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Drywall Nails vs Screws: Which Is Best?

Need to hang drywall yourself?

One question you undoubtedly have is which is better – drywall nails or drywall screws?

I’ll cut right to the chase: it’s largely a matter of opinion, although screws hold stronger and nails are cheaper

For ceilings, screws are always the way to go. For walls, nails do the job just fine, although building codes sometimes require screws (or twice as many nails). 

Drywall screws are certainly the industry standard, although nails are still regularly used.

That’s the gist of it, but a deeper look at their differences is warranted. 

Today, I’ll show you the pros and cons of each approach so you make the best choice for your project.  

Drywall Nails Explained

person hammering drywall nails into wall

Drywall nails are specially designed for use with drywall. They typically feature a ring or barbs to give them superior holding power over regular nails. Some are cement-coated (for even more strength) or have cupped heads for a smooth, countersunk finish. 

Drywall Nails Advantages

Drywall nails are more affordable than drywall screws. 

Although the difference is minimal for a small drywall project, going with nails can certainly save a lot of money on a large-scale project, like a full home renovation. 

It’s true that drywall nails do have less holding power than screws, but they’re still quite strong. In addition, it’s easy to double up and use twice as many nails (sometimes mandated by building codes) while still saving money.

And, if you’re a home DIYer without a nail gun or cordless drill, a hammer is a cheap and easy way to install nails while hanging drywall.

Drywall Nails Disadvantages 

Drywall nails have slightly less holding power than screws.

In fact, building code often requires screws, especially in commercial construction. Sometimes, you can double up on nails instead of using screws while staying in code. 

Nails are also much less strong than screws in extreme circumstances like earthquakes as well as in areas with extreme temperature fluctuations. Both movement and temperature changes can cause nails to loosen or pop out.

Even just the normal aging process can cause drywall nails to loosen and create nail pops (circular bumps on the walls caused by the nails loosening).

Know also that drywall nails can’t be used on metal. If you’re hanging drywall on metal studs, drywall screws are the way to go. 

Last but not least, ceilings – drywall nails should never be used to hang drywall on a ceiling. Drywall screws are essential for ceiling drywalling projects.

Drywall Screws Explained

person fastens drywall nails with a screwdriver

There are quite a few different types of drywall screws. But most feature relatively the same design with minor differences in length, gauge, and thread. Here’s how they stack up against drywall nails (for more info, check out our complete drywall screws guide).

Drywall Screws Advantages

As mentioned above, drywall screws have much better holding power than drywall nails.

The fact is that they have superior grip and tensile strength compared to nails which means no pop-outs or other wear and tear.

Drywall screws are essential when hanging ceiling drywall due to their added strength. Never use nails when hanging drywall on the ceiling.

Another advantage of drywall screws is their ease of use.

Not only are they easier to install into drywall (especially with a cordless drill), but it’s also much easier to fix any mistakes you do make.

Unlike a nail which is somewhat tricky to pull out, you can simply back out a screw and redrill.

This benefit extends to replacing drywall. Screws are much easier to remove so that you can remove the drywall in a single piece to reduce mess. This is much more difficult to do with drywall nails.

A final benefit of screws for drywall is that they can be used in metal studs and joists as well as in wood. The same can’t be said for drywall nails.

Drywall Screws Disadvantages 

The only real disadvantage of drywall screws versus nails is cost.

Drywall screws are typically quite a bit more expensive than drywall nails. Of course, this is more of an issue on larger drywall projects than simply replacing a sheet or two.

Although drywall screws are more expensive, it’s important to note that less are needed for the same holding power as drywall nails.

So, even though you’ll likely pay more per screw, you’ll end up using fewer screws overall.

Other slight negatives to drywall screws include that they take slightly longer to tighten and can be a pain to get out if they do happen to break. 

So, Which Is Better for Your Project?

cordless drill with drywall screws

Now that you know the pros and cons of both drywall screws and drywall nails, let’s take a minute to look at which to use for your project.

When to Use Drywall Nails

Nails work well for hanging drywall on walls with wood studs.

Just make sure to check building code before using nails. Some code either requires screws or requires double the amount of nails.

If you’re on a super tight budget, drywall nails are often the cheaper option.

Although when you consider that you might need to use double the amount and that screws are longer-lasting, drywall nails might not really be the cheapest option after all.

Finally, drywall nails have a long history of use among drywall contractors. When installed correctly, they are every bit as effective as screws, although they’re becoming less and less popular.

When to Use Drywall Screws

We recommend drywall screws for most drywall projects.

They’re slightly more expensive but less of them are required which can actually save money versus drywall nails. 

But the superior holding strength, not to mention longer lifespan, is well worth the investment.

Additionally, drywall screws are essential when hanging drywall on the ceiling – never use nails for ceiling drywall.

The same goes for hanging drywall on metal studs or joists. Nails just won’t cut it here. Drywall screws are a must for metal.

A Quick Note on Length

man using a cordless drill to hang drywall

It’s important to match your drywall panels with the right length of screws or nails.

The most common drywall thicknesses are 1/4-inch, 1/2-inch, and 5/8-inch thick panels.

Obviously, the fasteners you use must be long enough to fully penetrate the drywall – and securely attach to the stud or joist beyond

For 1/4-inch thick drywall, use 1-inch to 1 1/4-inch long screws.

For 1/2-inch thick drywall, use 1 1/4-inch to 1 5/8-inch long screws.

For 5/8-inch thick drywall, use 1 5/8-inch or 2-inch long screws.

Similar wisdom is required when using drywall nails. The nails should only penetrate into the woods studs about 5/8-inch to 3/4-inch, so plan accordingly.

Final Thoughts on Drywall Nails vs Screws

Drywall nails and drywall screws both have their pros and cons.

The right choice for you depends on the specifics of your project as outlined above. 

Need more drywalling help?

Our drywall resources list has plenty of additional info, such as our guide to hanging drywall by yourself, among much else. 

For even more info about installing, buying, and repairing drywall, check out DIY Painting Tip’s Drywall Repair Guide