Nails for Woodworking | Popular Woodworking Magazine

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This very disgusted closure has a place in the best furniture. Here because.

Aamong furniture manufacturers, the reputation of the simple nail is somewhere south of expired glue and tacos made with weasel knees.

The following statement is one that you listen to continuously: The best furniture is made using only wood-wood joinery, just like our ancestors and ancestors did. The only problem with this claim is that it is completely wrong.

Nails have been an important part of furniture production since the Egyptians, at least. And not just for difficult jobs. The best pieces of the 18th century use many nails. The Roman, Gothic, shaker, Queen Anne, Victorian and Arts & Crafts pieces use all nails for important parts of their construction.

So why do modern carpenters despise fingernails? My guess is this: they are using (and hating) the wrong nail.

It can be difficult to find good nails designed to make furniture, even if the offer seems to be improving. So what most carpenters have experience with modern wire nails. Wire nails are OK for carpentry, but they just don’t hold well enough for furniture.

In this article you will learn all the different types and shapes of nails that are important for making furniture and how to apply them to your projects so that the nails can actually survive the wood around them. Let’s start by learning the four different ways in which nails are made.

Beaten or Roman

Rough and ready. The wrought iron nails made by the blacksmith are wonderful and hold incredibly well. However, their prominent heads may not be suitable for all applications.

Perhaps the first nail is what we now call a machined nail or a Roman nail (because the Romans made so many of them). These nails are made by a blacksmith and have a particular shape: the nail shank is approximately square in the section and tapers to a point on all four of its edges. The head is formed by hammer blows and generally has three or four facets.

Of all the nails I’ve used, I think these are the best (at least so far in my experience). They taper off on all four sides, making them an extraordinary wedge. Furthermore, their rough surface – a natural byproduct of the blacksmith process – makes them even more stubborn.

What is the downside? Like any nail with a tapered shaft, it is necessary to drill a pilot hole, except in softer woods. And they are expensive and time consuming. A typical locksmith nail can cost anywhere from $ 1.25 to $ 3 each.

When I can afford these nails I am happy to pay so much – not only for their holding power but because they look wonderful. And I think using cheap looking nails is like using cheap looking pulls on a nice piece of furniture.

Machine made and forged

Nails of the 19th century. The cut nails are machine made and tapered on only two of their four edges. They hold well – much better than a metal nail.

My second favorite nail has the shape of a Roman nail (the rod is tapered on four sides) but it is made with a modern forging. These nails are inexpensive compared to worked nails and hold very well, perhaps as well as blacksmith’s nails. They look a lot like a blacksmith beaten nail, but have a smooth surface finish and all look identical. And just like a worked nail, they usually require a pilot hole.

Modern Miracle These forged nails in France look similar to those of a blacksmith but cost a fraction of a hand closure.

Because they are made by machine they do not have the craftsmanship of a blacksmith’s nail, but for the price they cannot be beaten.

As far as I know, there is only one manufacturer of these nails, the Rivierre Nail Factory in France. But they are now available in the United States and across Europe.

Cut your nails

Wedge the fine grain. The tapered edges of a cut nail must push against the final grain of the pilot hole. Otherwise, they will divide your work as firewood.

At the end of the 18th century, ingenious mechanics developed machines that could cut a ton of nails in a short period of time. All that was needed was a flat metal bar and a machine that could “cut” it like a guillotine.

The cut nails are typically rectangular in the section. In one view, the nail has parallel sides. In the other view, the tree thins. And it usually has a head, although there are headless varieties.

Due to the shape of its stem, a cut nail needs a pilot hole (except in some soft woods) and the tree usually needs to be oriented in a certain way to avoid dividing the work. Think of the nail as a wedge. Apply the wedge so that it is parallel to the grain of the top board you are nailing. Otherwise you are cutting the mini firewood with your nail.

If this confuses you, don’t worry. You will only get it wrong once. To date, the only manufacturer of cut nails for furniture and floors, as far as I know, is Tremont Nail in Mansfield, Massachusetts. Many places sell nails cut with other brands (or no brands), but since the closure of a cut nail factory in West Virginia, Tremont is the only manufacturer of cut nails for furniture.

A side note: masonry nails look a lot like cut nails. Some masonry nails can actually be used in wood. But many of them have such a pronounced taper that they will always divide the work, regardless of the type of pilot hole you make. In addition, masonry nails are extremely hard, so they will not bend when the wood moves seasonally. They will divide your work.


It’s not my favorite. Wire nails are cheap – that’s the best thing I can say about it. I don’t use them in carcass construction.

