Fasten your seatbelts

Forty years ago, post-frame buildings were fastened with nails. During the past generation, screws have become the fasteners of choice. Yet specialty nails continue to be used by many rural builders, while others opt for the simplicity of hammer-and-nail construction.
“When I started in the industry during the early 1970s, nails were the standard in post-frame buildings,” recalls president Jay Levy of Ideal Building Fasteners, a maker of screws and nails based in Coraopolis, Pa. “But in the 1980s screws became predominant as prices came down relative to nails. Installation is also a factor since labor shortages have made it harder to find good people who can hammer nails without damaging the building surface.”E-Fasteners1.jpg
Yet another factor that led to the predominance of screws over nails in the 1980s, Levy believes, was a shift in the clientele for rural buildings. “The gentleman farmer and hobbyist horse breeders started coming into the rural market,” he explains, “so that, since the 1980s, the market has grown into more expensive and aesthetic structures.”
Twenty years ago, Levy continues, about half of post-frame buildings incorporated plain galvanized steel. But coatings have advanced and painted metal has become the standard. “Now that most of the metal is painted,” he states, “you can try to use colored nails. But the nails chip when you hammer them and that doesn’t look good.”
At the same time, coatings on screws have improved to offer greater longevity, corrosion resistance, and colors that do not fade or chalk, says Levy. “The coatings companies have come to us with a lot of new coatings in the last 10 years,” he relates. “We’ve experimented with these coatings and can offer screws that are almost rust-free.” Since the coatings add cost, Ideal offers builders a range of fastener upgrades to fit their budgets. Ideal also deals directly with paint manufacturers to obtain color formulations that match building components.
Though the metals generally used to make screws “haven’t changed much in 60 or 70 years,” Levy continues, the manufacturing process has changed in three significant ways over the past 40 years. First, most manufacturing of fasteners has moved outside of the United States so that screws and nails are imported from low-cost countries. With three plants in Canada, Ideal is among the few companies to maintain manufacturing operations in North America.
Second, says Levy, “Quality control is leaps and bounds above the 1970s because the machinery today allows for tighter tolerances.” Finally, the introduction of electronic controls has reduced the amount of labor required. “One guy can run six, seven, even eight threader machines at the same time,” he notes.
A more recent technological advance that boosted the use of screws is the introduction, about 10 years ago, of battery-operated screw guns. “That was a major innovation,” Levy says. “The availability of electricity at the jobsite is no longer a major factor.”
Looking ahead to the future Levy says that, although his company continues to make nails, as a meaningful product category “nails may be gone in the next 10 years.” Even today, he reports, “The largest market for nails is the Amish. After that, it’s mostly builders who are used to nails and don’t want to change.” E-Fasteners.jpg
Other than those two customers, Levy believes, “Nobody would say that nailing is better than screwing. Nails require experienced laborers and, once installed, they have a tendency to eventually pop out. Besides, nails today are almost as expensive as screws.” For those reasons, he describes nails as having only a “small” segment of the fastener market.
At the same time, Levy observes that rural builders are performing an increasing amount of commercial construction. “If that’s the case,” he says, “you’ll also be able to find screws that work in commercial applications.” Ideal sells to building components manufacturers and distributors, rather than directly to contractors. As such, he says the company is responding to components manufacturers who have asked for more holding power to help meet Miami/Dade County building codes.
“The only fear of mine,” Levy admits, “is whether adhesives might be made so that mechanical fasteners aren’t needed. Someday, I wonder if building components might have adhesives that are pre-applied so that all you have to do is glue your building together.”
The Turn of the Screw
Such “peel-and-stick” buildings, however, are not something that David Rosko expects to see anytime soon. “Nobody is even dabbling in that concept, though I think we might see more building systems in the future that have concealed fasteners,” suggests Rosko, who is president of Rosko Fasteners & Supply Inc. Based in Woodstock, Ga., the company imports screws from overseas and then applies paints and coatings.
“No one is making post-frame screws in the United States anymore,” Rosko affirms. He lists Taiwan as the world’s leading maker of fasteners. “In fact,” he reports, “there are so many plants in Taiwan, the competition helps to keep the prices down.” A generation ago, he says, inconsistent quality in Taiwanese fasteners was a problem. But manufacturers have now gained sufficient experience to control the quality of their output.
Rosko dates the entrance of screws into the post-frame building market back to the mid-1970s. Today he says screws have captured 80 percent of the market “because they don’t pull out like nails and because the installation of screws has become easier.”
In years past, Rosko explains, “Rural builders didn’t always have access to power on the jobsite. So a hammer was easier to use than a screw gun. Also, rural contractors were mostly putting up agricultural buildings, which was inexpensive shelter where you don’t have as much concern about leaks. But as the rural market moved more toward commercial and higher-end buildings, leaks became a concern and builders had more access to power on the jobsite. So the use of screws as a fastener of choice was a logical solution.”
The advent of cordless guns has made screws even easier to use, Rosko points out. “And though the operator needs to be trained not to apply too much torque,” he notes, “many screw guns now have adjustable clutches.”
