What Size Nails for Framing?

What Size Nails for Framing?

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Do you get lost in the isle long display of numerous nail choices at the hardware store? Have you got framing projects around the house that need done but you aren’t sure where to begin?

Let’s go over the best choices of nails for any framing project that might come up around your house!

What Size Nails Should You Use for Framing?

So, what are the best nails to use for framing in that new addition? The 16d, or 16 penny, nail is the most common choice amongst carpenters using 2×4 lumber. They are 3.5 inches long which provides the perfect length for the strong structural integrity you want.

There are two varieties of the 16d nail, common and box nails. The box nail is a 10-gauge, thinner nail while the common 16d nail is made of a thicker 8-gauge wire. For most framing, builders like to use nail guns with 16d box nails for increased speed and efficiency. While they are more labor-intensive, for structural strength the 16d common nail might sometimes be a better suited choice.

Whichever way you decide to go, 16d framing nails provide a great and strong nail that generally ensures a solid finished product when framing that will meet your local building codes!

When choosing the correct nail for your framing project, it’s crucial to the strength of your work that you know what to look for. For large dimensional lumber you will need a nail that is slightly smaller than the width of the lumber being used. Using the wrong sized nails can cause your lumber to split or your project to be weak.

For exterior framing jobs, a box of 16d sinker, or common nails, might best fit your needs. They can have an epoxy finish that keeps them from rusting through the elements and helps hold them right where you put them with less risk of backing out with swelling over time. They also come with a textured head that provides a better surface for hammering, preventing your hammer sliding off and meeting with your fingers.

However, hammering isn’t the only way to go. For the quickest work on a framing project, a 16-gauge framing nail gun paired with the 16d box nails could offer the best results. A pneumatic option will offer the most power but if you don’t have a compressor that’s no problem, there are plenty of construction grade battery-powered nailers that will fit your needs perfect.

Best Nail Sizes for Framing 2x3s, 2x4s, and 2x6s

Let’s also go briefly over the best options of nails for framing projects with different sized lumber:

  • For the common 2×4, the 16-penny nails we discussed above are the ideal candidates.
  • If instead you decide to use 2x6s for your framing project we’ll have to grab something a little different. While a four-inch 20-penny nail would probably cause the smaller 2×4 to split, it is the perfect nail for framing with 2×6 lumber.
  • If you go with smaller lumber like 2x3s though, we’ll have to switch back to a 16d nail. These will be long enough to go through the 2×3 and still sink into the beam behind it. The coated style of 8-gauge 16-penny nails we talked about earlier is the best kind to use for these smaller boards as it will grip better into the smaller lumber.

How to Choose the Right Framing Nail Gauge and Length

When making the selection for what nails are going to fit your project the best and offer the highest quality, it’s very important to know why the different lengths and gauges matter.

Your nail should be slightly smaller than the width of the lumber being used as a general rule for length.

When choosing the right size, consider how much nail you are going to need to go through the board you’re nailing and the board being nailed to. It’s important that the length is correct to provide the most sound and structural end product.

The length of the nail should generally be two and a half times longer than the thickness of the lumber being nailed. The gauge, or width, of the nail is equally important in holding whatever lumber you are using. The gauge refers to the size of wire used to make the nail. The thinner the gauge, the less likely you are to split the lumber.

It’s also important to note that knowing whether your job is an exterior or interior framing job can help you decide more accurately.

While a coated, rust proof, nail might be the best for exterior, it might not be worth the extra money for epoxy coated nails if you’re using them inside. Also, 3-1/4-inch nails may be sufficient for interior framing while exterior will require 3-1/2 inch nails.

However, the fact still remains that if you are framing with standard 2×4 lumber, inside or out, that the 16d nail is going to be the most structurally sound choice.

The Risk of Framing With Nails That Are Too Small

While nails smaller than the ideal size may come cheaper or with more per box but I can guarantee you, if they are not the correct size for the job, they will not come cheap in the end.

Using nails too small of a gauge or too short in length threaten the entire integrity of any framing project. Too short of nails will not properly sink into the board behind the one being nailed, causing a severe risk of them coming apart, no matter the number of nails you try to use.

The gauge must also be the correct size for the job being done. Too small of a gauge of nail and you might as well just not waste your time because they will not have any holding power against the weight and pressure of the structure. The smaller the nail, the less holding strength it has and the easier it will collapse and fail.

A long nail without the proper gauge will still bend and fail under too much pressure.

The Risk of Framing With Nails That Are Too Large

On the opposite end of the spectrum however, using too large or long of nails can be an equally threatening issue to your project. The larger the nail, the more work hammering is going to be unless you are using a nail gun of course so keep that in mind.

Also, obviously, the longer the nail, the further into the back board it’s going to go. You always want the nail to go far enough in to hold but don’t use such a long nail that you go clear through and pierce a water line or get in the way of your sheetrock inside.

Lastly, one of the most annoying things that can happen when framing anything is the board splitting. Using too large of a gauge of nail on too small of a board will almost always present the opportunity for splitting. Always avoid placing multiple nails on the same line of grain in the board as that is the quickest way to split it.

Ensure that where you place a nail is the best location so that you do not have to put another nail too close to that, causing a weak spot in the lumber.


I hope this article has helped you to understand the importance of choosing the right nails for your framing projects. Every different size of lumber will have a nail best suited for it and it’s crucial to the final strength of your project that you choose the correct option.

The world of nails is a diverse one with so many choices, so make sure you know what you’re looking for. Learning and remembering these will help you with your personal framing tasks and ensure that your projects hold together for a long time to come!