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Nails vs Screws for Drywall: Pros & Cons of Each


Nails or screws for drywall - pros and cons of each.

Are you a homeowner trying to patch up some drywall pop-outs but can’t decide if you should use nails or screws? 

Screws offer a firmer holding grip than nails for drywall. They are also easier to remove and less likely to pop out over time.

I’ve hired sheet rockers who swear by one approach or the other. There are pros and cons whether you use nails or screws for drywall and we will get into those.

If you can’t hang around for the end, the one thing I’d like to recommend before you drift away is to use screws for drywall on the ceiling.

That being said, lets look at both approaches so that you have a full understanding of the benefits and drawbacks of each.

Advantages of Nails for Drywall 

At this point, it might seem like we have been using nails since the beginning of time. Now that we have screws and screwdrivers, many claim nails are obsolete. Are nails outdated in this day and age? Well, let’s take a look.

Nails are Generally More Affordable than Screws

Overall, drywall nails are going to be more affordable than screws. If you compare the same brand, coating, and length, you can save one to two dollars per pound by staying with nails.

Even so, when working on drywall, more nails are required per sheet, so it’s best to take that into account as well when trying to determine the cheaper alternative. 

On the other hand, these nails aren’t going to go into the drywall magically; you will need to buy a hammer to hammer the nails into the drywall. A hammer will be a much cheaper alternative than having to buy a power tool for screws.

Nails are Built of Sturdy Materials

To this day, nails are commonly found in various jobs involving wood. Nails work better under pressure and can be used for more challenging jobs requiring more weight.

Because of their shear strength, nails don’t break as easily as screws

However, depending on how great the force is and the nail’s quality, the nails can bend out of shape.

What is Sheer Strength, and Why Does it Matter? 

Unlike grip strength, shear strength means that the fastener will hold the pieces of wood together even when you pull them apart from the sides. Every nail (fastener) is made to solve a specific problem. 

An object that frequently experiences pulling should be held down with a fastener designed just for that (aka the nail). 

When everyone is talking about how great screws are, it might be hard to believe that screws are much more breakable than nails. When experiencing shear force (constant pulling from the side), screws can break pretty easily. 

While nails can bend if enough pressure is applied, they will hardly ever snap as a screw would. This is why it’s best always for us to use nails for situations like these. 

Disadvantages of Using Nails for Drywall

Here in this section, we will talk about the disadvantages of using nails when working on drywall. We talked about the pros, but let’s go over the important cons of using nails and see if it’s still the right choice for you. 

Movement 

Nails can pop out of the drywall whenever there is structural movement. Things like earthquakes or natural wear and tear of the house will cause the nails to pop out.

Temperature 

Nails do not handle extreme changes in temperatures well either. If you’re the kind of person who likes to have it extremely hot during the winter and have the AC on the coldest of temperatures during the summer, then you might not realize that you’re slowly causing your nails to pop out. 

The moisture created from these drastic temperature changes can cause the nails to loosen and eventually pop out the drywall. 

Other Factors to Consider

  • Nails work great on wood but can’t be used when you’re working on metal framing. 
  • You will need more nails than screws when working with drywall because nails don’t provide that strong of a hold like screws do…this could end up costing much more than buying a few screws and calling it a day. 
Drywall Fasteners - Nails vs Screws - Drywall Instruction

Advantages of Screws for Drywall

Here we will talk about the advantages of using screws vs. nails. Many claim screws are far superior to nails but are that the case? Let’s take a look. 

Handling 

Everyone makes mistakes now and then. If you were to make a mistake while working on drywall and have to replace a full sheet, screws are much easier to remove.

Another great thing about screws is that they are faster to install. In times of old, an experienced drywall contractor would be very quick with a hammer.

However, it’s almost impossible for that same person to compete against a contractor using a magnetically tipped screw gun. While using a hammer is not the hardest thing to learn, it does require some skill to use efficiently. 

On the other hand, just about anyone can pick up a power tool, a couple of screws, and deliver similar results. 

Strength

Another cool fact about screws is that they have better holding power. As you know, nails tend to be flexible and fair better against shear pressure, but screws have a much better grip and tensile strength. 

What is Grip Strength, and Why Does it Matter? 

Grip strength refers to screws’ ability to hold down two or more wood pieces on top of each other. Just think the opposite of shear strength. 

Shear strength refers to the pulling from the sides, but grip strength refers to the pulling from the top or bottom of the object (vertical pressure). 

Grip strength means that the screw will hold the wood in place so that you or other natural phenomenons won’t be able to separate them vertically. 

To summarize, greater grip strength means there will be less movement of the drywall than nails and fewer pop-outs overtime. 

Less Risky

As Hannah Montana said, “everybody makes mistakes,” which certainly applies when working on drywall. When it comes to using a nail and hammer, the chances of you hammering the nail in too hard and breaking the paper are higher than with a power tool.  

A hammer hitting a nail applies a lot of force. Hitting the nail in too hard can cause the paper to rip, forcing you to start over. On the other hand, fastening screws in with a screw gun causes less vibration.

Compared to nails, screws have less potential damage upon insertion; they’re also preferable when working with more fragile materials like drywall.

Disadvantages of Using Screws for Drywall

Here we will discuss the disadvantages of using screws. While these disadvantages aren’t a deal-breaker, they are still important to keep in mind if you decide to use screws for your next drywall project. 

Screws are More Delicate than Nails

Nails are very sturdy fasteners. Screws make excellent fasteners, too, but they are a little fragile. Screws can break when twisted or being pulled from the side hard enough. 

A Broken Screw is a Pain to Get Out 

Generally, getting a screw out is much easier than getting a nail out if you make a mistake. That is until you break the screw. 

When misused, screws can get damaged or stripped. While nails can get damaged, too, removing a broken screw can be much more frustrating. 

Screws Take Longer to Tighten

It does not matter if you are manually fastening the screw or using an impact driver; it takes a little bit of time to tighten the screw.

Screws are Slightly More Expensive

The price difference is not huge, but it’s still noticeable. Screws are generally more challenging to manufacture, so that the price will be slightly higher. 

If you’re on a budget, It is also essential to consider the cost of buying a screw gun vs. just buying a hammer.

Screws or Nails for Drywall on Ceiling?

Nails work best for wall installations rather than ceiling installations. There are reports of homeowners owning a 4-year-old home and already having nails popping out of the ceiling.

This YouTube video explains why nails come out of drywall:

Why Do Nails Come Out of Drywall? : Nails, Screws & Wall Hangings

To be honest, nails and screws are both capable of popping out of the ceiling.

Even so, screws are still known for having a firmer grip than nails. Hence, if you were to use screws, you should have fewer occurrences of pop-outs, with a stronger hold.  

Nails are also a cost-effective solution but often made from cheaper materials. When they’re used in a drywall ceiling install, they’re working against gravity. The lack of integrity in the nails and the fact that they don’t have the super gripping power of screws makes them the lesser of the two options. 

Conclusion 

Nails can loosen with age and “pop” out through the mud coat, cracking your paint. Nails do cost a little less than screws and buying a screwdriver. However, most people consider putting up a bit more money for screws a better investment than purchasing drywall nails. This is because nails have less grip strength than screws. 

At the end of the day, both nails or screws can get the job done. When working on drywall, the most important thing is to use screws or nails that provide a strong and long-lasting hold.

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Paul

As a homeowner, I am constantly experimenting with making the structure of my house more energy-efficient, eliminating pests, and taking on DIY home improvement projects. Over the past two decades, my family has rehabbed houses and contracted new home builds and I've learned a lot along the way. I share my hard-learned lessons so that you can save time and money by not repeating my mistakes.

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