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This much-maligned fastener has a spot within the most interesting furnishings. Here’s why.

Among furnishings makers, the popularity of the straightforward nail is someplace south of expired glue and tacos constituted of weasel knees.

The following assertion is one you hear on a regular basis: The greatest furnishings is constructed utilizing wood-to-wood joinery alone – similar to our forefathers and foremothers did. The solely downside with that assertion is that it’s fully flawed.

Nails have been an essential a part of furnishings making for the reason that Egyptians, no less than. And not simply for tough work. The most interesting 18th-century items use a lot of nails. Roman, Gothic, Shaker, Queen Anne, Victorian and Arts & Crafts items all use nails for essential components of their building.

So why do fashionable woodworkers despise nails? My guess is that this: They’re utilizing (and hating) the flawed nail.

Good nails designed for making furnishings could be arduous to seek out, although the provision appears to be bettering. So what most woodworkers have expertise with are fashionable wire nails. Wire nails are OK for carpentry, however they merely don’t maintain nicely sufficient for furnishings.

In this text you’ll find out about all the differing types and shapes of nails which might be essential for making furnishings and the right way to apply them to your tasks so the nails may truly outlast the wooden surrounding them. Let’s begin by studying in regards to the 4 alternative ways nails are made.

Wrought, or Roman

Rough & prepared. Blacksmith-made wrought nails are beautiful and maintain extremely nicely. Their outstanding heads may not be appropriate for all functions, nonetheless.

Perhaps the earliest nail is what we now name a wrought nail or a Roman nail (as a result of the Romans made so lots of them). These nails are blacksmith-made and have a specific form: The nail’s shaft is roughly sq. in part and tapers to some extent on all 4 of its edges. The head is shaped with hammer blows and sometimes has three or 4 aspects.

Of all of the nails I’ve used, I believe these maintain the most effective (no less than up to now in my expertise). They taper on all 4 sides, which makes them a outstanding wedge. Also, their tough floor – a pure by-product of the blacksmithing course of – makes them much more cussed.

What’s the draw back? Like any nail with a tapered shaft, it’s good to drill a pilot gap, besides within the softest woods. And they’re costly and time-consuming to make. A typical blacksmith-made nail can price you anyplace from $1.25 to $Three apiece.

When I can afford these nails I’m comfortable to pay that a lot – not solely due to their holding energy however as a result of they give the impression of being fantastic. And I believe utilizing cheap-looking nails is like utilizing cheap-looking drawer pulls on a pleasant piece of furnishings.

Machine-made & Die-forged

Nails of the 19th century. Cut nails are machine-made and taper on solely two of their 4 edges. They maintain nicely – much better than a wire nail.

My second-favorite nail is formed like a Roman nail (the shaft is tapered on 4 sides) however is made with fashionable die-forging. These nails are cheap in comparison with the wrought nails and maintain extraordinarily nicely, maybe in addition to blacksmith-made nails. They look lots like a blacksmith-made wrought nail, however they’ve a easy floor end and all look similar. And similar to a wrought nail, these often require a pilot gap.

Modern miracle. These French die-forged nails look much like a blacksmith-made nail however price a fraction of a hand-crafted fastener.

Because they’re machine-made they don’t have the handmade high quality of a blacksmith-made nail, however for the value they’ll’t be beat.

As far as I do know, there is just one producer of those nails, Rivierre Nail Factory in France. But they’re now out there within the United States and all by means of Europe.

Cut Nails

Wedge the tip grain. The tapered edges of a minimize nail ought to push towards the tip grain of the pilot gap. Otherwise, they’ll break up your work like firewood.

In the late 18th century, ingenious mechanics developed machines that would shear out a ton of nails in a brief time period. All that was required was a flat bar of metallic and a machine that would “cut” it like a guillotine.

Cut nails are sometimes rectangular in part. In one view, the nail has parallel sides. In the opposite view, the shaft tapers. And it often has a head, although there are headless varieties.

Because of the form of its shaft, a minimize nail wants a pilot gap (besides in some comfortable woods) and the shaft often needs to be oriented a sure method to keep away from splitting the work. Think of the nail as a wedge. Apply the wedge so it’s parallel to the grain of the highest board you’re nailing down. Otherwise you’re splitting mini firewood along with your nail.

If this confuses you, don’t fear. You will do it flawed solely as soon as. As of now, the one maker of minimize nails for furnishings and flooring, so far as I do know, is Tremont Nail in Mansfield, Mass. Lots of locations promote minimize nails below different model names (or no model title in any respect), however for the reason that closing of a cut-nail manufacturing unit in West Virginia, Tremont is the one maker of minimize nails for furnishings.

A facet observe: Masonry nails look lots like minimize nails. Some masonry nails can truly be utilized in wooden. But lots of them have such a pronounced taper that they are going to all the time break up the work, it doesn’t matter what form of pilot gap you drill. Also, masonry nails are extraordinarily arduous, so that they received’t bend when the wooden strikes seasonally. They’ll break up your work.

Wire Nails

Not my favourite. Wire nails are cheap – that’s the nicest factor I can say about them. I don’t use them in carcase building.

