What Size Nails for Framing: Common & Box Nail Size Guide

Groundbreaking for a new building is a beautiful sight. Seeing your housing project move from bare land to a full-frame is a better sight. But have you thought about what makes a strong house? A strong frame gives the house a robust look and reassures you of safe construction. 

Yet, you can’t have a sturdy frame with weak or ill-fitting nails. Getting the proper nails for framing is the difference between a sturdy frame and a flimsy housing project bound to fail. 

For framing 2×4 dimensional lumber, most builders use nail guns with 16d, 10-gauge, 3-1/2 inch nails to increase speed and efficiency. These work great for framing houses, sheds, and other structures. While 16d, 8-gauge, 3-1/2 inch common or sinker nails are best for structural strength, they’re slower and more labor-intensive. Nailing larger dimensional lumber needs a nail that is slightly smaller than the lumber width.

You’ll need more than one nail size to finish all your interior and exterior framing. So let’s dig deeper into what you need to check when choosing framing nails. 

Common Nail Size and Gauge Chart:

Nail SizeGaugeShank LengthHead Diameter
2d nails151″3/16″
3d nails141 1/4″13/64″
4d nails121 1/2″1/4″
5d nails121 3/4″1/4″
6d nails112″17/64″
8d nails102 1/2″9/32″
10d nails93″5/16″
12d nails93 1/4″5/16″
16d nails83 1/2″11/32″
20d nails64″13/32″
30d nails54 1/2″7/16″
40d nails45″15/32″
60d nails46″17/32″

Box Nail Size and Gauge Chart:

Nail SizeGaugeShank Length
3d nails14-1/21 1/4″
4d nails141 1/2″
5d nails141 3/4″
6d nails12-1/22″
7d nails12-1/2 2 1/4″
8d nails11-1/22 1/2″
10d nails10-1/23″
12d nails103 1/4″
16d nails103 1/2″
20d nails94″

Why are 16d Nails the Right Size for Framing?

Framing is high-precision work. It provides structural integrity to houses and any wood-frame structures. Therefore, a strong support structure is essential for completing your building project. 

16d Offers the Perfect Shank Length

Most framing projects use common 2×4 lumber. The standard 16d nail measures 3-1/2 inches long, the same for common and box nails. The only difference is the wire gauge; common 16d nails are made from the thicker 8-gauge wire, while 16d box nails use thinner 10-gauge wire. Either choice you make, using 16d framing nails ensures a solid structure that meets local building codes. 

A 4-inch, 20d nail is better for 2×6 lumber but could cause smaller 2×4 lumber to split. Use a 3-inch, 10d nail in 2×4 framing, and you won’t get less strength and be structurally inadequate.

Can You use 3 1/4 inch Nails for Framing?

Framing with 3-1/4 inch nails is suitable for structures in some areas. Local building codes dictate what nails are required. Often, you’ll find 3-1/4 nails used for interior framing of non-load bearing walls.

You can also use 3-1/4 inch nails for non-residential building projects like framing sheds, dog houses, or well-pump houses where structural integrity isn’t the top priority.

Why Framing Nails Keep Bending

If your framing nails keep bending, you’re likely using a thinner nail or using a poor hammering technique. Bending nails can also occur when you hit a knot in the wood that the nail is struggling to penetrate.

When preparing to nail with a hammer, place the nail between your fingers palm up (don’t pinch the nail with your fingertips) and place your hand directly against the board to hold the tip steady. Place the nail at a slight angle, and with the hammer, give the nail a solid start before driving the nail.

How to Choose the Best Nails

Choosing the proper nails goes beyond getting the right length and width. You need to ensure your nail selection is set to get you a strong structure to get the best result. In addition, you’ll need to check specific factors such as application, type of nail, and the strength of the nails. 

Why Common Nails are Stronger

Common nails are perfect general construction nails. They have a sharp point, a wide head for nailing, and a thinker shank.

A 16d common nail is 3-1/2 inches long with a wide 0.162-inch head for complete hammer-to-nail contact. The thick shank makes the nail strong enough to hold the frame together. The sharp point makes sure your nail penetrates the wood on each hit without damaging the fiber and possibly splitting the wood.

