Choosing the Correct Nail for the Job

There are dozens of different types and sizes of nails, and it is important to choose the right one for the job in hand. Here are the more common ones and what they are used for:

Round wire nail – This is ideal for work where appearance does not matter too much as the nail heads remain visible on the surface of the wood. However, the sections of wood being nailed should be fairly large, otherwise the round body of the nail will cause splits.

Oval wire nail – This is used in joinery work and is far less likely to split wood if the long head-axis follows the grain. The head can also be hit flush with the wood, or sunk and the hole filled using a nail punch and wood filler.

Lost head nail – A much finer round nail, this has a head specially designed to be punched below the surface. Again the hole is filled with putty or a wood filler.

Panel pin – This is a very thin round nail, for joinery and cabinet work and for securing moldings. The small head is easily punched into wood then covered with putty or wood filler.

Tack – The large head enables a tack to be used for fixing carpets, underlays and fabrics to wood.

Clout nail – Another round nail, but with a large head, the clout nail is used mainly for fixing roofing felt or wire fencing. All clout nails used outdoors should be galvanized or made of aluminum alloy.

Plasterboard nails – The jagged shank is designed to improve the holding power of the nail in plasterboard.

Hardboard pin – Sometimes called a deep drive pin, this is for securing hardboard sheet. The diamond-shape head sinks into the board, effectively hiding itself.

Cut floor brad – This flat nail is cut from sheet metal and used to fix floorboards. It gives a good grip, and the blunt tip cuts through wood fibers – rather than pushing them aside – to avoid splitting the wood.

Cut clasp nail – Again cut from sheet metal, the clasp nail is for securing heavy timbers to timber or masonry. It gives a good grip – for example, it is used to hold picture rail to a wall.

Annular nail – This is often called a ring nail; it has teeth which grip very firmly into wood and is used in naturally soft timbers like western red cedar, where ordinary nails do not grip well. It is also useful for fixing plywood and other large sheet materials.

Masonry nail – A specially toughened nail which can be hammered direct into masonry, it must not penetrate too far or its wedge action may split a brick or block. Protect your eyes when using masonry nails as they can shatter.

Nailing tips

When nailing use the correct type of hammer for the job.

When nailing two pieces of wood of different thicknesses, always fix the thinner piece of wood to the thicker. Choose a nail about two and half to three times longer than the thickness of the thinner piece.

If there is the slightest risk of splitting the wood, and that applies to all hardwood, drill start holes. Choose a drill bit, which is smaller than the shank of the nail.

When using oval nails in line, avoid nailing along the same grain line, otherwise the build up of pressure exerted by the nails will split the wood along that grain.

Reduce the risk of round wire nails splitting wood by blunting the point to a flat surface. This surface then cuts through the wood fibers, rather than pushing them aside.

Increase the holding power of a nail by driving it in at an angle.

To get even more holding power, use nails long enough to go right through the wood, then turn them over or clench them. On pieces of wood of similar thickness drive nails for clenching from either side.

To sink nails into wood, use a nail punch and hammer. Where it is difficult to locate small pins and tacks use a push-pin tool, which holds the pin magnetically while you position it. Then drive it home with a pin hammer.

Avoid nailing into the end grain of wood. If it is unavoidable, drive in nails at opposing angles for better grip and use wood glue.

Removing nails

Where a nail head is visible, lever it up slightly with a tack lifter, an old chisel or the claw ion the handle of carpenter’s pincers, until the claws of a claw hammer can be inserted under the nail head. Protect the wood with a small block of scrap wood under the lifting tools.

If a nail is bent over, straighten the bent section with an old chisel and with pliers, until the claw hammer can be used to draw it. If a nail has lost its head, pull it out with carpenter’s pincers.

If a nail is hidden, chisel away the wood around it until it can be gripped with pincers. To avoid damage to decorative wood, such as picture rails, it may be possible to lever the wood away from the cut clasp nails, leaving the nails in the wall to be wiggled out with pincers. However, cut clasp nails are so hard to remove that you may have to twist off the head with the hammer claw and drive the shank below the surface.

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