Fasteners constituted of spherical wire have been round for a very long time. Archaeological proof reveals that even the earliest civilizations made wire that could possibly be used for holding issues collectively. Wire was as soon as troublesome to make (you needed to power metallic by means of a small gap in a stone). Now it’s simple.

As a outcome, for the reason that late 19th century nails constituted of wire have develop into the dominant form of fastener. They are extremely cheap, don’t require a pilot gap and maintain decently (I’m being sort right here).

They don’t wedge themselves into the work the best way that different nails do. So once I use them, I take advantage of the longest ones I can get away with.

The Names of Nails

Small head. The head helps maintain the 2 components of the joint collectively, however there’s solely a lot a small head can do. Don’t ask an excessive amount of of brads and also you’ll get alongside positive with them.

Nails have a ridiculous variety of complicated names – there are tons of of types for the crafts. For essentially the most half, I counsel you ignore the names at first and give attention to how they give the impression of being. That will often let you know what they’re good for. For furnishings work, we often use 4 shapes of nails.

1. Brads. This generic title refers to a nail with a small head. The brad can lock cabinets into dados with what is known as a “toenail joint.” Or it might probably fasten one piece of wooden to a different when the pinnacle must be inconspicuous. Because the pinnacle is small, the brad’s holding energy is in its shank. So it’s not best for attaching a cupboard again or backside boards.

A swelled head. If you want holding energy, look for an enormous head in your nail. The head can stop a cupboard again or backside from being pulled off the carcase.

2. Clouts, Wroughts or Roseheads. Nails which have a outstanding head have essentially the most fastening energy. They can preserve a cupboard again or chest backside from being pulled off a carcase. Think of the pinnacle just like the washer on a bolted joint. The value of this holding energy is that the nail’s head is kind of seen, for higher or worse.

Many occasions this type of nail can also be used for “clenching,” which is when an additional lengthy nail is pushed by means of two items and its too-long tip is pushed again into the work.

Tiny daggers. Headless brads provide solely sufficient holding energy to maintain the work in place whereas the glue dries. Their greatest advantage is that the pinnacle is nearly invisible.

3. Headless Nails. These skinny nails have little or no head. They are used largely for attaching mouldings and may maintain work in place whereas the glue dries.

Lightweights. Pins are helpful once you want the holding energy of finger strain. Keeping veneer, stringing and inlay in place because the glue units is a perfect utility for these skinny fasteners.

4. Pins. These are often wire nails with a small domed head which might be used for attaching light-weight items of {hardware}, reminiscent of an escutcheon for a lock, or for briefly holding items of veneer in place.

On the ‘Penny Size’ of Nails

Decode the penny system. Here I’m nailing a 1⁄2″-thick board to a carcase. I convert the 1⁄2″ fraction to eighths, or 4⁄8″. The numerator is the penny dimension I would like (often).

The origin of the so-called “penny system” of sizing nails is murky. I believe the explanation we nonetheless use the penny system is as a result of it’s sensible, when you perceive it.

How lengthy is a 5d nail? (The “d” stands for “penny.”) I’d in all probability need to look it up first to make sure. The level is that it doesn’t matter how lengthy a 5d nail is, so long as I do know the trick to the system.

Here’s the way it works: When you nail issues collectively you’ve got a prime board and a backside board. The nail enters the highest board first then passes into the underside board.

So how thick is your prime board? Let’s say it’s 12” thick. Now convert that fraction, 12“, to eighths – 48“. The prime quantity, 4, is the penny dimension you in all probability want: or 4d.

There are exceptions. When working in comfortable pine, it is best to improve the nail dimension by one penny, to fived in our instance. And the second exception is that this: Use your mind. Is the underside board skinny? Is this explicit species simple to separate? Are you clenching the nail? Do you want additional holding energy? Adapt and alter.

But what about woodworkers who use the metric system? One of my college students in England found out the right way to calculate the penny dimension required when utilizing metric.

Here’s the rule: Take the scale of the highest board in millimeters and divide it by three, rounding up or down as is common in math.

So if you’re nailing down 19mm work, it is best to use a 6d nail (19 divided by Three is 6.33). If you nail down 13mm materials, use a 4d nail (14 divided by Three is 4.33).

You can also use the useful chart under as you get acquainted with the system. After some time you’ll take a look at a nail and know what it’s for.

Common Nail Sizes

Penny dimension Length (in.)- Length (mm) – Thickness of labor it fastens*

2d 1″ – 25 – 14” (6mm)

3d 1 14″ – 32 – 38” (9mm)

4d 1 12″ – 38 – 12” (13mm)

5d 1 34″ – 44 – 58” (15mm)

6d 2″ – 51 – 34” (19mm)

7d 2 14″ – 57 – 78” (21mm)

8d 2 12″ – 64 – 1″ (24mm)

*Note: These are approximate metric sizes. You may not discover a 38mm nail for sale. But a 40mm nail will do exactly positive.

Clenching Nails

Together ceaselessly. A clenched nail is troublesome to take away with out destroying the wooden totally. Many early doorways are made with this system.

