Build Furniture with a Hammer

Hammers and cut nails are proper and useful when building fine furniture. The trick is to choose the right-sized hammer and the correct nail for the joint at hand.

Hammers and reduce nails are correct and helpful when constructing
advantageous furnishings. The trick is to decide on the right-sized hammer
and the proper nail for the joint at hand.

Removed from a crude implement, hammer is a surprise of
subtlety and an asset for a lot of sorts of joinery.

by Christopher Schwarz
(Excerpted from the Spring 2006 concern of
Woodworking Magazine

Most woodworkers, and woodworking publications, regard the
hammer as a crude implement. Everybody has a hammer or two on
the wall, however it’s nearly all the time the store’s redheaded
stepchild. In some outlets it has the identical standing as a crowbar –
a device for when a uncommon radical or violent act have to be
carried out. In different outlets the hammer is seen as a device that
have to be endured solely till one can afford a compressor and
pneumatic nailer.

Additionally maligned in
all that is the hammer’s accomplice in joinery: the nail. High quality
woodworking, the considering goes, makes use of nails solely when nothing
else will do, which is often when putting in moulding,
constructing fast jigs or briefly securing elements to be labored
with different instruments. Nails are seen as weak joinery.

The reality about hammers and nails is definitely fairly totally different.
When you’ve got the proper hammer, the proper nail and the proper
method, you really can construct furnishings that assembles
rapidly and finally ends up lots sturdy.
However to grasp how a hammer might help your woodworking, it
helps to first perceive a bit about glue, and the way it can
generally fail you.

Relying a Lot on Glue
The very first thing to recollect in all that is that glue – any glue
– will be weakened by stressing a joint (tipping again in a chair
or wracking a case when shifting it) or by altering its
setting (corresponding to with moisture or warmth in an attic). And
this stress can result in joint failure. Handled fastidiously, glue
will be tenacious. Conservators and restorers I’ve talked to say
a rule of thumb is to anticipate a lifespan of about 70 years for a
hide-glue joint in a family merchandise that sees common use.
Nicely-cared for antiques can have hide-glue joints which have
lasted for much longer – indefinitely, actually.

Likewise, trendy yellow glue (polyvinyl acetate or PVA) was
invented circa World Battle II, and there are pattern joints that
have survived since then with zero signal of degradation.

After all, furnishings suffers stresses in actual life. Cover glues
are delicate to moisture and warmth. PVAs are delicate largely
to warmth (issues begin to actually weaken at 150° F, however a 110°
attic isn’t good for the adhesive, both). And all glues and
all joints will weaken if confused usually.

So when you construct for actual life and also you construct for tomorrow, then
you have to design your furnishings with this reality behind
your thoughts. One option to reinforce a joint is to make use of interlocking
elements – dovetails, some locking miters, and pegged or
wedged tenons are all methods of constructing for the longer-term.
These are all legitimate and time-honored methods, however in addition they
require superior hand expertise or difficult power-tool jigs and
cutters to execute nicely.

Not everybody can reduce and match sliding dovetails, and never each
mission ought to require it.
And it’s at this level the place some woodworkers make a
doubtlessly disastrous mistake. They construct their casework utilizing
joints that contain quite a lot of finish grain or don’t absolutely interlock
– rabbets and dados largely – they usually select to rely closely on
the glue power alone to maintain their elements caught collectively.
They don’t use nails or screws or one other mechanical fastener
as a result of they’re instructed that’s “low cost” joinery. However what’s going
to carry issues collectively if the glue joint goes south?

A 1,000-mile Lesson in Casework
This level was made clear to me when lately I drove to Maine
to offer an illustration of casework building. I introduced
alongside two examples of the cupboards proven on the duvet of this
concern. One was assembled totally with yellow glue and reduce
nails. The opposite one I assembled largely through the
demonstration. I obtained the carcase along with glue and nails,
however I didn’t have time to attach and nail on the face body or to
connect the shiplapped again. A number of the joints had been glued with
yellow glue, some with liquid cover glue. After letting the glue
treatment for a pair days, I wrapped up the partially assembled
mission in plastic, shifting blankets and extra plastic – a lot
like all cautious shifting firm would do. Each cupboards had been
tied down firmly behind my truck.

