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Tips From Sticks-In-The-Mud Woodshop
Jim Randolph
Long Beach, Mississippi

(Click on any picture to see a larger version)

Welcome to "Tips From Sticks-In-The-Mud Woodshop." I am a hobbyist, not a professional, someone who loves woodworking, just like you do. I have found some better ways to accomplish tasks in the workshop and look forward to sharing those with you each month, as well as hearing your problem-solving ideas.

Tip #1 - Removing Stubborn Nails and Hazards from Wood

There is both art and science in nail/metal hazard removal. It is preferable to perform the process before milling. Our saw blades and planer knives last so much longer that way. Below, with a series of photos, I've outlined the techniques I use for stubborn nail and screw removal from second-hand wood.

You will notice a stark difference to Steve Johnson's wastrel technique of simply cutting around the metal and throwing out the wood . Just kidding, of course.

As someone who opts for wood with "character" whenever I can , it is not unusual for my raw material to be adorned with hazards.

Your first step is to obtain a hand-held metal detector. I suppose if you're a treasure hunter you could do this task with the type of metal detector used to find coins and other metal valuables in the ground, but I have no experience with that equipment. Perhaps those who do could enlighten us by sending an email. I use a unit commonly seen in airports. It is a well-known name brand and reasonably-priced. Here is a link to the Handyman NailFinder, a very similar model sold by Highland Woodworking . As it isn't used often I unload the battery when it's stored , attaching it with a rubber band, protecting the detector's inner workings should the battery leak.

If you like funky, old wood like I do, you won't be in business long without one of these. One 10-penny nail and there goes your Forrest II Woodworker or planer blade.

The basics: A claw hammer can get out most nails with a head, and, if the claw hasn't been abused, will even dig into the shaft of a nail and pull smooth, headless nails.

A claw hammer can take a bent-over nail like this and pull it all the way to vertical…

A step up from the standard claw hammer is this long, Estwing framing hammer. A beast from my house-framing carpenter days, it features a waffle face and tons of leverage.

The Estwing's straight claw is excellent for standing a bent-over nail upright.

A standard crowbar (a.k.a. prybar) is the next step up in leverage. If a nail is twisted or bent, a full-length crowbar can probably still pull it out.

A board under the head of the prybar can serve two purposes. It adds mechanical advantage and protects the work from dents caused by the bar.

Supplemental boards can be as thin as Masonite or as thick as this 2x4 scrap. Masonite was patented in 1924 in Laurel, Mississippi, by William H. Mason, and is still manufactured here.

A flat bar is a crowbar made for special circumstances. When the head of a nail is barely above the surface of the board, this jewel may be able to slide in between. If necessary, once the nail starts out, a standard crowbar can be employed to achieve removal with less effort. Several sizes of flat bar are shown below.

The slot in the middle of a flat bar can be used to raise a bent-over nail. It can also slide under the head of a nail really close, but not under, the surface of a board.

The tiniest flat bar's head can slip under the sharp end of a close nail and lift it up for more straightening by another technique.

A cat's paw (or cat's claw) is a tool meant for a no-beauty situation. When a nail head is at or below the wood's surface, this beast dives in to get it. Be prepared for a really distressed look, or some serious defect repair if this tool is deployed. Don't use this when you're restoring Granny's prized dresser.

He's goin' in!

This is considered a GOOD outcome after a cat's paw.

Waterpump pliers are good for lifting bent nails and levering out headless nails and finishing nails.

Lineman's pliers are handy for a close-to-the-wood nail, as well as grabbing nail shanks for extraction. When possible, protect the surface with a board.

I have two sizes of nippers.

They're good for cutting nails in two, but, with finely-applied pressure they can grip the shaft of a nail and roll it right out.

Vise Grips are good for several kinds of extractions. Short nails where there isn't much to get hold of and screws that the slot or Phillips head is too boogered up to use a screwdriver on. Like nippers, Vise Grip pliers can roll a nail out, but there is likely to be a dent in the wood's surface.

Another way to remove a screw with a ruined head is to chuck it with a variable-speed-reversible drill. Back it out with the slowest possible speed.

In order to reinstall this molding, the old nail needs to come out. Pulling this nail out through the front could create a defect that would be difficult to disguise.

Nippers are the perfect tool to grasp and remove this finish nail, pulling the head through the wood and out the back side.

This looks like a pretty bad blowout, but, because it is on the back side of the molding, it will never show.

Here you see the "show" side of the molding will look perfect again when a nail is put through the same hole.

Sometimes there is not enough nail sticking out to get a grip with anything. One example is a broken-off nail. You can drill the surrounding wood away.

Then grab it with a pair of diagonal cutters, also called "dikes."

Continue to Tip #2 - Reusing Nails

Jim Randolph is a veterinarian in Long Beach, Mississippi. His earlier careers as lawn mower, dairy farmer, automobile mechanic, microwave communications electronics instructor and journeyman carpenter all influence his approach to woodworking. His favorite projects are furniture built for his wife, Brenda, and for their children and grandchildren. His and Brenda's home, nicknamed Sticks-In-The-Mud, is built on pilings (sticks) near the wetlands (mud) on a bayou off Jourdan River. His shop is in the lower level of their home. Questions and comments on woodworking may be sent to DrRandolph@MyPetsDoctor.com . Questions about pet care should be directed to his blog on pet care, www.MyPetsDoctor.com . We regret that, because of high volume, not all inquiries can be answered personally.
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