Heritage Restoration, Inc.

Picking AND Keeping the Right Fasteners

The other day, my 5-year-old daughter asked me “How many different kinds of nails are there?”.  The best I could come up with was thousands.  But it got me thinking about the proper use of nails and the broader category of fasteners.  Fasteners are not all created equal with many having a single or limited purpose.  People ask, where do I get them?  What is the difference between fasteners?  What do I use where?  What do I need to have?  What is the best way to install a fastener?


Nails can determine a building’s age.  Building technology changed significantly since the industrial revolution, and fastener technology grew by leaps and bounds.  But dating gets messed up when people keep bins of fasteners for years.  They did it then, and I do it now.  I was the proud recipient of my grandfather’s fastener collection.  You may laugh, but people were jealous.  There are times you need a brass #6 wood screw with a taper head, or an eyehook, or a machine screw.  It is easy to accumulate inventory.  Keep spares from everything and sort them out.  There are suppliers for just fasteners; bulk, individual or kits.


Like most products, fasteners by the same name are not all the same.  There are grades.  Some are garbage and some are extremely high quality, and it’s not just the metal. Manufacturing process and where it is can determine quality.  Big box retailers have a fraction of what is out there, and when they do, they are smaller sized packages, expensive and lower quality.  Local hardware stores have better quality selections.  Lumberyards have a great builder’s selection, but less of an overall selection of small specific stuff.  Catalog retailers can have over 25 categories of screws, and hundreds to thousands in each category.  Rhode Island has one of the best catalog marine fastener companies anywhere, with quality fasteners at a good price.


There is a right place, right time, right prep for fasteners.  Proper fastener use, size and type can be a matter of life or death.  Porches can collapse, roofs can blow off or walls can fail.  There are some basic rules to ensure safety based on their ability to hold and provide sheer, or strength.  The building code is very explicit defining the use of fasteners with the right quantity for very good reason.  Always ask your retailer, an engineer, or an experienced builder about using the right fastener.  Do not wing it, undersize it or cheap out when it comes to safety.


Fastener selection plays an important role is holding as well.  Yet there are many things that could compromise holding.  A failing fastener wreaks havoc.  To make it worse, today we deal with even more incompatibilities than ever.  Years ago all we had to worry about was water (there are less problems in dry conditions) and galvanic reaction (one metal rotting from touching another metal).  Galvanic reaction is real and has a profound effect on longevity and performance.  Look up a galvanic reaction or galvanic corrosion chart to understand metal compatibility.  Another rule of thumb is keep like metal with like fasteners.  Fastener failure can happen with certain woods too.  Today’s ACQ treated lumber, cedars and other woods can quickly rot a fastener.  Read directions, boxes or use other resources to be sure you are using the right fastener.

Biggest pet peeve?  The overuse of drywall screws.  They have a low sheer, rust fast and tend to split wood.  Use a decking screw, it has higher shear strength, is coated, and has a chisel tip with less tendency to split wood.  Pre-drill with harder woods, near the end of a board, or just when you do not want wood to split.  For nails predrill with a drill bit one size smaller, and for a screw, use a bit the size of the solid shaft inside the thread area.


There was an innocent time when the list of fasteners was limited to what a blacksmith could make.  By the industrial revolution, screws, rivets, and nails were punched out faster than any blacksmith could imagine.   Things also came apart a lot easier than today.  Another reason I love old buildings, because they are easily reversible.  Today, things are glued, screwed and ring shank nailed together, which will surely frustrate someone trying to resuse and repair today’s building in the future.  But the innovation of tomorrow has a way of solving the problems we create today…..most of the time.




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