Round wire fasteners have been around for a long time. Archaeological evidence shows that even the earliest civilizations made threads that could be used to hold things together. Once the wire was difficult to make (you had to force the metal through a small hole in a stone). Now it’s easy

As a result, wire nails have become the dominant type of fastener since the late 19th century. They’re incredibly cheap, don’t require a pilot hole, and they hold decently (I’m nice here).

They don’t fit in the job like other nails do. So when I use them, I use the longest ones I can get away with.

The names of the nails

Small head. The head helps hold the two parts of the joint together, but there is only one small head that can do. Don’t ask the brads too much and you will get along with them.

Nails have a ridiculous number of confusing names: there are hundreds of varieties for crafts. For the most part, I suggest that you ignore the names at the beginning and focus on how they look. This will usually tell you what they are for. For furniture, we usually use four nail shapes.

1. Brad. This generic name refers to a nail with a small head. The Brad can lock the shelves in dados with what is called the “toenail joint”. Or he can fix one piece of wood to another when the head has to be inconspicuous. Since the head is small, the brad’s holding force is in its stem. So it is not ideal for fixing a rear or lower piece of furniture.

A swollen head. If you need energy, look for a large head on the nail. The head can prevent a rear or lower cabinet from being removed from the casing.

2. Clouts, Wroughts or Roseheads. Nails that have a prominent head have the highest fixing power. They can prevent a rear piece of furniture or the bottom of the chest from being pulled out of a carcass. Think of the head as well as the washer on a bolted joint. The price of this holding power is that the head of the nail is quite visible, for better or for worse.

Many times this nail shape is also used for “tightening”, that is when an extra long nail is passed through two pieces and its too long tip is pushed back into the work.

Small daggers. Headless brads offer only enough holding power to hold the job in place while the glue dries. Their greatest virtue is that the head is almost invisible.

3. Headless nails. These thin nails have a small or absent head. They are mainly used for fixing moldings and can keep the work in place while the glue dries.

Light weights. Pins are useful when finger pressure holding power is needed. Keeping veneer, stringing and inlay in place while glue sets is an ideal application for these thin fasteners.

4. Pin. Usually these are wire nails with a small domed head which are used to secure light hardware pieces, such as a keyhole for a padlock or to temporarily hold veneer pieces in place.

On the “Penny size” of the nails

Decode the penny system. Here I am nailing a 1⁄2 ″ thick board on a carcass. I convert the fraction of 1⁄2 ″ into eighths or 4⁄8 ″. The numerator is the size in pennies that I need (usually).

The origin of the so-called “penny system” of sized nails is cloudy. I think the reason we still use the penny system is because it’s brilliant once you get it.

How long does a 5 last?d nail? (The “d“It’s going to” penny “.) I should probably look for it first to be sure. The point is, it doesn’t matter how long a 5d the nail is, as long as I know the trick for the system.

Here’s how it works: when you nail things together you have a top board and a bottom board. The nail first enters the upper table, then goes to the lower table.

So how thick is your top edge? Let’s say it is 1/2“thick. Now convert that fraction, 1/2“, In the round of 16 – 4/8“. The top number, 4, is the size of the penny you probably need: or 4d.

There are exceptions.When working in soft pine, you should increase the nail size by one cent, to 5d in our example. And the second exception is this: use your brain. Is the bottom panel thin? Is this particular species easy to divide? Are you tightening the nail? Do you need additional holding power? Adapt and adjust.

And the carpenters who use the metric system? One of my students in England found out how to calculate the required penny size when using the metric.

Here’s the rule: take the size of the top board in millimeters and divide it by three, rounding up or down as usual in math.

So if you are nailing a 19mm job, you should use a 6d nail (19 divided by 3 is 6.33). If nailing 13mm material, use a 4d nail (14 divided by 3 is 4.33).

You can also use the following table as you become familiar with the system. After a while you will look at a nail and know what it is for.

Common nail sizes

Penny size Length (inches) – Length (mm) – Thickness of the work that sets *

2d 1 ″ – 25 – 1/4“(6mm)

3d 1 1/4 ″ – 32 – 3/8“(9mm)

4d 1 1/2 ” – 38 – 1/2“(13mm)

5d 1 3/4 ″ – 44 – 5/8“(15mm)

6d 2 ″ – 51 – 3/4“(19mm)

7d 2 1/4 ″ – 57 – 7/8“(21mm)

8d 2 1/2 ” – 64 – 1 ″ (24mm)

* Note: these are approximate metric sizes. You may not find a 38mm nail on sale. But a 40mm nail will be fine.

Tightening nails

Together forever. A narrow nail is difficult to remove without completely destroying the wood. Many first doors are made with this technique.

