Working with cut nails…

As a preservation carpenter and joiner my work regularly requires me to work work with a wide variety of cut nails. A lot of recent woodworking publications focus on cut nails appropriate for cabinetmaking and smaller projects, but that barely scratches the surface of what was still available if you know what you want and where to look.

From small projects requiring a few nails…

Brooklyn Tool and Craft bags of cut nails

Brooklyn Tool and Craft bags of cut nails

To larger jobs needing them in bulk…

Decorative wrought head cut nails used for wide pine flooring

Decorative wrought head cut nails used for wide pine flooring

You can still get cut nails, even galvanized steel cut nails from Tremont, the oldest remaining and most prolific cut nail maker that is still around.

Why do I want to use cut nails?

Cut nails offer several advantages over modern wire nails:

  • The chisel shape of the end of a cut nail helps to severe fibers as it is driven into the wood as opposed to wire nails that compress the wood around it
  • The wedge shaped profile and sharp edges that result from how the nail is made help the nail hold better when compared to wire nails
  • The distinctive square head, or decorative wrought head can be quite pleasing to the eye on new and old projects
  • Cut nails with the wrought head can be a cost effective alternative to blacksmith wrought nails for larger or less historic projects
  • Cut clinch nails can be clinched (bent over onto itself) which makes them a very effective fastener much like a large staple
  • For preservation or reproduction work it is important to get the small details right — including use of the correct period appropriate fasteners
Tremont Nail Display Board

Tremont Nail Display Board

All that sounds well and good, but is it worth the extra time and expense to track down these sometimes hard to find nails?

I’d say it’s hard to argue with good results, so let’s take a look at some common uses for cut nails. From simple traditional boxes and drawers…

Chisel box with cut nails

Chisel box with cut nails

To high style door pediments and architectural details..

Cut nails in a traditional door pediment

Cut nails in a traditional door pediment

To clinched nails in a reproduction door on an historic home…

Clinched cut nails in a period door reproduction

Clinched cut nails in a period door reproduction

To siding and trim details…

Cut nails in exterior siding and trim

Cut nails in exterior siding and trim

The cut nails add to the visual authenticity and given their superior holding abilities will also increase the longevity of the work.

Tips on working with cut nails:

  • Make sure the chisel end of the cut nail is set in across the grain thus severing it and not acting like a wedge
  • Start off slow with a couple of light taps before driving the nail home with harder hammer blows
  • If working near the end of a floor board or using a large spike consider pre-drilling a whole that is slightly smaller than the nail to prevent splitting
  • If using the nails on an exterior application consider buying galvanized cut nails. If your local supplier does not offer that, you can send the nails out to have them hot dipped for a reasonable price. This will help the nails survive the elements and require less maintenance.
Cut nails in exterior siding and trim

More cut nails in exterior siding and trim

Gallery of the 20+ Cut Nail Types still available (If you are viewing this in email, you’ll need to click over to the blog to see this gallery properly displayed):

Where can I find these cut nails?

  • If I need a small number of cut nails I usually order from Tools For Working Wood as they sell 1/8lb bags which are secured shut with another cut nail (Labeled as Brooklyn Tool and Craft I believe they are repackaged Tremont nails)
  • If I need a large number of cut nails I usually order direct from Tremont Nail (A company in MA with over 190 years of cut nail making experience)They offer, 1lb, 5lb, 50lb and custom larger size (think nail casks) orders
  • The Tremont Nail wood board with sample nails is available for purchase from Tremont — it’s a great addition to any shop and allow folks to examine each of the above described nail types in person. I have one in my shop and have found it to be a nice visual aid in my teaching.

I hope to see more folks using cut nails on their projects.

-Bill

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Categories: Preservation, Tool Reviews, Traditional Woodworking | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “Working with cut nails…

  1. Larry Chenoweth

    When considering the correct position of the nail in reference to the grain, when nailing together boards with the grain going at right angles from each other. Such as a batten on a door. Which board dictates the nail placement, the top one?

    Also have you ever seen or attempted to dip your cut nails in hide glue to make them hold better like a common day cement coated sinker nail?

    • Hi Larry,
      Thank you for the note.

      When nailing a batten or ledge door the board you are nailing through first dictates the orientation of the nail relative to the grain so you do not split the wood that will have the head of the nail and thus the most wedging action. Once it gets through to the second board you’ll want to clinch it across the grain which is the stronger way to clinch a nail. You can clinch with the grain for other projects (say 2 boards that area parallel rather than perpendicular), but that is a weaker joint and only as strong as the relish wood that is under that little section of clinched nail.

      Cut nails hold significantly better than modern wire nails based on their shape and how they cut fibers and wedge themselves into the wood, so there is no need to dip them in hide glue or the cement resin. On my friend Joel’s blog he has a nice post explaining in more detail how that works:
      http://toolsforworkingwood.com/store/blog/324

      I hope this helps answer your questions.

      Take care,
      -Bill

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