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Nail sizes explained

Nail length

Around most of the world, the length of nails are given in inches or centimetres, however in the USA they define the length of nails in 'pennies' or 'd'. If you come across a woodworking plan drawn in the USA you are likely to hit the problem of working out how long these 'penny' nails are. Here we give a cross reference from pennies to inches and centimetres.

penny size  
 inches cm Typical Wire nails per pound
1.00 2.540 875
1.25 3.175 568
1.50 3.810 315
1.75 4.445 270
2.00 5.080 180
2.25 5.715 160
2.50 6.350 105
2.75 6.985 95
3.00 7.620 70
3.25 8.255 65
3.50 8.890 50
4.00 10.160 30
4.50 11.430 25
5.00 12.700 17
5.50 13.970 15
6.00 15.240 10

For those who are interested, the penny values of nails appear to have originated in England centuries ago and was the price for a 100 nails from a blacksmith - obviously before the days of inflation!

Tips for using nails

  1. As a rule of thumb, the length of nails should be at least three times the thickness of the board (or top piece of timber) being fixed.
  2. 'Bright' steel nails have no protective finish so are liable to rust.
  3. Zinc is often use as a protective finish to steel nails, either 'hot dipped' or electro-galvanised - the first tends to give a dull finish while the latter a bright finish. 'Hot dipped' are more resistant to corrosion than the electro-galvanised type.
  4. Most nails have smooth shanks, ring shank nails have a series of rings around the shank. Ring shank nails have better gripping characteristics when used in soft wood.
  5. Spiral shank nails have a spiral along the shank, these have better gripping characteristics when used with hard wood.
  6. Aluminium nails are used for fixing aluminium, they are also used to fix roof tiles as they do not rust. Aluminium nails are not strong enough for most structural applications.
  7. Stainless steel nails are slightly less strong than ordinary steel (whether zinc coated or not) and are a lot more expensive - they are however rust resistant.


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