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What is a Finishing Nail?

Sara Schmidt
By
Updated: May 17, 2024

Many different kinds of nails are used in manufacturing and carpentry. A finishing nail, made of steel wire, is a specific nail used to hide the presence of the nail. With its small head and diameter, a finishing nail is much tinier and easier to hide than a larger nail.

Instead of the flat, wide head that common nails feature, finishing nails have small, barrel-shaped heads with a dimpled indentation on top. This allows them to be driven in farther than a larger nail. Such a size and shape also help the finishing nail to remain unseen in the final project.

Finishing nails are often used in the construction of interior projects. These might include moldings, wainscoting, millwork, furniture, cabinets and paneling. Finishing nails are also very useful for small projects, such as wooden jewelry boxes.

One thing to keep in mind when using a finishing nail is to not drive the nail fully flush into the project. Doing so will usually create a large indentation in the project by the hammer. Instead, there is a precise technique that craftsmen use to fully insert finishing nails.

After the carpenter drives a nail almost flush into the surface of the project, he or she places the point of another nail into the dimple itself. Then the head is driven fully into the surface, creating a tiny hole. This hole can then be filled with drywall putty, wood glue or another filler compound. If the final product is to remain outdoors, and is made of wood, the hole can even close by itself from swelling due to weather conditions.

When selecting a finishing nail, a carpenter or manufacturing worker will base his or her choice on a few different requirements. These may include the nail size, steel wire gauge, head diameter, number of nails needed per pound, and the length of the nail. Each finishing nail should be three times the length of the thickness of the wood it will be used in to ensure proper cohesion.

Nail sizes are often measured by the term pennyweight, an archaic word which refers to how much 100 nails cost. Symbolized by "d," these sizes are most common in 2d up to 10d sizes, as well as 12d, 16d, and 20d. Finishing nails used on fine millwork projects usually call for the use of the small 2d size. A middle-sized finishing nail like 10d is often used for baseboards.

About Mechanics is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Sara Schmidt
By Sara Schmidt
With a Master's Degree in English from Southeast Missouri State University, Sara Schmidt puts her expertise to use by writing for About Mechanics, plus various magazines, websites, and nonprofit organizations. She published her own novella and has other literary projects in the works. Sara's diverse background includes teaching children in Spain, tutoring college students, running CPR and first aid classes, and organizing student retreats, reflecting her passion for education and community engagement.
Discussion Comments
By anon301773 — On Nov 05, 2012

The purpose of the small notches on the shank, just under the head, mark the nail in reference to the direction of the flat side of the point--the carpenter can feel the notches and know how the nail point is oriented to avoid splitting the wood.

By anon169815 — On Apr 23, 2011

Great article, it’s helpful to me. I have just been looking for information about this topic for ages and yours is the best I’ve discovered till now.

Sara Schmidt
Sara Schmidt
With a Master's Degree in English from Southeast Missouri State University, Sara Schmidt puts her expertise to use by writing for About Mechanics, plus various magazines, websites, and nonprofit organizations. She published her own novella and has other literary projects in the works. Sara's diverse background includes teaching children in Spain, tutoring college students, running CPR and first aid classes, and organizing student retreats, reflecting her passion for education and community engagement.
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