To Screw It or Nail It – How To Select The Proper Fastener for the Job

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screws-and-nailsI know it can be tempting to use whichever screws or nails you have laying around; I’ve been guilty of doing it myself on more than one occasion, but it really pays to use the proper fastener for the job. Otherwise, the result can be disastrous. It’s kind of like when a recipe calls for some crucial ingredient you realize you don’t have, but you just don’t feel like wasting the time on a trip to the store, so you substitute carob for chocolate, or throw in some cooking oil rather than an egg. The result just isn’t the same.  

So, here’s a brief (albeit not remotely complete) list of some different nails and screws that should only be used in specific circumstances:

Electro-galvanized Roofing Nails: Galvanized to withstand weather conditions, with a low profile head to secure shingles, roofing and siding. The head is too thin to be of any use on structural applications because it will shear off under weight.

Hot-dipped, Galvanized Nails: For use with pressure treated lumber. Always use galvanized nails or screws on exterior projects – anything else will rust and break down due to exposure. These nails are rated for strength and intended for structural support. Use for load bearing structures such as deck frameworks. They’re also relatively expensive and total overkill for many other types of projects, especially interior ones.

Tap-Con Concrete Screws: Designed for wood-to-concrete or masonry applications and commonly used in the framing of basements. Considering their expense and the large screw head, they’re impractical for other uses. For example, they shouldn’t be used to install something like a kitchen cabinet. The head is big and unsightly, and the screw is likely to split the wood.

Cabinet Screw
Image - McFeely'
Cabinet Screws: The wide, rounded head provides more structural surface area to hold the cabinet to the wall. Try to use this screw in a wood-to-masonry application, (or several others), and it’ll shear off every time.

Non-Corrosive Screw: These screws are powder coated, rust resistant and intended for use with Durock cement board.

Drywall Screws: A common misconception is that these screws work for most any project, partially because they’re cheap, easy to install and come in a range of sizes; but they’re meant to go into drywall. If used in any kind of weight bearing application like a decking or cabinetry install, they will eventually break. They have no structural rating and are not meant to support significant weight.

Now before anyone gets all fired up and tells me it certainly is possible to use one or all of these fasteners in a way other than their original purpose; I get it. I have successfully used drywall screws with small woodworking projects and the sky hasn’t fallen. Hell, I have a couple pictures hanging by a piece of twine wrapped around a small gauge brad nail, (I should know better.) But, for larger scale projects and any project you want to last and remain secure, using the correct nail or screw for the job goes a long way. Big box stores like, and other home improvement stores typically stock the proper fasteners right near the building products they’re meant to be used with.

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About Liz

Liz is a professional, custom picture framer based in Central New York. She and her contractor husband are currently renovating their second home together. At the time of this writing, they are not on speaking terms. Her love of making stuff with wood and DIY home projects began by watching her Dad. (It was also around this time Liz's incessant use of "colorful language" took root.) She's an avid gardener, stellar cook and doesn't throw like a girl: an all-around rad chick.

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1 thought on “To Screw It or Nail It – How To Select The Proper Fastener for the Job”

  1. One lesson I have learned the hard way is how cheaper is never better. The screws that come in little baggies in the big box hardware aisle are usually made of crap pot-metal or something similar and they will snap if you give them any kind of torque. Walk right past that section and then past the drywall screws to the end of the aisle where they have deck screws (exterior grade) and if you are lucky SPAX screws (German made). They cost more but you can drill them straight through a 2×4 and out the other side. Also the better screws often come with a matching Torx bit that makes driving them so much easier.


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