Why Builders Prefer Sinker Nails

Sinkers are the alternative to commons. Unlike commons, they have three different features that you might consider for your framing project. Sinkers have a sleeker, textured head that prevents the hammer sliding on glancing strikes. They also have an epoxy finish to help seal the nail and prevent them from backing out.

For some builders, sinkers are the best 16d nails for framing. The textured head is what scores it more brownie points with builders. The textured surface of the standard sinker 16d nail makes it less likely for the hammer to slip from the surface of the head.

The epoxy finish also makes the sinker edge out the common for framing. High humidity areas are susceptible to rusting. The epoxy finish provides a cover for the nail. The cover prevents it from rusting and weakening the structural support of the frame. 

Also, the epoxy finish makes it easy for the sinker nail to go into wood more smoothly without splitting the wood. If you cannot find epoxy finish 16d nails for framing, you can use the alternative- vinyl finish 16d sinker nails. They have the same easy-slide and rust resistance benefits. 

Smooth or Ring Shank Nails: Which are Better

Ring shank nails have ring threading around the shank that locks down the nail and prevents it from backing out. Ring shank nails are not typically used for framing. The threading prevents the nail from backing out, which resists rusting.

Do Ring Shank Nails Hold Better?

Ring shank nails hold better than smooth nails, making them an excellent choice for nailing down plywood or OSB subflooring or roof decking, siding, and decking boards. However, there is no benefit to using ring shank nails as a framing nail over commons or sinkers.

Are 16d Box Nails Suitable for Framing?

Builders routinely use 16d box nails for framing. 16d box nails are used in framing nail guns and don’t need as thick of a shank. Box nails are a category of 16d nails made initially to reduce the likelihood of wood splitting. 

However, box nail shanks are thinner than commons or sinkers. As a result, they lack the width it would take to support a structural load.

The thicker shank in commons and sinkers is partly because they don’t bend as easily during hammering. Because the nailer uses compressed air to drive the nails, the smaller shanks don’t bend as frequently, which means you could get more nails in a pack.

What You’re Framing Matters

We’ve discussed how 16d commons and sinkers are the perfect nails for framing a standard building project. However, what happens when you’re looking to build a small-scale structure like a shed? You can opt to use smaller 12d nails for the job.

What Size Nails for Shed Framing?

While you can frame a shed with 16d nails, you could save by using 12d nails instead. 12d nails are only 1/4 inch shorter than 16d nails but have the same size shank. 12d and 16d box nails both have a 10-gauge shank. In commons and sinkers, 16d nails have an 8-gauge shank versus the 9-gauge shank in 12d nails.

So as you can see, there’s not a lot of difference between the two nails. So you can use 12d for framing a shed without a lot of difficulties.

What Size Nails for Framing Wall Studs?

Walls come in two types; load-bearing and nonbearing walls. Load-bearing wall framing needs 16d nails to ensure they have the necessary strength. Nonbearing partition walls don’t carry weight and can use 12d nails for framing. However, most builders will still use 16d nails anyway.

Some load-bearing walls are either double-studded walls or 2×6 wall framing, which carries more load and gives more room for insulation in exterior walls.

What Nail Size for Sistering Floor Joists?

Often when a floor joist has rot damage, sistering is used to fix the joist. Sistering involves placing a new dimensional lumber joist alongside a rotted joist. The sister joist now carries the load of the faulty joist.

You won’t need a 16d nail when sistering joists because it’ll be too long. The sum thickness of the two joists will be about 3-1/2 inches thick, so a 12d nail is sufficient for the job.

You’ll need to secure the new joist directly to the old joist with liquid nail adhesive and place several nails about 12 inches apart, alternating top and bottom so that there’s a nail about every 6 inches.

What Size Nails to use for Trusses?

Trusses are engineered to carry a specific load and therefore have particular requirements. Modern houses have booth floor and roof trusses. Trusses are secured to the wall framing by galvanized strapping or brackets. Since you’re not nailing two pieces of lumber together, you can use a shorter nail that only needs to drive through the galvanized plate and into the truss. 

