Why cut nails are better - part two...

May 17 2016 1 Comment

After last week's blog about why cut nails are better, I bet you're all wondering where I was heading with that - so here's why I think cut nails are better than wire nails.

Cut nails grip better than wire nails for a bunch of reasons;

1 - Nails hold in place for the same reason Japanese plane irons keep position. When you bang in a nail you push the fibers of wood down. After nailing, in order for the nail to pop out, it has to overcome the force of thousands of wood fibers acting like little barbs that grip the nail. Wire nails are round and only taper at the tip, so the wood fibers along the shaft of the nail are only bent a little. With cut nails, which are tapered throughout their length, the taper increases as the nail goes deeper so more and more wood is bent away with increasing force resisting pullout.

2 - More wedging action all around also means more forces that can split the wood. When you hammer in a wire nail the pointed tip wedges the wood in all directions. A large wire nail will have more force holding it in than a small wire nail, but also more force trying to split the wood. Cut nails are only tapered in one dimension and when installed properly with the wedge parallel to the grain of the wood, the taper of the nail is with the grain so it doesn't force a split, and the parallel sides of the nail won't cause a wedging action that would split the wood. So, for a given size and length of nail you get a lot more holding power with a cut nail.

3 - The wedging action of a wire nail is fixed by the diameter of the point. Far more wedging action can be achieved in the continuous increasing taper of a cut nail. Some cut nails (boat nails) have a wider section in the middle so that the wood at the top of the nail can swell back around the nail for even more strength.

4 - The square section of a cut nail resists attempts at twisting the wood, which is easy to do with a round wire nail. This reduced movement helps keep the nailed structure stable.

5 - A cut nail is tapered top to bottom so that the top piece being nailed down is held down by the taper of the nail and you don't need much of a nail head. This allows for a much smaller nail head that is easily set flush with the wood. With a wire nail, with less gripping force, the head is an important part of keeping the joint from separating with a more visible result.

Source (Tools for working wood)

Now, Where can you purchase cut and forged nails?

Tremont Nail

Glasgow Steel Nail

Or another source I visited during my trip in Germany is the DICTUM shop. They sell a great range of blue steel cut nails. The shipping is expensive, but you will not regret the quality of these nails. I also just found these forged nails are manufactured by Rivierre Nail Factory in France and you can also buy them direct from them.

Below is an article from Christopher Schwarz Blog entitled: “The Most Tenacious Nails Ever” telling us his latest experience with a nail made by Rivierre Nail Factory.

"I have removed some difficult nails during the last 20 years, including a lot of manufactured cut nails and blacksmith-made wrought nails. Both of these styles of nails always hold much better than modern wire nails, which hold about as well as hot-melt glue or nails made of spaghetti.

But today I had to pull out one of the French die-forged nails from the Rivierre Nail Factory. If I had to write a song about it, I’d call it “I Fought the Nail and the Nail Won” by Nine Inch Nails.

Here’s how it began. I was attaching 1/2” thick poplar backboards to a white oak carcase using the 40mm nails. First I drilled a 1/8” diameter pilot hole that was about half the length of the nail. Then I hammered the nail home.

But as soon as I finished, I saw my error. The backboard had shifted about 3/16” from where it was supposed to be.

First I grabbed my 3 lb. lump hammer and a beater block and tried to knock the backboard free. After all, it was just one nail holding the backboard in place. The nail didn’t budge!

Then I tried to slip a thin cabinetmakers’ pry bar between the backboard and the case to lift the back board. No dice!

Next I tried to knock a small crowbar between the back and case with a hammer and some gentle taps so I didn’t destroy the backboards. No joy!

Then I reluctantly took my Japanese cat’s paw and dug under the nail’s head to pull the nail out by its head. This is always my last resort. But even then I still couldn’t pull the head up. Even with the 90° leverage of the cat’s paw!

After five minutes of digging around under the head I finally abused the poplar enough that I could lift the backboard enough to get a serious crowbar between the case and backboard. And with a mighty groan, the nail gave up. But not without cracking the backboard and cracking the shiplap on the adjoining backboard!

I considered replacing this backboard with a new one to hide the evidence of the scuffle. But I decided that showed a lack of respect to the nail. So I fastened the backboard in place, leaving the splits (which are cosmetically minor)."

With this article, some research, and my own experience, I therefore honestly believe that cut nails are way better than wire nails. Unfortunately we don't stock them at Piranha Tools just yet - but who knows what the future brings...

I have a project I'm currently working on and I think I'm about to order some of these nails for myself! 

Cheers, Gaston


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  • Great article, thanks Gaston.
    I bought some cut nails from the Old Stone Store at Kerikeri, and if any of you are interested, they can be sourced through Heritage NZ, at this link
    Not cheap, but they hold well, and for reproduction and/or authentic repairs of old furniture, they are superb.

    Richard Gay on

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