construction tools

Differences Between Various Types of Screws and Nails

When you walk into a hardware store and ask for a screw without an idea on what particular type you’re looking for, you may be surprised by the myriad of options available in a single aisle. You may wonder what makes each of them different. Should you choose any and expect it to do the task you have in mind?

If you’re interested in simple DIY construction projects, it would be handy to be familiar with the different types of screws. You should also know when to use nails instead. That said, here are the different types of fasteners explained:

Screw vs. Nail

It’s easy to mistake a screw for a nail since the latter seems to be the general term for any fastener. The easiest way to distinguish a screw or a nail is to look at its shank — a screw should have helical threads along its length (either partially or entirely), while a nail doesn’t have those.

Both can be used to fasten wood together. In general, nails are mounted through hammers whereas screws are planted through screwdrivers, which explains the purpose of the helical threads. However, different nail and screw applications require varying types of tools. For example, drills and cordless nailers.

Types of Screws


  1. Wood Screws – Wood screws typically have an unthreaded portion below its head. This allows the wood to wood attachments to be tighter. The purpose of the unthreaded portion is to not force the head too deep into the wood, while the threaded tip is for securing the two the boards together.
  2. Drywall Screws – As the name suggests, these screws are specifically for installing drywall panels. But if you’re fastening drywall over metal studs, it’s recommended to search for self-drilling metal stud framing screws.
  3. Masonry Screws – A distinct trait of a masonry screw is its head that lacks a hole for a screwdriver, and their tips that aren’t pointed. You can use this screw to fasten wood or metal to concrete.
  4. Decking Screws – Their appearance is closely similar to a wood screw’s, only they’re usually longer. As the name implies, they’re to be used for exterior decking installations.
  5. MDF Screws – MDF stands for Medium Density Fiberboard. They also look like regular wood screws, only they require predrilling, as using a screwdriver may result in the wood splitting.

Types of Nails

  1. Common Nail – These are the nails you’d see in typical constructions works, with lengths varying from 1 to 6 inches. The largest ones are known as spikes.
  2. Box Nail – These look like a thinner version of a common nail. Running 1 to 3 inches, these nails aren’t suited for applications that require tough structural strength.
  3. Finishing Nail – This type is used to apply finishing touches to fastening works. They are commonly 1 to 4 inches long.
  4. Casing Nail – This type provides a strong holding power to window and door casings, generally speaking.
  5. Brad – They are also like finishing nails, but far smaller and shorter. They’re used in attaching plywood panels, making frames, and assembling cabinetry.

There are several other types of nails, such as drywall, flooring, roofing, and masonry, but as a DIYer, you won’t be likely to need those industrial types. Knowing these types of fasteners will be convenient enough. Basically, nails are preferred for general carpentry jobs, including framing walls, installing hardwood floors, and installing exterior house trims. On the other hand, screws are ideal for less heavy jobs, such as hanging drywall, installing cabinets, and fastening wood decking, to name a few.

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