Click nails are one of the most effective nail joints I know of. You can build a boat with this technology. Or a door that will last 600 years, easy.

There is not much to tighten your nails. Use a nail apiece. The head acts like the head of a bolt on one side of the joint. The nail tree passes through both parts of the work and its tip emerges.

The too long part is then redirected into the wood and diverted through the grain. It works like a paper clip or a hook, holding the two pieces together.

Cast iron is useful. The nail heads rest on the surface of the circular saw. Hammer the tips of the nails to fold them back into the work.

The nails for tightening are soft, which makes them easy to fold back into the job. If you don’t have your nails clenched close at hand, you can soften and point any one nail to head by holding it with pliers and shaping it on a belt sander. The heat of the belt sander softens the nail in no time.

How to bend the tip of the nail in the wood? Some people first drive the entire nail with the tip sticking out 1/2“A 2”. Then they hold the nail head with a steel plate and hammer the tip of the nail until it bends again in the work.

It is also possible to deflect the tip by backing up the work with an iron or steel plate. The tip of the nail hits the plate and automatically folds in the job. (Tilt the pilot hole to guide the folding action through the grain of your work.)

Practice tightening in the test pieces before diving into the clamping nails in a finished piece. Tightening can go wrong quickly if you are not familiar with the particular nails, pilot hole and work at hand.

– CS

On the pilot hole

When will it split? When you nail near the end of a board in an unfamiliar species (or with a new type of nail), make a test joint to see when it will break.

Machined, forged and cut nails usually need a pilot hole, otherwise you may split the top board, especially when you’re nailing near the end of a board. The size of the pilot depends on many factors, mainly the proximity of the nail to the end of the board and the nailed species.

My best advice is this: if you are not sure about dividing the work, create a test joint identical in every way to the real joint. Start with a pilot hole the same size as the tip of the nail. For example, my 4d nail nails have a tip that stands for 3/32“, So this is where I start.

Point to point. When I look for a starting point when I use cut nails, I try a pilot hole of the same diameter as the tip of the nail.

Drill the pilot to a depth between half and two thirds of the length of the nail rod, otherwise the joint will be weak. If the top tab splits, move upward by one size in diameter of the tip. Repeat until the joint locks and divides.

One caveat: with forged and forged nails, I like to use a tip that tapers along its length. This greatly reduces the split.

Which size? It is difficult when using a tapered tip. I use twist drills intended to pilot pilots for wood screws, setting the bit so that the widest part of its pilot hole has the same diameter as the shaft of the nail just below its head. And just like with cut nails, the depth of the pilot hole should be between half and two thirds of the length of the nail.

Guide and nail setting

Deceptive cones. When using tapered tips, match the larger diameter of the tip to the diameter of the shaft under the nail head. This is a good starting point.

If you have done your homework, driving the nail is easy. I like a hammer with a 16 ounce head for most of the work. For headless nails and nails, an 8 ounce cross hammer is nice. The cross peeling, sometimes written “pein” or “box”, is ideal for starting the nail without tapping the fingers: the peen creeps between the fingers.

If your hammer has a slightly domed face, you should be able to set the nail flush with the wood without denting it (called “Frenching” by the British).

Setting the nail under the work surface is done with a set of nails, also called a nail punch. Usually do not set nails or rose heads because the head will break badly if forced under the surface of your work. For nails and headless nails, set the nail 1/32“Below the surface – no more than 1/16“. The deeper setting of the nail will make the hole difficult to grout or more noticeable if you do not grout the nail.

Furniture making sets / punches are usually available in three sizes. Use the one that most closely matches your head size.

The result

Enough hammers. Two hammers should be sufficient for most activities. The 16 oz. the hammer on the right is ideal for nailing 4d and larger nails. 8 ounces. cross-peen handles smaller nails.

Nails do not replace good wood-to-wood joinery. They exist to make a difficult situation easier. An example is to hold on to a rear or lower piece of furniture. If you catch the back or bottom in a rut, you won’t be able to repair it. Screwing in place can be complicated because it is necessary to adapt to the movement of the wood, therefore the screws need grooved holes.

Nails make it easy. They can be pulled out for repairs and fold to allow for wood movement.

Nails can add holding power when glue is not enough. For example, shelves glued in a nut have little strength due to all the final grain in the joint. But a handful of toenail nails are invisible and can last for centuries.

Like many things in traditional carpentry, the nails for traditional furniture were designed by intelligent people who knew wood intimately. We just have to be smart enough and willing to learn how to choose the right nail, use it in the right place and guide it with confidence that it will survive all of us.

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