In Shop Blog, Techniques

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In looking at a lot of old fine furniture, you might be surprised how much of it is made using nails. In fact, I’m often shocked at how bad a reputation the nail has among woodworkers. I think the problem comes from the fact that we are using the wrong nail.

Most nails today are wire nails meaning they are made by slicing up some round wire. It’s a very efficent way to make a nail, but the nail doesn’t hold as well as a cut nail.

Cut nails are wedge-shaped and this makes them hold tenaciously in wood. In fact, they hold shockingly well. Want proof? I dug up some old research done by pointy-heads as the cut nail industry was drawing its last big breaths.

The following figures are for 10d nails (3″ long) and expressed in pounds of holding power per inch of penetration. So multiply each of these numbers by three to see how many pounds of force it took to remove each 10d nail

In yellow pine, cut nails: 324 lbs.; wire nails: 132 lbs.

In white oak, cut nails: 650 lbs.; wire nails: 390 lbs.

In white pine, cut nails: 181 lbs.; wire nails: 70 lbs.

All of these figures are from Audel’s Carpenter’s Guide and were enough to convince me that I needed to start looking closely at the history of nails in woodworking.

– Christopher Schwarz

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  • Karl Rookey

    Wow. Sounds like wire nails are another part of the "easier for us conspiracy" where companies make "improvements" based on the bottom line rather than the value or quality of the product.

    Thanks for providing this information (and links to providers of cut nails, holdfasts, etc.) You’re providing a valuable service and a first rate magazine: just picked up issue #4 and am enjoying it immensely.

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