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Old 12-22-2009, 12:05 AM   #1
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Basic questions about using nails.

Do larger nails hold better? I tend to go for smaller nails because there is less danger of splitting wood. But most contractors I see use nails larger than I prefer. Does the longer, thicker nail hold better? I've pulled out lots of old nails of all different sizes, and it doesn't seem that way to me.

Also, do nail guns somehow reduce splitting? I've seen guys work with nail guns and they do seem more immune to damaging the wood.

Finally, I've taken to predrilling holes in the piece to be nailed, when I have the time. The work seems to end up alot better, but it takes an awful long time.


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Old 12-22-2009, 12:35 AM   #2
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Not sure how to answer your question without knowing what you are nailing? Are you concerned about the diameter or the length of the nails you think contractors use as being too large? Makes a difference what the nails are made of too to answer your question.

I find I use screws of different types for a lot of things I used to nail. They tend to hold as well and, in theory, you can get the screws out if you have to replace things.

Good nail guns, attached to an adequate compressor (or with gas cartridges) appropriate to the task, tend not to split wood so often because they should plunk the nail in with one burst of energy. With a hammer you shockwave the nail a few times getting it in and even setting the heads with a nailset if working on trim.

No way you can pre-drill expensive hardwood and then nail the hole with a nailing gun though? Hope you are Annie Oakley if you try! You have to do it the old fashioned way. If it is thin, the risk of splitting increases and more so if it is really dry. You must pre-drill. Quality of the nails makes a big difference too.

If you are pulling finish nails from trim by the way? You don't want to be pounding them out. Get a tool to pull them through from the back, or if you have a lot of trim to recycle, grind them off. If you pound them out, you will destroy the surface.


Last edited by user1007; 12-22-2009 at 12:38 AM.
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Old 12-22-2009, 06:32 AM   #3
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A sharp point on a nail severs the wood fibers (split), while a duller point will crush the fibers. Take a nail and hold it with it's head against a metal backer and tap the point with your hammer to slightly dull it.

If you want the maximum resistance to pull out, do not nail into end grain, instead toe nail it.
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Old 12-22-2009, 06:41 AM   #4
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The size of the nail must be determined by the materials used. Both material's depth will help determine the length needed. Usually you want to nail into the wood 2/3 of it's depth. But size depends on the shear strength needed for the task at hand. Codes determine this. but in conjunction you need to adhere to the number and placement of the nails also. Nail guns will split less due to the momentum of the nail being driven into the wood. This same principle is why you can drive a nail with a powder actuated nail gun into 1/4" steel but would never be able to drive a nail with a hammer into steel.
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Old 12-22-2009, 06:43 AM   #5
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Nails need to be sized for the work they are expected to do. For framing, generally, you would use 12D or 16D so you get enough penetration. Occaisionally 10D or 8D for some toe nailing. Sheathing nailed to framing needs something like 8D. Light work, like trim could use 4, 6, or 8D finish depending on the size of trim and what you are nailing through. Try not to nail too close to the edges or ends if you can avoid it. There are also certain nailing patterns and minimum spacings required for some building components. Try to avoid wood that has been over dried too.
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Old 12-22-2009, 09:57 AM   #6
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My Granddad taught me the trick about "blunting" the ends of finishing nails some 40+ years ago. It still works today. My son was helping me some time back do some crown in a house and I gave him the job of blunting the two boxes of finishing nails before we even started putting up any crown. When he asked why are we doing this, I just told him "because I said so" at that time. When we started putting up the crown I put some "unblunted" nails into his apron and the blunted ones in mine. This was a short piece I could afford to lose to teach him with. Every nail he drove split the wood, mine didn't. After a few nails I told him what I had done, then asked him to see the difference. Lesson learned, the same method my Granddad did to me, and I think it will stick. Thanks, David
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Old 12-22-2009, 10:02 AM   #7
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I'm repairing some framing and replacing some exterior pieces that have gotten soggy over the years.

I wish I had read that bit about toenailing into the ends of wood a few days earlier.
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Old 12-24-2009, 11:37 AM   #8
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Answer: D... all of the above.
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Old 12-24-2009, 01:29 PM   #9
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A small addition to the "blunting" of nails...

Turn your original, sharp, nail around, placing the head exactly where you are going to drive the nail.

"Blunt" the nail in that position. It will do three things:

1. - It will, of course, blunt the nail.
2. - It will "pre-crush" some of the wood fibers.
3. - It will provide a recessed hole into which the nail head can be much more easily and cleanly "set".


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