Clenching nails is likely one of the handiest nail-based joints I do know. You can construct a ship with this know-how. Or a door that can final 600 years, simple.

There is just not a lot to clenching nails. Use a headed nail. The head acts like the pinnacle of a bolt on one facet of the joint. The shaft of the nail passes by means of each components of the work and its tip emerges.

The half that’s too lengthy is then directed again into the wooden and diverted throughout the grain. It acts like a staple or a hook, holding the 2 items collectively.

Cast iron is useful. The nail heads are resting on the desk noticed’s floor. Hammer the nail tricks to bend them again into the work.

Nails for clenching are comfortable, which makes them simple to bend again into the work. If you don’t have clench nails useful, you possibly can soften and level any headed nail by holding it with pliers and shaping it on a belt sander. The warmth from the belt sander will soften the nail very quickly.

How do you bend the tip of the nail again into the wooden? Some individuals first drive the whole nail by means of with the tip poking out 12” to 2″. Then they again up the pinnacle of the nail with a metal plate, and hammer the tip of the nail till it bends again into the work.

You can also divert the tip by backing up the work with a plate of iron or metal. The nail tip hits the plate and bends again into the work routinely. (Angle the pilot gap to steer the bending motion throughout the grain of your work.)

Practice clenching in take a look at items earlier than you dive into clenching nails in a completed workpiece. Clenching can go dangerous rapidly should you aren’t acquainted with the actual nails, the pilot gap and the work at hand.

— CS

On the Pilot Hole

When will it break up? When nailing close to the tip of a board in an unfamiliar species (or with a brand new form of nail), make a take a look at joint to see when it is going to break up.

Wrought nails, die-forged and minimize nails often want a pilot gap, in any other case you may break up the highest board, particularly if you find yourself nailing close to the tip of a board. The dimension of the pilot relies on many elements, largely how shut your nail is to the tip of your board and the species being nailed.

My greatest recommendation is that this: If you’re uncertain if you’ll break up the work, make a take a look at joint that’s similar in each method to the actual joint. Start with a pilot gap that’s the similar dimension because the tip of your nail. For instance, my 4d clout nails have a tip that’s about 332“, in order that’s the place I start.

Tip to tip. When trying for a spot to start out when utilizing minimize nails, I strive a pilot gap that’s the similar diameter because the tip of the nail.

Drill the pilot to a depth that’s solely one-half to two-thirds the size of the nail’s shaft, in any other case the joint can be weak. If the highest board splits, transfer up a dimension in bit diameter. Repeat till the joint holds and doesn’t break up.

One caveat: With wrought and die-forged nails, I like to make use of a drill bit that tapers alongside its size. This significantly reduces splitting.

What dimension? That’s a tricky one when utilizing a tapered drill bit. I take advantage of tapered drill bits which might be supposed to drill pilots for wooden screws, setting the bit so the widest a part of its pilot gap is similar diameter because the nail’s shaft proper under its head. And similar to with minimize nails, the pilot gap’s depth must be one-half to two-thirds the size of the nail.

Driving & Setting Nails

Tricky tapers. When utilizing tapered drill bits, match the most important diameter of the bit to the diameter of the shaft below the nail’s head. That’s place to start out.

If you’ve achieved your homework, driving the nail is straightforward. I like a hammer with a 16-ounce head for most work. For pins and headless nails, an 8-ounce cross-peen hammer is good. The cross-peen, typically spelled “pein” or “pane,” is right for beginning the nail with out whacking your fingers – the peen sneaks between your fingers.

If your hammer has a barely domed hanging face, it is best to be capable of set the nail flush to the wooden with out denting it (known as “Frenching” by the English).

Setting the nail under the floor of the work is finished with a nail set, additionally known as a nail punch. You often don’t set clouts or roseheads as a result of the pinnacle will splinter the work badly if compelled under the floor of your work. For brads and headless nails, set the nail 132” under the floor – not more than 116“. Setting the nail deeper will make the outlet troublesome to putty or extra obvious should you don’t putty the nail.

Nail units/punches for furnishings making often are available three sizes. Use the one that the majority carefully matches the scale of the pinnacle.

The Result

Enough hammers. Two hammers must be sufficient for most duties. The 16 oz. hammer at proper is right for nailing 4d nails and bigger. The Eight oz. cross-peen handles the smaller nails.

Nails are usually not a substitute for good wood-to-wood joinery. They exist to make a tough scenario simpler. Holding on a cupboard again or backside is one instance. If you seize the again or backside in a groove, you received’t be capable of restore it. Screwing it in place could be sophisticated as a result of it’s good to accommodate wooden motion – so the screws want slotted clearance holes.

Nails make it simple. They could be pulled out for repairs and so they bend to permit wooden motion.

Nails can add holding energy when glue is just not sufficient. For instance, cabinets glued right into a dado have little power due to all the tip grain within the joint. But a handful of toenailed brads are invisible and may final centuries.

Like many issues in conventional joinery, conventional furnishings nails had been designed by sensible individuals who knew wooden intimately. We simply need to be clever sufficient and keen to be taught to choose the correct nail, use it in the correct place and drive it with confidence that it’s going to outlast us all. 


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