In Techniques

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Clenching a nail – sometimes spelled “clinching” – is an essential traditional woodworking skill. But until you are clenching like a pro, there are some baby steps you can take.

In the video above, I show how I clenched the 4d cut headless brads from Tremont Nail Co. that secure the battens to the flat-panel door of the Shaker cabinet I built for the February 2011 issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine.

The battens ensure the door will remain flattish during service, and the nails allow you to avoid some kind of nutty joinery backflips, such as a sliding dovetail.

While there are many ways to clench nails (using two hammers, a special bucking block or your superpowers), these two methods are the ones that I prefer.

— Christopher Schwarz

Like Traditional Furniture? I do.
• One of the best ways to train your eye to build nice looking American stuff is to look at old books. For the money, you cannot beat used copies of Wallace Nutting’s “A Furniture Treasury.” Vols. I and II are the most useful. The books are cheap and widely available – check

• “Early American Country Furniture”
by Denis Hambucken is a great book with 22 projects to build. Hambucken has a nice eye and the pieces are fairly straightforward to build. And tons and tons of good illustrations.

• Aldren A. Watson’s “Country Furniture” is a book I’ve read many times, not just for the furniture, but because Watson gets into the head of the early American furniture maker and discusses the social and economic factors that influenced him. It’s a mighty fun book to read, and Watson’s illustrations are excellent.

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Showing 7 comments
  • Bernie Vail

    You "clench" your fist – you "clinch" a nail

  • Ron Godbout

    I’m glad your woodworking skills are better than your English applications. The correct verb for securing a nail is "to clinch". The dictionary shows "clench" as a
    distant alternative for "clinch".

    Ron Godbout
    Northfield, NH

  • John

    Nice demo but I am curious as to why one would use that technique in view of the fact that we have better 21th century fastening methods. Unless you are doing it for a period look; then I get it. Also in the finished chest I do not see any evidence of the nails – what do you do to camouflage them.


  • Steve

    No, no, no. Clinching is what you do to a nail. Clenching is what you do when you read something like this:

  • Christopher Schwarz


    Good point.

    I definitely use a brad awl when clenching finish nails and common nails. But with headless brads, the shank is so narrow that a brad awl’s hole is too big. The nail would fall out.


  • Stephen Shepherd

    Nice tutorial, however I think traditionally they used a brad awl to make the holes, so as not to remove any of the wood as drilling does.

    Using a brad awl pushes the wood fibers aside and when the wood swells back it holds the nail fast.



    Very informative video! I look forward to more. Sliding dovetails can be such a pain!

    Happy holidays!

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