you are working on.

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What is the difference between a nail and a screw?

The most significant difference between nails vs. screws is that a nail is a thin metal spike with a round head, while a screw is a threaded fastener.

A screw has a threaded and smaller shaft than a nail, with a threaded tip, which is designed to create a tight hold on whatever it’s inserted into, like, for example, wood or the wall plug you are using.

You can find screws made of different metals, like steel, stainless steel, brass, and even titanium.

Nails on the other hand do not have a threaded shaft. In fact, a nail is just a shank that can be hammered into something like wood.

Because of the stress created when the nail is pounded in, a nail can firmly link two components. The wood fibers shift aside to enable the nail to pass due to the shock effect that happens when a nail is rapidly pushed through. The nail will be clamped after the fibers have returned to their original position.

On some occasions, on the shank of the nail, there can be small ribbing, which helps the nail to stick even better to the material it is driving into.

Nails are mostly made of iron or steel. They are very durable and relatively cheap to make, which makes them a great choice for someone who needs a lot of fasteners, but not a lot of money. Of course, this can only be done if you have the option to choose between nails vs. screws for the project you are working on.

Nails vs. screws: which is stronger?

Nails vs. screws — a clear guide on what to use when. strength

If you only look at the strength between nails vs. screws based on the material from which they are made and their construction, the nail wins over the screw. That can be explained logically.

A nail has a full-core shank, while a screw has a thinner shank. The screw has a thinner shaft because the thread around it takes up space. If the screw had a thicker shank, the screw would be more difficult to drive in and the risk of cracking the wood would be greater.

A second reason that the nail is stronger is that it is made of steel, while sometimes softer metals are used for making screws, such as stainless steel.

On the other hand, if we look at the pull, or load capacity, between nails vs. screws then the screw beats the nail by a big margin. The thread around the shaft of the screw allows it to grip the material into which the screw is driven. As a result, the bearing capacity is up to 10 times higher than a nail.
You can also see this in the comparative table below.

PenetrationLoad capacity NailLoad capacity screw
0 – 1 inch – 0 – 25mm53 lb – 25 kg625 lb – 285 kg
1 – 1.5 inch – 25 – 40mm98 lb – 45 kg705 lb – 320 kg
1.5 – 2 inch – 40 – 50 mm220 lb – 100 kg875 lb – 400 kg
2 – 2.5 inch – 50 – 65mm319 lb – 1451580 lb – 720 kg
Load capacity nails s. screws

In this nails vs screws load capacity chart, I’ve made a rough comparison with all the numbers I found in my research. The loading capacity will depend, among other things, on the type of material used, and the numbers will also change when the diameter of the nails or screws changes. But thanks to this table, you now have a good impression of how much the difference in bearing capacity between nails vs. screws is.

So to answer the question of which one is stronger, nails vs. screws, you could say that the nail will win if it has to deal with a lot of sideways force or shear pressure. On the other hand, a screw would be a better option when the load on the fastener is larger. This means that a nail will be pulled out of the wood faster than a screw by hanging the same weight on it.

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What are the main reasons for using a nail over a screw or vice versa?

Now that we know that both nails and screws have advantages and disadvantages, all you need to know is which one to use for the project you’re working on.
The answer is really more straightforward than you would assume. You may establish logical connections using what you remember from the previous portions of this article.

You can choose which fastener to use by asking only one question.

The question is, will the wooden components I wish to connect be able to move relative to each other and put pressure on the nail or screw?

Wood is a flexible and soft material that may expand and compress in response to environmental variables. Moisture and temperature are important factors in this.
When wood comes into contact with moisture, it absorbs the moisture, causing the wood to expand. When the temperature rises, the wood dries out and shrinks again. As a result, when exposed to these conditions, the wood might be in continual motion.

Because these elements are more prevalent in an outdoor setting than in an interior environment, the movement of the wood will be greater outside. However, there is a third component that might cause the wood to move outside, and that is wind. Even at moderate wind speeds, the impact on a wooden building or roof, for example, might be significant.

So, if the parts of your connection may move against each other as a result of one of these factors, the shear pressure imposed on the fastener will be significant. Then it is prudent to use the strongest fastening available, which is the nail.

That is also why, while constructing timber frames for buildings or roofs, construction workers usually use nails. If they used screws, the slightest movement between the wooden sections would simply shatter the screws in the place where they hold the parts together.

An additional advantage for construction work, is that nails are cheaper to purchase and are also much faster to apply, especially when using a nail gun.

Of course, there are always exceptions to using nails, such as when installing a wooden deck. In addition to the strain on the fastener, there is the possibility of the wood warping, allowing the fastener to be pulled free. In this case, screws are recommended over nails when installing a wooden deck since they have a stronger pulling force, but be sure to use stainless screws.

However, if you are certain that no stress may develop up between the various pieces, you can use screws outside without issue.

Indoors, the impact of moisture and temperature on the wood is significantly lower, allowing you to use a screw without being worried.
Also, here, there are exceptions to using nails. For example, for decorative purposes, or when you need to temporarily fasten wood with brad nails, or if you are going to use the same brad nails since they are fast or are not apparent due to the small head.

Where to find the best nails and screws

For as long I do woodwork, there are two brands of screws I have used, pgb fasteners and Spax. I like both of them, but the advantage of pgb fasteners is that they also offer nails, bolts, nuts, and a lot of other fasteners. You can check out their website here and search where there is a dealer in the neighborhood.

Nails vs. screws – Conclusion

As mentioned in this article, nails are frequently used for construction joints in an outdoor location since they can handle the strain of wood movement better than screws, which would break in this situation.
Screws are more likely to be used in interior conditions or where the wood cannot be moved or only moves very little.

Understanding the strengths and disadvantages of both nails vs. screws is essential for making the best choice between nails vs. screws. With this knowledge, you can now make the best decision based on the surroundings and the sort of connection you will be making.

When you choose to use screws on your project, just think of the necessity of a pilot hole for a moment.
Will making a pilot hole give you some advantages? What is the best way to make a pilot hole? How big should a pilot hole be?
Those are all questions that will be answered by reading my article, — Is a pilot hole necessary? Clearly explained for the best result!
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