The Ultimate Guide to Roofing Nails (And When to Use Them)

Kenneth Wilson

You’d be forgiven for thinking that a nail is a nail, but there’s a lot more to it when it comes to choosing the best nails for your roofing project. There are three primary types of roofing nails to choose from:

  • Smooth shank
  • Ring shank
  • Screw shank

We explain each of these in detail in this section before introducing the different materials that roofing nails typically consist of.

Smooth Shank

When to Use: For budget roofing projects and low-grade composite roofs.

Smooth shank nails are the most prevalent on building sites and are commonly used for roofing projects. This is because they’re cheap and widely available, but they’re also the least complex of all the shanks you can use.

As the name suggests, smooth shanks are free of grooves and extremely easy to hammer. Although they’re commonly used, smooth shanks don’t necessarily have the hold required for tiles or architectural shingles.

This is often referred to as ‘withdrawal resistance,’ which is an important consideration when it comes to choosing the perfect nails for your roofing project. Ultimately, smooth shank roofing nails have limited holding power, and they aren’t the best option available for complex roofing projects.

Ring Shank

When to Use: For a more resistant roofing nail than a smooth shank – ideal for more complex roofing projects.

Ring shank roofing nails have approximately twice the withdrawal resistance of smooth shank nails and are a better option when you’re undertaking a more complex roofing project.

The additional resistance comes from the small grooves that are present on the shank, which provides the nail with a ribbed feeling. When hammered, the ribbed shank displaces the wood’s fibers and cements itself within the wood more efficiently.

Ultimately, this means that the nail is much more difficult to displace and isn’t likely to come out during inclement weather or high winds, as might be the case with a roof that has been affixed with smooth shanks.

Screw Shank

When to use: For ultimate withdrawal resistance. That being said, they’re not suitable for hardwood use.

At first glance, screw shanks look like standard screws, which is where they get their name from. These shanks have the same grooves that you will find in a screw and are a popular choice for certain roofing projects.

Of the three types of roofing nails, screw shanks undoubtedly have the best withdrawal resistance and ensure your roof is securely fastened. But equally, screw shanks are difficult to nail into hardwoods, which puts some roofers off using them.

Screw shanks are also much more expensive than smooth and ring shanks, which is another reason why they’re not as popular as you might think.

Roofing Nails Materials – Which is Best?

When you’ve decided on the type of roofing nail to use, you need to consider the material. Each of the nails introduced above is available in the following materials:

  • Aluminum  Roofing nails made of aluminum are comparatively cheap and get the job done. However, they’re not ideal in parts of the country where salt and sand particles are in the air, as they’re more prone to rust.
  • Stainless Steel – Stainless steel nails are an upgrade on aluminum roofing nails as they’re less corrosive and more durable. They’re also better when it comes to fastening harder roofing materials such as slate and ceramic tile.
  • Copper  Most commonly used with slate roofing, copper nails are more expensive and the longest-lasting material. Because slate roofs are expected to last more than 100 years, copper nails are the perfect attachment.
  • Galvanized – Galvanized roofing nails are comprised of a steel base that is coated in zinc. The zinc provides additional rust resistance, which makes them a much better option for properties in desert or coastal areas.

Ultimately, the best option for most roofing projects is galvanized roofing nails. This is because they’re affordable and more durable than both aluminum and copper and can be used throughout the country regardless of the climate.

Roofing Nails Buying Guide

Now you know the different roofing nails you can use, it’s time to decide which is best suited for your roofing project. To help you buy the perfect roofing nails, here are some important things you need to consider:

  • Diameter – In accordance with the International Building Code (IBC), the head diameter of roofing nails must be at least 9.5mm. You can use nails with a larger diameter than this, but they should never be smaller.
  • Length – While the IBC issues guidelines regarding diameter, it doesn’t stipulate the required length of roofing nails. That being said, you need to ensure the nails are not less than 19.1mm into the roof sheafing when hammered. As such, you will need to buy nails that are long enough to penetrate your chosen roofing material.
  • Quantity – Typically, you will need to use between 4-6 roofing nails per shingle, but most building codes in the US require at least six. Based upon these guidelines, you should budget for 506 roofing nails per square (100 square ft).
  • Price – Lastly, you will need to consider the price of your chosen roofing nails before commencing with your project. Nails are typically sold by weight (in pounds) and start at around $15 per 5lbs for simple smooth shank roofing nails. Ring shanks start at around $30 for a similarly sized pack, while screw shanks are even more expensive.

It’s important to factor in the price of your nails, fasteners, and other additional materials when calculating the final cost of your roofing project, as the extras will certainly surprise you if you don’t factor them into your initial costings!

The Verdict: The Best Type of Roofing Nail

Choosing the perfect roofing nails is equally as important as selecting the core material for your roof. As our buying guide explains, your nails need to be of sufficient diameter and length to be compliant with IBC guidelines, and you need to carefully select your chosen material and nail style.

Overall, we would suggest that galvanized ring shanks are the best roofing nails for most projects, but you need to consider which is the best roofing nail for your specific project before committing to a purchase.

Kenneth Wilson
November 27, 2021
Contractor Tips, Roofing

Kenneth Wilson

Retired contractor. Currently residing in Southwest Florida. Now in semi-retirement, I write and manage this blog focused on helping home owners make savvy decisions when it comes to finding contractors and getting their projects done. I also operate remodeling design service for homeowners.

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