The strapping or brackets have several pre-drilled holes, and each hole should be nailed to have strength. A 10d 9-gauge nail is perfect for nailing trusses. Since trusses are met with moisture, galvanized nails work best because they have the right properties to counter this vulnerability.

Galvanized nails are dipped in melted zinc to give them their protective zinc coating, which resists rust. Galvanized nails have a slightly rough feel if you glide your fingers on the shank. 

You could also use 3-inch structural screws in place of 10d galvanized nails.

What Nail Size for Framing with a Nail Gun

Construction is all about efficiency. Therefore, most construction workers will choose a nail gun over hand hammering. However, there’s a different set of rules when using a nail gun versus hand hammering. 

Nail guns are length-specific. The size of the nail you use needs to be compatible with the nail gun. Each gun comes with its nails. You need to check if your nail gun has a special requirement for manufacturer-specific nails.  

For framing with a nail gun, you’ll need a select the nail that suits what you are framing. For example, for non-loadbearing dimensional lumber, a 12d hot-dipped galvanized box nail will be sufficient for exterior use or a 12d vinyl-coated steel smooth framing nail for interior use.

12d nails are used in most nail guns. Sure, the naming is different. However, 12d nails for framing are 3¼ inch long. So the difference between 12d and 16d for framing is the ¼ inch length. Otherwise, they mostly have the same strength. 

Also, hand nailing 16d nails takes longer than using a nail gun. Therefore, If you use a nail gun with 16d nails, you might end up damaging the wood and putting the frame’s structural integrity at risk.

There are four types of nail guns, and each of them is suited for specific tasks. 

The framing nail gun is a heavy-duty gun. This is structured for shooting out 3 inch long nails. The framing gun is the bad boy you bring out for your main construction work, including building fences, nailing the decks, wood sheathing, and siding.

Local laws and community guidelines regulate their uses. The main reason for the rules is the nails have clipped heads. Check with your area’s residential laws to know if you’re within your rights to use the magazines. 

The other nail guns include:

Pin nailer: This is the nail gun for your DIY projects that require a soft touch. It’s handy for construction projects like door trimmings, window casing, and furniture trimming.

Finish nailer: Finish nailers are used with headless nails. Bring out this nail gun when you’re installing hardwood floors, putting up staircases, furniture, and building cabinets. 

Brad nailer: Brad nailers are equipped for 2-inch long nails. Your brad nailer won’t cut it with any of the house’s e exterior or interior framing. However, keep it handy for your “Just built this house” picture frames. 

Tips for Choosing and Using Nails for Framing

  • Buy extra nails

Overdriving nails is common at worksites. Bent nails are also common, especially using a hammer instead of a nail gun. Although the American Plywood Association says there’s no reduction in strength for nails overdriven by one-sixteenth or less, you can add one nail for every two overdriven nails. 

  • Don’t nail across the same grain line

Driving thick nails too close to each other across the same grain line increases the chances of splitting your wood. The distance the nail in a slight zigzag such that there is no clear fault line that might become too weak. 

  • Blunt your nails

Blunting nails is a trick used by builders to smooth the entry of the nails during construction. You can do this manually by hammering once the sharp tip of the nail. Therefore, the dull surface cuts through the wood fiber instead of splitting the wood.

  • Angle your nails during nailing

You can use your nails to make a stronger frame by driving nails straight into the wood, slightly angling each nail in the opposite direction from the last. Since they will not be in the same grain line, you make the frame more sturdy through the nailing. 

  • Avoid edges and ends

During framing, avoid nailing close to the edges and ends. Nail a few millimeters from the center of the wood. Pick a different spot if you notice signs of splitting as soon as you hammer in the nail. There is a big chance the wood will split if you insist on nailing a section that shows signs of splitting. 

Conclusion

Precision in framing is the difference between neat outcomes and costly mistakes. Now that you know the ins and outs of nail sizes, you can make easy choices at your next hardware store run for nails. 

Photo of author

Hubert Miles

I've been conducting home inspections for 17 years. I'm a licensed Home Inspector, Certified Master Inspector (CMI), and FHA 203k Consultant. I started HomeInspectionInsider.com to help people better understand the home inspection process and answer questions about homeownership and home maintenance.
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