This is a question that has long been debated by fencing companies. If you are getting ready to build a wooden fence on your property, you may be wondering which one to choose. The truth is that both types of fasteners will do the job. Both screws and nails bring together pieces of wood. However, there are key differences between the two types of hardware. These differences mean that both have benefits and drawbacks as compared to the other.

Strength

If you compare a screw and a nail side by side, their physical differences quickly become apparent. Nails typically have a long, smooth shaft and a round head at one end. However, some nails have barbs or rings around them to help them grab onto the wood. For example, the ring shank nail has concentric rings running the shaft’s length to keep it from working its way out.

Screws, on the other hand, have a spiral ridge that runs around the outside of the shaft. Short screws are threaded the entire length of the screw, while longer screws may only have threading on the shaft on towards the screw’s tip. This design helps the screw pull together thicker pieces of wood as the screw is driven into the wood. Additionally, wood screws will be pointed at the tip to penetrate the wood’s surface when you begin screwing them in.

To better understand why the spiraling threading on a screw gives it a better grip on the wood, you should understand how cedar wood fencing reacts to changing weather. When cedar wood gets wet in rain or snowstorms, the wood swells. After the storm passes, the wood dries out, the water evaporates, and the wood shrinks back down. This cycle of swelling and shrinking repeatedly can cause smooth nails to slip from their position in the fence. Screws are better at hanging onto the wood through these changes.

Where screws show their weakness is in their inability to resist twisting and bending motions. Bending a screw will often lead to breakage. As most fences are stationary, this may not appear to be an issue. However, fences do endure bending and twisting forces when the wind blows on a panel, when a heavy gate swings open, or when children climb over it. Nails do a much better job of bending without breaking.

Installation

Screws and nails can both be installed quickly using power tools. However, remember that power tools are not required to place either type of fastener. It does not require special knowledge or tools to nail boards in place, but it would be quite a chore to put in all the screws by hand.

If you use power tools, there is no question that a pneumatic nail gun is much faster. Each nail can be set in less than a second. It takes much longer to drive screws in with an impact driver. Additionally, screws have a larger shaft than comparable size nails so they are more likely to cause the wood to split. You may need to pre-drill holes for the screws. This process can add significantly to the installation time for your fence. The time may increase even further if you have to deal with stripped screws. Removing and resetting a stripped screw can be a real pain.

On the contrary, an impact driver is a safer tool to use and less expensive to purchase. Nail guns have a reputation for being dangerous. Special care must be taken when using one to build your fence to avoid accidents or injury. Additionally, using a nail gun requires compressed air. You may need to invest in both a nail gun and air compressor.

Appearance

Wooden fences can add significantly to your yard’s visual appeal, but only when they are well built. Without the proper tools and experience, it can be challenging to set every screw in the fence to look precisely the same. Even with an impact driver, each screw’s depth is determined by the pressure applied by the installer. Human error will come into play. Some screws may sink deep in the wood, while others are not quite flush with the surface.

If you use a nail gun to put your fence together, you can preset the air pressure behind each nail by adjusting the psi (pounds per square inch) on your air compressor. Properly adjusted, the nailer should sink each nail precisely like the last one. In so doing, you can give your fence a uniform look in which the beauty of the wood is not interrupted by the presence of the fasteners. Make sure to choose the proper nails for the type of wood you are using. If you are building a cedar wood fence, aluminum or stainless steel nails are a better choice. Galvanized nails will react with the acid in the wood and leave ugly streaks on the fence.

Repairs

It is an unfortunate fact that in the life of each fence, repairs will be needed. You may need to replace a cracked picket or reset a leaning post. When the time comes to remove a board, it will be easier to do if the fence was built with screws. Using your handy impact driver, the screw should come out as easily as it went in. Nails can be a pain to remove. It may be challenging to get your hammerhead around the head of the nail sunk into the board years ago.

Conclusion

Fencing experts will likely continue to debate whether screws or nails are the best choice for building fences. However, in some cases, it may simply come down to personal preference. Consider your fence materials and your property’s unique conditions to determine what is going to work best for you. Keep in mind that you don’t have to stick to one or the other. In many cases, installers choose to use nails for attaching the rails to the posts and screws for attaching the pickets. This compromise takes advantage of the benefits of both fasteners.