In Shop Blog

We may receive a commission when you use our affiliate links. However, this does not impact our recommendations.

nailsThe topic of nails comes up quite often here in the Popular Woodworking Magazine (PWM) office and on the blogs. This morning I arrived in the office to find an e-mail from a reader that included a link to a short film. With the Academy Awards occurring last night, and this film having been nominated for one back in 1980, I thought it an appropriate time to bring up the subject on the blog.

Having spent most of my life building furniture from the 17th and 18th centuries, my thoughts run immediately to hand-forged nails. Apparently that’s where the thoughts of the director, Phillip Borsos, ran too – considering that’s how the film opens. Because the film centers around the change in nail production, I thought about how Henry Mercer must have felt living in a time where the change from hand made to machine made took place. Borsos’s short film illustrated for me (in 13 minutes and 14 seconds), Mercer’s entire motivation for creating the Mercer Museum (read my article about the museum in the February 2014 issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine) in his hometown of Doylestown, Penn.

Take a look at the video and see if you don’t feel like something in this world is being lost, too. I understand, and completely embrace change, but when you look at those hand-forged nails there’s just something that speaks to a person’s creative soul.

Thanks to Charles Mak for sending the link.

“Nails,” by Phillip Borsos, National Film Board of Canada

Product Recommendations

Here are some supplies and tools we find essential in our everyday work around the shop. We may receive a commission from sales referred by our links; however, we have carefully selected these products for their usefulness and quality.

Recent Posts
Showing 11 comments
  • Albert Rasch

    Part III – the non-OSHA compliant almost steam powered plant – was fascinating! Someone needs to rescue all the pieces in the boneyard too!

  • bthompson10

    Not a lot of action in that movie!
    No girls either

  • Bill Lattanzio

    There was a time when hand forging nails was the “pastime” of farmers, who did it on rainy days and in the winter. Unfortunately, the tax structure/cost of living of Colonial America compared to today doesn’t allow the average person to have such pastimes anymore.

  • Jonathan Szczepanski

    That was really cool. Thanks Chuck!

  • Dave in Ohio

    I think it’s interesting to note that Thomas Jefferson had a nail-making operation at Monticello, which he oversaw carefully.

  • jeckman

    That was an awesome video. I agree with Chris though, I’m glad we don’t have to burn down our houses when we move to recover the valuable nails!

  • Christopher Schwarz

    Great film!

    I think it’s worth noting that making nails by hand was a Dickensian form of slavery in England. Hugh Bodney’s excellent book “Nailmaking” (Shire Classics) explores the topic and might make you think that machine-made cut nails and wire nails were both a technological and social advancement.

    I do love handmade nails. I have to say that Peter Ross is much faster than the smith shown in the film. After watching Peter, this was like slo-mo.

    Thanks for the link!

Start typing and press Enter to search