Nail Fasteners vs. Screw Fasteners – When to Use Them

The nail fastener and screw fastener perform very similar functions. They are both designed for use in holding two objects together, or a single object to a surface or substrate. This being the case, you might think that nail fasteners and screw fasteners are interchangeable in their application. They aren’t. Each one has different strengths, and are better suited to different tasks.

Difference Between a Nail Fastener and a Screw Fastener

Generally, screw fasteners have better holding power and strength compared to nail fasteners. You can even use them in most applications over nails. There are a few exceptions here, such as when the fastener needs to disappear, or sit flush with the surface. Some other exceptions include cases where speed is an important factor, as well as cost. In these cases, nails are cheaper, faster to install, and easier to hide in finish details.

Shear and Tensile Stress

When choosing between a screw fastener and a nail fastener, consider the types of pressures they can withstand.

Nail Fastener. Nail Fasteners.

Shear Strength

This refers to the ability of a fastener to withstand lateral pressures. You could liken this to wind blowing against the side of a house. Here, nail fasteners are your best bet. Even under extreme pressures, they will bend, rather than snap. Screws will often snap under these conditions, as hardened steel makes up their construction.

Tensile Strength

Tensile strength refers to the ability of a fastener to withstand pressures that pull a structure apart. Here, think of fasteners used to attach a board to a substrate. The repeated bending of the board can cause a nail to gradually loosen and eventually fall out of the substrate over time. Screw fasteners will hold, though, thanks to their threads.

Screw Fastener. Screw Fasteners.

When to Use Nails

The nail fastener is cheap, fast to install, and better for finish carpentry.

Large Scale Projects

Nail fasteners are usually preferred for larger projects. This is due to the fact that you can install them quickly with nail guns. They are also less expensive than screws.

Carpentry Finishes

Most of the time, a nail fastener is better in finish carpentry. Their thin shafts make them less likely to split wood. Finishing nails are also less visible than screws, thanks to their small flatheads. In some situations, nail fasteners cannot provide enough holding strength than a screw. In those cases, you will need a trim screw, which has a smaller head than a typical screw.

When to Use Screws

The screw fastener has much more holding power than nails due. They also have high failure strength, making them better suited to high-stress structural projects. Additionally, screw fasteners are easier to remove than nails.

Structures and Weight-Bearing Objects

The structural screw fastener has completely replaced lag bolts and large nails in this area. They are also a better option for weight-bearing structures, such as cabinet doors and handrails. If you are trying to prevent two materials pulling apart, then screw fasteners are the way to go.

Small or Temporary Projects

It is easier to install nails, but it’s also easier to remove a screw fastener. This makes them ideal for temporary projects. Eg, you may want to fasten a board to a wall while installing cabinets. In this case, use screws before anything else.


Drywall often crumbles when you hammer a nail into it, unlike installing a screw. Another advantage here is that screws have holding power. Nails are more likely to pull out of drywall after hammering.

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