Chris Schwarz's Blog

The 18th-century Tool Crib at Home Depot

I’m a big fan of cut nails. They hold far better that modern wire nails and they really have the right look when it comes to building reproduction furniture, which is why I don’t use square-drive brass screws when installing reproduction hinges.

However, cut nails can sometimes be difficult to find. Tremont Nail is an excellent source of the full line of cut nails. The company ships orders promptly, though it can take a week to get your goods. If I need them a bit faster I can usually get a bag of the common sizes and configurations from my local Rockler , a 40-minute drive from my house.

So last week, Managing Editor Megan Fitzpatrick and I were at the local Lowe’s and Home Depot picking out some wood for our “I Can Do That” column in Popular Woodworking. The column is a blast for us to put together each issue. Here are the rules: You build a project and can use only hand-held power tools (jigsaw, miter saw, pocket hole jig) and , here’s the kicker , we only use raw materials from the home centers. No mail order. No secret stashes of wood or special hardware. It’s all off the rack.

So I really wanted some cut nails for a project we’re working on for the February 2007 issue. So we’re rooting around in the fastener section and lo and behold, I see them. Grip Rite Hard Cut Masonry Nails (or, as the box also indicates, “clavos cortados para albanileria”). They are honest-to-goodness cut nails and are available in 8d (2-1/2″) and 6d (2″) lengths. They’re too big for finery, but for large-scale nailing, they’re perfect. Grip Rite also makes a Hard Cut Flooring Nail that is a traditional cut nail that you might want to look for in your area.

After doing some research, I did dig up a few differences you should be aware of. The masonry nails have a smooth surface finish, whereas many of the Tremont nails (such as the most excellent fine finish nail) have a rough surface. Tremont says the rough surface gives the nail some more grip.

The other difference is that the masonry nails are made from high-carbon steel and are hardened. The fine finish cut nails are low-carbon steel and are not hard. This difference has advantages and disadvantages. You’re much less likely to bend the masonry nail when driving it. But you also can’t clench the masonry nail, which is when you bend the tip as it emerges out the other side back into the work. The fine finish nails clench readily.

So I walked away from the home center well-pleased with my find. Now if I could only find pod augers at Home Depot, I’d be really happy.

- Christopher Schwarz

5 thoughts on “The 18th-century Tool Crib at Home Depot

  1. Ethan Sincox

    Chris,

    You mention using cut nails when building reproductions… how common was it to use cut nails in fine furniture building 100+ years ago?

    Why is there such a stigma against using nails in furniture today?

    Ethan

  2. Christopher Schwarz

    I think the masonry nails are too hard to be eaily clenched. When I’ve tried it, it takes a huge effort. And some of them snap.

    The fine finish nails (anything Tremont makes from low-carbon steel) is easily clenched. I wonder if yu got a bad batch. Tremont indicates the firedoor nails are for clinching.

    Chris

  3. Stephen Bachner

    Chris, recently I used Tremont 8d galvanized, fire door clench nails for some Z brace doors. I didn’t use a bucking iron; instead I used pliers to bend the tip of the nail. Many of these nails fractured and seemed much to maleable. I remembered that I also had standard 8d fire door clench nails and tried those as well. The standard nails didn’t fracture like the galvanized nails. Have you experienced any fracturing of these nails?

    Cheers,
    Steve Bachner

  4. Tony Zaffuto

    Chris,

    You touched on the nails being hardened. From my days past as a carpenter, who spent a lot of time in the trenches forming, I would advise that any who use cut masonry nails to be careful when bending or pulling. The nails can break! They will also scar your hammer jaws when pulled! They can cause chips and dings in the hammer face too! However, they do look better.

    Another nail type worth searching out, are some for wood lath (check the spelling on that!). The ones I have picked up range from 4 to 7 penny length and are much softer than masonry.

    Tony Z.

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