Screws made in the 1970s, Rosko says, often had a weak point underneath the head. As a result, the head could be twisted off if too much torque was applied to the screw. In time, the industry adopted a thicker screw diameter to resolve the problem. Also in the 1970s, neoprene rubber was the standard for washers. But the material could become brittle when exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Thus by the 1980s, the new material of choice became ethylene propylene diamine monomer, or EPDM, which remains the industry standard today.E-Fasteners-Maze.jpg
“Coatings have also evolved,” Rosko continues. “Thirty years ago, screws were mostly plated either through zinc electroplating or zinc mechanical plating. Today we use chemical plating that provides longer life and more corrosion resistance. A typical screw has a layer of paint over a layer of clear coat, which is over multiple layers of chemicals.” In turn, these coatings are applied to a screw made of heat-treated carbon steel.
As with other makers and sellers of fasteners, Rosko’s coatings add cost. For that reason, the company provides customers a range of good-better-best options. Rosko Fasteners also offers some 80 or 90 selections, all of which are computer-matched by paint manufacturers.
“The market for nails is mostly people who have always used nails and perhaps feel that nails are easier and more convenient to use,” Rosko reports. “But I think the share of nails in the fastener market will continue to decline.” As for the future of screws, he believes that over the next decade their configuration may evolve to offer a cleaner aesthetic. “Rather than high-profile hexagonal heads,” he suggests, “we might see low-profile dome heads that provide a better aesthetic on the roof.”
Hitting the Nail on the Head
Maze Nails of Peru, Ill., got its start in the late 1800s after the Maze family lumberyard began selling cedar roof shingles. Yet the steel cut nails of the day deteriorated quickly so that customers suffered wind damage to their roofs. To address the problem, the Mazes bought a used nail machine to make their own higher-quality nails from zinc. Though the soft zinc did not drive well, the nails offered roofing customers a rust-resistant alternative.
At the turn of the century when the price of base metals soared, the Maze family devised a way to make steel nails and dip them in molten zinc. As a byproduct, the new nails drove much better than pure zinc nails yet retained their rust-resistant properties. For the next half-century the nails were dipped by hand until increasing demand necessitated introduction of an automated double-dipping process in 1955.
By the 1960s annual sales Maze Nails were measured in the millions of pounds. “As building materials changed and improved,” explains current sales manager Tom Koch, “we also developed new methods of fastening them, including spiral shank threading to increase their holding power.”
Koch cites the example of hardboard siding, which blunted conventional nails and prompted Maze to devise new high-carbon steel, small-headed siding nails that remain a standard in the industry. More recently, the company is providing both bulk and collated nails for the emerging fiber-cement siding market. “And we’ve come up with nails for coil trim and for gutter systems,” he adds.
With its 1990 purchase of Independent Nails — the company that first introduced ring shank nails for improved holding power — Maze Nails enlarged its line of specialty nails to include stainless steel nails, copper nails, plastic head AP nails, metal head cap nails, paneling nails, hardwood trim nails, and aluminum nails. Of special interest to rural builders, adds Koch, his company offers post-frame nails (or “pole barn nails”), zinc-galvanized stainless steel nails for use with today’s new ACQ pressure-treated lumber, and washer nails for metal roofs.
“Due to all of the low-cost imports, we’re one of the few manufacturers of nails left in the United States,” confirms Koch, “and we’ve survived by making specialty nails.” Reliable quality in nails — a concern with imports, he says — is especially vital today “because with the new pressure-treated lumber, the nail rusts inside the wood.” As a result, corrosion may not be evident simply by looking at the exposed head of the nail.
Metal roof nails, Koch continues, have improved during the past 40 years. Back then, nails came with washers made of lead which, when driven, would form a seal to keep out moisture. Lead was phased out 15 years ago due to health concerns for plant workers, but even in the 1970s Maze switched to neoprene and later to EPDM for its washers.
But why not use screws instead of nails for rural building applications? “Nails typically cost less,” contends Koch, “and holding power isn’t a drawback because post-frame buildings are designed to work with the holding power of nails. Customers also tell us they don’t have to worry about having an air compressor or power access, and a screw gun. Of course, we make collated nails for use with nail guns. But using a hammer and nail is simpler and less expensive than using screws.”
Simplicity, however, does not trump aesthetics. Koch says his firm sells specialty nails in more than 250 colors. Builders can also obtain a plastic “hammer cap” to soften the blow of the hammer on the nail head so that the paint is less likely to chip.
Though Koch acknowledges that post-frame nails “are virtually unchanged from 40 years ago,” he believes nails will continue to have their place among construction fasteners. Even within the past 12 months, he reports his company’s ring shank roofing nails have been approved for use under the Miami/Dade County building code, and that Maze Nails have met the ASTM A153 standard that governs fasteners for pressure-treated and fire-retardant wood under the 2006 International Building Code.
“It’s true when people say that screws are predominant in the fastener market today,” Koch allows. “But somehow we continue to get lots and lots of orders from builders who decide to use nails.”

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