Many people – even some contractors – have a hard time deciding when it’s best to use nails or screws for certain applications. In this short post, I hope to set the record straight so that you (the reader) know the answer.
Nowadays, people tend to gravitate toward screws for most applications; and, indeed, developments in screws have produced some very appealing pieces of the popular hardware that make certain types of screws very appealing. I remember my first time driving a GRK screw into a board and being in shock at how effortlessly the screw went in. Still, nails do have their place, and understanding when to use nails or screws begins with understanding the pros and cons of each.
Nails possess more shear strength than screws. As a nail is twisted or bent it will withstand stress far longer than a screw will under the same force. For this reason, nails are a better option for the framing members of a structure because these members go through twisting and bending as the structure endures force from different directions over time.
Screws, however, possess more tensile strength than nails. Tensile strength refers to a fastener’s ability to remain attached to another component under pressure from tension. Think of two pieces pushed together, side-by-side. Screws used in combination with an adhesive are especially effective at holding components together.
Decks are a good example of where each type of fastener should be used. Nails should be used for the framing members, such as support posts, girders and joists, that will endure load from multiple angles, especially from downward force. Screws are a better option, though, for securing the decking boards to the underlying framing members as they will do a better job of keeping the boards attached to the support system beneath.
So, as a general rule, framing components should be secured with nails, and materials attached to framing members should be secured with screws. The bottom and top plates and studs of a wall are best secured with nails, but the plywood or OSB sheathing attached to the walls are best secured with screws. The trusses or rafters and ridge beam of a roof are best secured with nails, whereas the roof decking is best attached to those members with screws.
To determine the appropriate type and size of nails or screws, consult your local building codes. This information is easy to find and readily accessible.
Hopefully this post has helped you decipher the nails versus screws debate. Both have their place, and it’s important to know when to use each to have a well-built home that will withstand the many pressures exerted on it over time.
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