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How many times have you had a plumber, carpenter or handyman come to your place to fix something, finish the job in two minutes, then hand you a bill for hundreds of dollars? And didn’t he show up late, condescend to you, little lady, and not know enough to pull up his pants? Well, enough of that!

This column is going to teach you which tools to use for which home repair job, and how to make simple repairs and quick fixes. I’m not going to show you how to pour a foundation and build a house, but I am going to give you the confidence to take on those small jobs yourself. Ladies, if those guys can do it, you can do it. If they’re such geniuses, how come they’re not neurosurgeons? So say goodbye to that over-charging, under-servicing Mr. Fix-It you’ve been using, wave to him as he drives away in his eight-year-old pick-up, lift up your toolbox, and let’s get to it.

You’re Nailed
As Much About Nails As It’s Worth Knowing!

When I say “nails,” do you think of carpentry or your manicure? Either way, read this column. Not because I need to be needed – well a little of that. But, mostly because one day you’ll run into a project that’s going to require (hardware) nails and if you want to save a lot of aggravation that may cause you to bite your (finger) nails, you need to know how to select the proper (hardware) nail and use it correctly.

There are lots of types of nails out there: flooring, masonry, roofing, siding, deck, etc. They should be used, not surprisingly, for flooring, masonry, roofing, siding, decks, etc. But, since you’re not likely to be laying your own hardwood floor, putting on a new roof or re-siding your home solo, you’ll most likely need to use Common Nails, Finish Nails, Brads, or Tacks.

Common Nails have a generous flat head which will sit on the surface. Use these for any project where appearance in not that critical or the nail head won’t be seen at all.

Finish Nails have a small head which you can make flush with the surface or even countersink. Countersinking is when you use a nail set to drive the nail below the surface and then fill in the little hole with wood putty which can be sanded, painted or stained. This is the most attractive finish for projects that will be seen like cabinet molding.

Tacks are basically just short nails frequently used for carpeting or upholstery.

Brads are basically just finish nails but thinner and shorter. You might use these by hand when attaching particularly thin or delicate moldings.

It’s a good idea to have a small collection of these nails in your home, so you don’t have to go to the store every time you want to hang a picture. Most good home supply stores will have a pre-packaged assortment of commonly used nails, and that’s a good way to start. Be sure to keep them in the vicinity of your hammer, another important time saver.

For most projects you can use a regular nail but for outdoor projects, make sure you get galvanized or stainless steel nails. Stainless are more expensive and galvanized work just as well. That’s the cheap me talking. You can also get coated nails which are easier to hammer in, but they’re not that much easier… and they’re more expensive as well. Cheap me again.

Now, you’ve probably heard of the 2-penny nail, 3-penny nail, 4-penny nail, etc. Back in the day, this had to do with the weight of nails per hundred. But, who cares? Today, the penny size just refers to the length of the nail and it’s designated 2d, 3d, 4d, etc. Why a “d” and not a “p”? How should I know? Am I a fix-it expert? Oh yeah, I am. Well, I still don’t know. But again, who cares?

What’s important is picking the right nail length for the job. As a rule of thumb, when you’re hammering a thinner piece of wood into a thicker one (which is most jobs), pick a nail three times as long as the thinner piece. That way, the nail will go all the way through the thinner piece and allow 2/3 of the nail to give you holding power in the thicker piece.

Here are a few other pro’s tips:

When attaching two pieces of wood where appearance doesn’t matter, pick a nail long enough to go through both pieces completely and still come out the other side. Then, bend the nail over at the end to make a joint that’s definitely not going to come undone. Ever. Even if you want it to.

When you’re nailing near the end of a plank or piece of molding, be careful that it doesn’t split. Never drive two nails into the same grain there and, even better, drill a pilot hole slightly thinner than the diameter of the nail you’re using.

When you’re working with drywall or wallboard, use wallboard nails. They have rings around the body of the nail that gives extra hold and diminishes nail pops (when the nail pops back out). You’re probably not going to drywall a whole room, but this does come in handy when you’re doing a repair.

Finally, you’ve doubtless seen framers and roofers using nail guns. These are electric devices that use bursts of air to drive nails in completely and quickly. They don’t use regular nails, they use specially made strips of nails and I don’t recommend them for regular use by anyone who wants to keep both eyes and all their fingers intact, like me for example.

And speaking of fingers, now that you’re up to speed on nails, go get yourself a manicure. I like french manicures myself. Not as much as I like french toast. And french fries. I’m going to get lunch now. Bye.

If you have any home repair questions for Sarit, please e-mail them to To find out more about the wonderful Sarit Catz, visit her website at

 / Issue 83 - September 2018
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