From technique to materials, there is a lot to consider in how to build your fence. With all the bad information and marketing gimmicks out there, it can take a while to find what truly works the best.
In each decision, we make things very simple: we do what works and looks the best, while staying within budget. A while ago, we switched over to stainless-steel ring-shank nails. Here's why.
We work with a great, but difficult material. Western Red Cedar is very tough on fasteners: the same natural chemicals that protect the wood from rot also actively corrode steel and most coatings, resulting in an ugly bleeding around and underneath each fastener.
There are a few different coatings on the market, but none of them claim to eliminate the cedar bleeding problem.
Galvanization adds a layer of zinc around the steel. The zinc does corrode, but as it does it gives off an electrical charge that prevents the steel underneath from rusting. That's why this works great for posts and hardware, because even if the zinc coating is scratched the steel is protected by the charge.
There are essentially two types of galvanization we see in the fence industry: "electro-galvanized" and "hot-dip galvanized."
Electro-galvinized nails or screws have a very thin layer of pure zinc and no alloy layer of zinc-iron, which means you could see bleading as early as one month from installation, depending on rain and sprinklers. Most fence companies use these, because they are very inexpensive.
Hot-dip galvanized nails are immersed in a molten bath of zinc, giving them a much thicker coating as well as an alloy layer. With these, we've still seen signs of corrosion early, with bleeding starting around 8 months. How early they will bleed depends on how thick the coating is, and that depends on the brand of nail, but eventually the zinc will be gone and the steel exposed.
Screws are necessary, they're just not the best for appearance areas of your fence. Every box of coated screw on the market will contain a disclaimer like this one, taken from a box of Grip-Rite Primeguard Plus, which have a "lifetime guarantee against rust:"
"It does not eliminate corrosion and/or staining due to various conditions such as high humidity, salt spray, and acidity content of preservatives in wood (such as cedar, rewdood, or man-made materials). Tannic acids naturally in lumber can cause staining and streaking."
This was taken three months after installation, using a coated screw. Granted, it was in an area where it received a lot of water, so most don't become this terrible so quickly.
Screws vs Nails
There is a common conception out there that screws are stronger than nails. In many applications that is true, but with pickets there is very, very little benefit to using screws, and there are a few large downsides.
Screws don't take much longer to install than nails. There are screw guns on the market that preload for you, and it's quite easy.
Stainless steel screws, in the quantity needed for most fences, are very expensive. I'm also unaware of any stainless steel screw on the market that comes ready for screw guns. That's why companies that use screws use coated screws, which will eventualy bleed.
Screws tend to crack the cedar when placed near the edge of the board, as they must be on many styles of fence. Cracked boards will probably still stay on, but as the cedar shrinks the crack will grow, and it just doesn't look very good. Some cracking is unavoidable, but screws cause a lot more.
Of course, if you'd like us to install your fence with screws we can certainly do so.
Obviously the main perceived advantage of screws over nails is the holding power. Using the right kind of nail achieves a similar strength without the downsides above.
There are essentially three types of nails on the market: smooth-, screw-, and ring-shank.
Smooth shank. There is no reason to use these.
Screw shank. We use these in some applications, but not for pickets - cedar contracts and expands when wet, and it can cause these to actually unscrew themselves over time.
Ring shank. We're proud to have always used these on our pickets. The rings grip wood very well, and the boards stay in. Many hot-dip galvanized rings are clogged during the hot-dip process, and are practically smooth-shank as a result. Our stainless steel nails are incredibly strong, and have great rings. The only downside is that they are very difficult to remove - so if we make a mistake on a section, it is difficult to remove the boards without breaking them. We think that's a good problem to have!
The Switch to Stainless!
We operate under a simple premise: we want to deliver what we promise. What we promise is to give you the best fence we know how to build. We believe that means making sure the fence looks great throughout its life, not just right after installation.
So when we found a way to make stainless steel affordable, we took it. For years now, we've been ordering stainless nails in bulk to get discount pricing, while looking for other ways to save, so we could upgrade our fasteners without upgrading your cost.
From hole-depth to fastener choice, from design to completion, we choose quality and aesthetics, because that's why you choose us.
Feel free to contact us with any questions - we'd love to chat about your project! Also, come connect with us on Facebook and see more of our work.
-- Jeff --