When to Use Nails vs. Screws

Ask a con­trac­tor or DIY­er if they pre­fer nails vs. screws, and you’ll get a dif­fer­ent answer every time. Every­one has a favorite, but there are bet­ter times to use nails vs. screws. Let’s run through the var­i­ous appli­ca­tions and oppor­tu­ni­ties to use both. 

Nails vs. Screws: What’s the Difference?

Both nails and screws have their pur­pose, but for a long time, nails were select­ed over screws on projects because they were quick­er to fas­ten in place. 

How­ev­er, advance­ments made in tool tech­nol­o­gy changed all of this. As elec­tric and pneu­mat­ic screw­drivers became more com­mon­place, the pop­u­lar­i­ty of screws grew expo­nen­tial­ly,” accord­ing to Pop­u­lar Mechan­ics. But the real quan­tum leap for pow­er-dri­ving screws coin­cid­ed with the intro­duc­tion of the cord­less drill/​driver, the most pop­u­lar portable pow­er tool ever invented.” 

Nails vs. Screws: What’s the Difference?

Because screws are much eas­i­er to remove than nails (you just adjust your pow­er drill to reverse), they come in handy on tem­po­rary projects that might need adjust­ing lat­er on. 

Nails bring a few ben­e­fits to your project, but it depends on what kind of project you’re up to. 

Nails are a favorite for large jobs in con­struc­tion because they’re cheap­er than screws and offer shear strength — or the abil­i­ty to with­stand shear pres­sure, where two sur­faces slide past each other. 

But screws offer supe­ri­or ten­sile strength over nails. This makes screws bet­ter for projects when joined pieces are under ten­sion or bear­ing weight, like porch rail­ings or kitchen cab­i­netry. Anoth­er ben­e­fit of screws is their resis­tance to with­draw­al pres­sure, or the ten­den­cy of sur­faces to pull apart,” says Bob Vila.

Where Should I Use Nails vs. Screws?

There are a few ways to decide which fas­ten­er to use on your job. We’ll help you break that down, depend­ing on which type of project you’re work­ing on. 

Exterior Jobs

Nails are a pop­u­lar selec­tion for roof­ing, sid­ing and sheath­ing projects. The amount of fas­ten­ers that are need­ed in these projects makes nails a more attrac­tive choice because they offer a low­er price point.

Decking Applications

Decking Applications

Screws pro­vide stronger hold­ing pow­er and work well for deck­ing projects. Upgrades in fas­ten­er tech­nol­o­gy have made it even eas­i­er to install deck­ing screws, and hid­den fas­ten­er appli­ca­tions help to fur­ther improve the look of your deck. 

Interior Finishes

For jobs like mold­ing or base­board instal­la­tions, nails are often used for their price and user-friend­ly appli­ca­tions. They’re also a bit more dis­creet in these appli­ca­tions and won’t show up as much as a screw might in more del­i­cate trim pieces.


Screws are often cho­sen for sub­floor instal­la­tions because their join­ing strength helps to pre­vent squeaky floors. Nails are more flex­i­ble and will give a lit­tle more with hard­wood floor­ing, so they’re often the choice for pan­el instal­la­tion. Because the wood expands and con­tracts as a reac­tion to mois­ture, nails pro­vide a more flex­i­ble fas­ten­ing job.

Cabinetry Applications

Screws pro­vide a stronger joint and work well in cab­i­netry, fur­ni­ture and sim­i­lar wood­work­ing projects. Screws are also good for mount­ing hard­ware and trim, con­struct­ing cab­i­nets and join­ing fur­ni­ture parts, like attach­ing a table­top to a base,” says Bob Vila.

Framing Applications

Nails have long been cho­sen for big­ger projects, like fram­ing, because of their cost. They’re pop­u­lar for fram­ing jobs because they’re quick to install and save upfront on price tags. But there have been advance­ments in screw tech­nol­o­gy over the last few years, and some man­u­fac­tur­ers have cre­at­ed pneu­mat­ic dri­vers for screws to help with your fram­ing job. 

Framing Applications

While you might use screws or nails in your fram­ing instal­la­tion, dry­wall screws are pre­ferred for attach­ing dry­wall. (It’s in the name, after all.)

Once you know the type of project you’ll be work­ing on, choos­ing your fas­ten­ers should be a bit easier. 

Best Practices and Tips for Working With Fasteners

Before you head to the hard­ware store, take a few extra notes on these best prac­tices so you make the best choice for your job. 

  • Hand installing a 4‑inch nail can be chal­leng­ing and require a heav­ier ham­mer; if a longer fas­ten­er is called for, it’s usu­al­ly eas­i­er to work with a screw. 

  • Some holes will need to be predrilled before installing a fas­ten­er, depend­ing on the thickness/​density of the sur­face you’re work­ing on. Fas­ten­ing jobs on mason­ry will often require holes to be predrilled.

  • Decid­ing between an inte­ri­or or exte­ri­or fas­ten­er? These are dif­fer­en­ti­at­ed by their coat­ings. The prod­ucts are rat­ed as inte­ri­or or exte­ri­or, depend­ing on which envi­ron­ments those coat­ings work best in. 

  • Even if you’re doing your project DIY, code-com­pli­ant and approved prod­ucts are best to use upfront — it will pre­vent call­backs or hav­ing to do the job over again lat­er on. 

When you work with a rep­utable fas­ten­er man­u­fac­tur­er, you know you’re get­ting high-qual­i­ty prod­ucts and tech­ni­cal sup­port on your project. Some prod­uct man­u­fac­tur­ers even pro­vide addi­tion­al instal­la­tion guid­ance if you want to see how prod­ucts will work.

When You Need Worry-Free Solutions

When You Need Worry-Free Solutions

Decid­ing between fas­ten­ers is prob­a­bly not the biggest task on your to-do list. But under­stand­ing which fas­ten­ers are avail­able for your projects, the deci­sion will be an easy one. When you work with prod­ucts you trust, you don’t need to wor­ry about the job being done right. 

There are hun­dreds of fas­ten­ers to choose from, but it makes a dif­fer­ence when you use the right prod­uct for your project. Check out our selec­tion of fas­ten­ers: Whether you’re build­ing out your deck to enter­tain this year or need to remod­el, Fas­ten­Mas­ter offers plen­ty of reli­able solu­tions to choose from.