Nailing is quick, requires little or no preparation, gives a per¬manent joint, needs only the simplest tools, and is a cheap method of fixing or joining things together.
Nails are most frequently associated with woodworking but they are also used for roofing (fixing waterproof felt to roof timbers), upholstery (fixing layers of materials to the base frame), masonry and many other specialist tasks.
The most common nails are manufactured from mild steel wire and are used in woodworking. They can be either circular in section with a flat circular head (called round wire nails) or oval with an oval head for driving into the wood surface (called oval wire nail). Mild steel nails are fairly soft and may bend if they are not driven in squarely. They also rust in damp condi¬tions unless they are protected by a coat of paint and are incompatible with woods such as oak and some other hard¬woods a chemical reaction takes place which produces a blue stain in the wood and this will streak when it is dampened.
For purposes such as these, galvanised – zinc-plated – nails are available which are not a lot more expensive than ordinary nails. These can be recognised by their dull grey finish.
The cheapest nails are called cut nails because they have been stamped from sheet steel. Cut clasp nails are used for rough carpentry and fixing wood to masonry; cut floor brads are used for securing floorboards.
Other nails available include panel pins which are small, thin nails with particularly small heads which can be punched unobtrusively below the wood surface. These can be bought with a copper-plated finish making them suitable for fitting hardboard panels (do not confuse them with hardboard nails which have a square cross-section) and tongued-and-grooved matchboarding in areas susceptible to condensation, like kitch¬ens and bathrooms. Masonry nails are made of harder steel and can be hammered into the softer types of concrete, stone and other masonry. Also fairly easy to buy are upholstery nails with many different decorative finishes and nails for fixing carpets and roof coverings. Staples are useful for many jobs; square ones are put in with a staple gun.
The size of a nail is usually expressed as its length. Nails are usually sold in im¬perial sizes but metric ones are gradually being introduced – in most cases the metric sizes are very close to their imperial equivalents. The thickness of a nail is generally related to its length but a few types are available in different thick¬nesses for the same length. Obviously, the thicker the nail the stronger and the better it should be gripped by the wood. But nails which are too thick could split the wood, especially if they are hammered in too close to the end.
Nails are normally sold loose and by weight usually 1/2 lb or 1lb or 1/2 kg or 1kg at a lime. Small nails and pins are often sold in quantities of 50g. If you want very few nails, pre¬packs may be your best choice. Buying in pre-packs is generally more expensive than bulk buying but does reduce the like¬lihood of you mixing together various sizes of nail and keeps them labelled and clean. If you do not pack bulk-bought wire nails carefully they will soon corrode and they can be very difficult to sort through once the sizes are mixed.