How to Hand-Nail With Concrete Nails

A hammer arranged with a pile of nails
With the right tools, it is possible to hand-nail concrete nails into concrete. Dusty Pixel Photography/Getty Images
  • 01 of 06

    Steps to Hand-Nailing Concrete Nails Into Concrete

    A wooden board with a hammer and a nail
    © Lee Wallender

    Using concrete nails to nail boards into concrete slabs can be an inexpensive project when you do it manually. With just a hammer drill, masonry bit, concrete nails, and a hammer, you can accomplish roughly the same feat as you would by using a gun-style power nailer.

    Concrete nailing is one of those projects that occasionally comes up when you are remodeling a home. One typical use is when you need to nail down a base plate into concrete for an interior wall. Nailing wood to concrete when refinishing your basement or for above-grade slabs is another common need. In fact, unlike many ground-level or higher floors, finished basements always have concrete slabs. To construct walls or other permanent fixtures with wood, you first need to establish a wood base or plate.  

    If you expect to be doing a lot of concrete nailing, you may want to consider investing in a powder-actuated nailer. This tool works like a short rifle and which uses .22 caliber shells to drive special nails into concrete. But if you have only a few nails to drive, you can also do this by hand. Manually nailing into concrete is difficult, but it can be accomplished with concerted effort and a few ordinary tools.  

    Manual Nailing Into Concrete

    • Description: Hand-nailing into concrete is like that more familiar project, nailing into wood. Hardwoods might be impossible to hand-nail or they might split, so pilot holes are needed. Concrete is like a hardwood in that it is impenetrable when you use just a hammer and concrete nails. Instead, a pilot hole is needed.
    • Pros: The best thing about hand-nailing into concrete is its low cost. Concrete (or masonry) nails cost only a few dollars and represent your main cost, provided that you already own a hammer and a hammer drill.
    • Cons: Manual nailing with concrete nails is very difficult. Despite your best efforts, you may end up with nails that do not sink all the way down, leaving you with nail heads that jut up.

    Power Nailing Into Concrete

    • Description: Power nailing is also known as powder-actuated nailing. The powder refers to the gunpowder in the .22 caliber shells that shoot special concrete nails out of a type of metal gun. The shells are placed in the back of the nailer and the nails go in the front. A sharp strike with a hammer causes the shell to fire, forcing the nail into the concrete.
    • Pros: Powder actuated nailers are great if you need to drive a lot of nails. You can knock out an entire series of nails at the same time that it takes to drive one nail manually. Another significant plus is that powder-actuated nailers do not require pilot holes in the concrete.
    • Cons: Powder-actuated nailers can be intimidating since they use live ammunition. There is a greater risk of injury than by hand-nailing. A power nailer is an expensive tool to purchase just for a single project.

    Materials and Tools

    • Framing Hammer: Because of the heavy stresses involved with pounding into concrete, use a larger hammer. Framing hammers, with their added weight and milled faces (checkerboard ridged heads), make the job easier.
    • Concrete Nails: Make sure that you purchase nails that are designed for driving with a hammer, not the kind you use with a powder-actuated tool. Concrete nails have a fluted end that expands when driven into concrete. Masonry nails are V-shaped, with the wider section toward the head of the nail. Masonry nails are cheaper than concrete nails and have less of a tendency to break or bend.
    • Hammer Drill: A hammer drill is preferable, as it both revolves and hammers. But a sturdy conventional drill will work, too. The process will take much longer with a conventional drill than with a hammer drill.
    • Concrete Bit: Purchase a concrete or masonry bit, as regular bits will not stand up to the hardness of concrete.
    • Shop Vacuum: A shop vacuum is an absolute necessity. A broom and dustpan will not do because you need to pull concrete dust from the hole that you are drilling. Unlike sawdust, which is light and tends to cycle upward on its own, concrete dust is heavy and settles into the hole.

    As an added note, when nailing lumber to concrete, make sure that it is pressure treated wood. Moisture from concrete will wick into any lumber that is attached to it. Even if you believe you do not have moisture problems with the concrete, you may find that trace amounts will leach up over time. 

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  • 02 of 06

    Drill First Hole Through the Board

    A power drill putting a screw through wood into concrete
    Use a drill to drive the first hole into wood before nailing. Lee Wallender

    Establish the position of the hole on the concrete by first drilling through the board and down to the concrete. After you pass through wood, keep the drill running for a few more seconds in order to mark the concrete.

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  • 03 of 06

    Remove Board and Finish Drilling Hole

    Using a power drill to dig into concrete
    Use a masonry bit to drive into concrete before nailing. Lee Wallender

    Remove the board to make it easier for you to work. Thoroughly vacuum out the drill hole. With the board still removed, continue drilling the hole. Keep the drill bit cool by frequently taking short breaks. Place the vacuum tube on the ground, next to the drill hole, and keep it running to pick up dust during the operation.

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  • 04 of 06

    Keep Your Drill Hole Clean

    Vacuuming Up Concrete Dust
    Use a shop vacuum to clean up the concrete dust after drilling. Lee Wallender

    Concrete dust created by the drill bit will clog the hole, making it impossible for the concrete nail to penetrate all the way. Concrete dust is heavy and tends to congregate at the bottom of the hole. So press the vacuum nozzle directly onto the hole for a few seconds to make sure that all dust is gone. Do this frequently during the drilling process.

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  • 05 of 06

    Pound in the Concrete Nail

    A hammer putting a nail through a board into concrete
    Use the hammer and masonry nails to drive the board into concrete. Lee Wallender

    Place your pressure treated board on the concrete. Insert the concrete nail into the hole and pound the nail the rest of the way. Be careful not to bend the concrete nail.

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  • 06 of 06

    Nail Until Nail Head Is Flush With Surface

    Driving Nail Into Wood Board
    Finish nailing the masonry nail the rest of the way into the board. Lee Wallender

    Pound the nail until the nail head is flush with the surface of the board. If the nail stops before its head reaches the surface, no amount of pounding will help. Instead, remove the nail and drill deeper or widen the hole. Vacuum out the hole and then try nailing again.

    If you are building a partition wall and the nail does not completely sink, you can always place another concrete nail next to the faulty nail.