Nail Identification

By: Scot Simpson

We have a framing contractor council in western Washington, which meets once a month to try to ease our pains in dealing with the realities of framing buildings in an ever-changing, often hostile environment. In addition to playing psychoanalyst to each other, we try to make sense of the environment we work in. We have completed projects like creating standard terms and conditions for a framing price quote and sub contract. We also created standards for engineered-lumber delivery packages. These can be accessed and used at

One of our current projects is nail identification. It began a few months ago when a nail supplier and a manufacturer attended our meeting to learn which of the two emerging nail-identification systems we preferred. They were trying to decide which system to use. One system color codes each nail and the other embosses the alphabet on the head of each nail. These systems are being sponsored by Tracker and EZ Code. (See example below).

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The idea had appeal for nail identification has become increasingly important and a standard system to make it easy for the code officials, architects and engineers to let framers know exactly what to use would be great. However, there was a problem. The names and nails of the two systems were not the same and were different from many of the nail IDs already being used. It’s hard to believe that as long as nails have been around their names have not been standardized but that is the case. Our council decided it was time to make an effort to work toward an organized nail-identification system so we sponsored a forum to see what we could come up with.

Present were representatives of major nail manufacturers, suppliers and engineering firms. We developed a list of most commonly used framing nails and their framer-friendly names. (See chart nail ID).

Framer Friendly Nail Identification

Length Diameter Name Emboss ID Color Code
EZ Code Tracker
2-3/8" 0.113 8d Sinker B Yellow
1-1/2" 0.131 8 Hardware H Black & "H" emboss
2-1/2" 0.131 8d Common I Blue
3" 0.131 10d Framer J White
3-1/4" 0.131 16d Short K Black
1-1/2" 0.148 10 Hardware Q Purple & "H" emboss
2-1/4" 0.148 10d Shear S Purple
2-1/2" 0.148 10d-2-1/2" U Purple
3" 0.148 10d Common V Purple
3-1/4" 0.148 16d Sinker W Green
2-1/2" 0.162 16 Hardware X Orange & "H" emboss
3-1/2" 0.162 16d Common Z Orange

For these IDs to have value they must be used. So we hope they will be used or at least understand. To provide this understanding I will explain the process we followed in developing these nail identifications.

Nail identification originated in England years ago, when 8 pennies would buy a certain weight of nails and 16 pennies would buy the same weight of another style of nail. We still use these names. However, instead of classifying nails by weight and size, we use diameter and length. We still use the weight and cost designations like 16d (16 penny). But to further describe them, names used on the jobsite have been added, such as common, box, sinker and cooler. Needless to say it was and still is a confusing system. However, it worked for years and houses and buildings were built that still are standing strong today.

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Today we are entering a different era. Earthquake and hurricane engineers now are scrutinizing every aspect of framing and lawyers are looking at every minute detail of buildings that end up in court cases involving moisture penetration or mold problems. Consequently compliance with nail specification has become an important part of building.

So , where are we now regarding nail identification and how can we establish a system that is easy to understand and use? In 1995 the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) developed ASTM F1667 which identified nails. It listed 38 styles of nails and as many as 39 sizes within each style. If that isn’t confusing enough, ASTM F547, which defines the nail names, lists 43 different styles of nail heads and 29 different styles of nail points. The ASTM documents give authenticity to the identifications because they were developed by an industry wide committee. However, until I started doing research I had not heard of these ASTM documents. The only way I could get copies was to pay $70 to download them from the internet.

In addition to the names used to identify nails, some nails are marked on the nail for identification. Currently four such systems are in use. Three of them (Simpson Strong-Tie, Paslode and EZ Code) emboss the heads and one (Tracker) color codes the nails. Unfortunately different names often are used to identify the same nail in the marking systems and the group of nails not marked. They also differ from the name appearing in ASTM 1667. Even though you would think the ASTM identifications would cover every nail, we found some nails we use regularly were not covered in the ASTM identification system.

The consensus at our nail-identification forum was the best way to identify nails is to use the diameter and length so a 16d common would be identified as a 3-1/2” x .162 nail. However, the forum also thought that although we should work toward those designations in the future it was not practical to expect those identification names to be used right away.

We decided to identify names for about 12 of the most frequently used framing nails. We went to two sources that dictate which nails we will be using in the future. The sources we chose were the 2000 International Building Code (IBC) and the Simpson Strong-Tie catalogue. We scanned these two sources and found the nails required for framing. We combined these lists, eliminated the duplicates and specialty nails and came up with a list of 12 nails. Then we reviewed each nail and considered any nail that was used extensively but was not on the list.

One of our concerns was the .120 nail which is used in many parts of the country. It was decided, however, that because the 3”x.131 nail is used in the 2000 IBC (which will be the code for the whole country before long), we should use that nail.

We also discussed the use of 2-1/8”, 2-1/4”, 2-3/8” and 2-1/2” X .148 nails. They all are used frequently, depending on the thickness of sheathing they are attaching. It was decided the cost savings due to multiple use of nails was greater than the cost savings due to the difference in nail length. For example the 2-1/4” nail can be used for the 2-1/8” nail and the 2-1/2” nail for the 2-3/8” nail.

If the nails we selected were identified in the ASTM 1667, we used those names. Otherwise we used the names most widely known.

We discussed which system to use so nail marking would be the same. We considered the existing systems and creation of a new system. We talked about markings that fit the name such as 8C for an 8d common nail for the embossing method. It was decided there would not be enough space on the heads of some nails that would require three or four numbers and letters so we decided the EZ Code alphabet system would be the best. It was noted however, that for a manufacturer to use the EZ Code system the company must be licensed. At present there is no charge for this license. One advantage to the licensing system is: that if you get a nail that is licensed, you can feel confident the nail is made to the specifications stated.

The Tracker Color Code system is a similar proprietary system. Presently it doesn’t

cost to use it. The color coding of the nails has been patented.

I remember many years ago when I first saw specification on a set of plans that called for all nails to be common nails. I checked at all my usual suppliers for a 16d common with no luck. In fact, at one lumber yard I was told a 16d sinker was the same as a 16d common. Our forum’s hope is that our framer-friendly identifications will become another part of the effort to end nail-identification problems.

Although the forum has no authority to set standards, everyone participating was returning to their companies to recommend changing their nail-identifications, which differed from the 12 framer friendly identifications we selected.