Galvanized, Stainless Steel
and Aluminum Nails


Most woodworking jobs require only standard steel nails, but every now and then a shop needs a different answer. Take the log-sided home above, where stainless steel nails were used to attach pine siding so that there wouldn't be black streaks below every nail in a few years.

When it comes to fasteners, the way that wood is treated for ground contact and weather exposure nowadays has created challenges for woodworkers. Illinois based Maze Nails, which says it is the country's largest manufacturer of specialty nails, warns that "the manufacturers of ACQ, CA, ACZA and CCA and the treated wood industry are all recommending hot-dipped galvanized nails and stainless steel nails and screws with their treated wood products. Furthermore, they specify that the fasteners meet the ASTM A-153 specification for hot-dipped galvanizing."

That specification covers standards for zinc coatings that are applied through a hot-drip process on iron and steel hardware. One galvanized nail looks a lot like another, so how does a carpenter out on a jobsite know that the nails he/she is using would pass the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) specs? There are two ways to go. One can find a reputable product such as Stormguard® galvanized nails (at right) that Maze Nails says are "double hot-dipped in molten zinc after the nails are cut and threaded so the thick, uniform zinc-coating is unbroken over the entire surface of the nail".

Or one can simply not use galvanized nails, especially ones that have been sitting on a shelf in the back of the shop for many years.
  According to OldHouseOnline, "eventually, even galvanized nails rust, but the process takes longer" and "stainless steel siding nails won't corrode when exposed to weather." That opinion seems to be held across the industry. For most applications, galvanized nails that exceed ASTM A-153 are a good solution, and for many specialty applications an upgrade to stainless steel is a smart decision. It might seem like an expensive upgrade at first glance. WoodEzine checked on the Menards.com website in September 2017 and found a box of 3,600 stainless nails (S13A250SNC) for $312.66, and a fairly comparable box of galvanized nails (SNRSG92-25WC, shown at left) for $52.97. Carpenters already know that stainless steel products are going to cost several times the price of galvanized ones.
But these are usually just a small part of the budget on most jobs. For example, 3,600 siding nails used every 16" will nail up 4,800 linear feet of siding. At 5" coverage, that's 960 square feet, which is about enough for two detached two-stall garages. If the installer was to use the more expensive fastener instead of a nail that eventually failed, it seems that the extra $250 was well spent.
And while all galvanized nails are not alike, the same is also true of stainless ones. SENCO is perhaps best known to woodshops for its 21 ga. fasteners and 15 ga. finish nails, but the Cincinnati based company also manufactures a wide range of stainless steel fasteners (click here for a chart). In extreme environments, for example, SENCO offers 316 stainless steel nails that contain 16% chromium, 10% nickel, and 2% molybdenum. The addition of molybdenum and a higher nickel content increases the corrosion resistance properties. This is the ultimate choice for highly corrosive environments such as salt air and moisture within 5 miles of the coast. And the company's 304 stainless steel nails are designed for more moderate environments. These have 18% chromium and 8% nickel among other elements, making them resist most oxidizing acids and rust. 304 nails are an excellent choice for exposure to wet conditions regularly, where the application is more than 5 miles away from a body of water. SENCO manufactures more than 80% of its fasteners at its plant in Ohio, including some specialty products for cabinet and furniture manufacturers such as corrugated fasteners and SENCLAMP joint fasteners.  
  Priced in between galvanized and stainless, hardened aluminum nails are a favorite of the U.S. Forest Service and natural wood siding companies because the aluminum doesn't react with cedar or redwood. According to the R. J. Leahy Company, "light weight and offering a good level or corrosion resistance, aluminum common nails provide a lower cost alternative to stainless common nails (you get twice as many nails per pound). Aluminum nails are not recommended for harsh environments such as right on the sea coast, or where chemical exposure is likely." Foresters we spoke with say that high quality products such as Duo-Fast's aluminum coil nails (at left) will drive well into softwood. But they noted that some knots and dense hardwoods can bend them. Woodworkers buying 25 lb boxes of various aluminum nails from Leahy will pay $197.50, or $7.90 a pound plus shipping. There are about two hundred and thirty 8d nails in a pound. Based in San Francisco, Leahy is a family owned business that was started in 1928, and because of its Bay location it knows about sea air. It is still managed by the family, and offers nails, rivets, bolts, screws, washers and much more in stainless, brass, aluminum, silicon bronze, nylon and steel.

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