Once I obtained residence, I unwrapped every little thing and located that each one of
the dado joints within the partially assembled case had given up.
At that time, the case was held collectively solely by the
My assumption is that the highway and engine vibration broken an
meeting that was (at that time) weak. I used to be frankly stunned
that the glue had given up, and I used to be glad that the nails had been
there to carry issues collectively. As I pulled out the nails to
re-glue the carcase I made one other discovery: These old-style
reduce nails, not like trendy fasteners, didn’t let go simply. It
was time to take an in depth take a look at reduce nails.

Proper Nail; Incorrect Nail

Cut nails (left) taper on two long edges and have rectangular cross-sections; wire nails (right) are straight and round.

Minimize nails (left) taper on two lengthy edges and have rectangular
cross-sections; wire nails (proper) are straight and spherical.

What we name nails as we speak weren’t the fasteners that constructed
furnishings and houses within the early days of the Colonies. Right here’s a
temporary historical past: The nail is mostly hailed as a Roman
innovation, though small nails and tacks solid in copper and
different treasured metals have been present in historical Egyptian work,
in keeping with Geoffrey Killen’s scholarly analysis into early
woodworking. These Egyptian nails had been used to carry furnishings
coverings – from upholstery to metallic foil – in place.

The Roman iron nail was primarily the sample for all
nail-making from 3000 B.C. till the early 19th century.
Certainly, images of Roman nails recovered from a seven-ton cache
relationship to 87 A.D. look similar to nails recovered from Thomas
Jefferson’s Monticello.

These Roman-style nails had been made one after the other by hand, had
square-shaped shanks and  they tapered on all 4 sides
to a degree.

Here is an inside look at a nail hole made by a cut nail. Note the way that the end-grain fibers are bent downward by the tapers on the nail. This, and the rough finish of the cut nail, increases the holding power.

Right here is an inside take a look at a nail gap made by a reduce nail.
Word the best way that the end-grain fibers are bent downward by
the tapers on the nail. This, and the tough end of the reduce
nail, will increase the holding energy.

Starting circa 1800, machine-made nails started to switch these
handmade Roman-style fasteners. These machine-made fasteners
had been revolutionary as a result of they may very well be made rapidly and
cheaply by reducing them from a flat iron plate. And that’s how
they earned the title “reduce nails.” These nails are sq. or
rectangular in cross part. And – that is necessary – they
taper on solely two sides of the shank.

These had been the fastener of selection within the 19th century, however they
too had been doomed for obsolescence, because of the subsequent
manufacturing innovation: wire nails. That is the round-shanked
nail we’re all acquainted with as we speak and it may be made with
astonishing velocity by machines that clip spherical metallic wire, file
the purpose and pound a head on the highest. Wire nails even have the
benefit of being quicker to put in – they hardly ever require a
pilot gap, not like reduce nails.

Though light-weight wire nails first appeared in France about
the time of Napoleon I, manufacturing of wire nails cranked up
significantly when Father Goebel, a Catholic priest, fashioned the
American Wire and Screw Nail Co. in Covington, Ky., in 1876. As
the cut-nail business went into steep decline, there was a bit
of a doomed public relations battle to show the prevalence of
the old-school reduce nail. School professors designed exams to
consider the 2 fastening methods. Their exams confirmed that reduce
nails held much better than wire nails. How a lot better?
Significantly – wherever from 65 % extra to 135 %

Here’s how to determine the right nail length. Measure the thickness of the board you are fastening and convert that to eighths (e.g. a 1⁄2" board would be four-eighths). Select the nail based on that thickness (e.g. a 4d nail for four-eighths material).

Right here’s learn how to decide the proper nail size. Measure the
thickness of the board you might be fastening and convert that to
eighths (e.g. a 1⁄2″ board could be four-eighths). Choose the
nail primarily based on that thickness (e.g. a 4d nail for four-eighths

Why? It’s largely a matter of the wedging motion of the taper.
When a reduce nail is pushed in correctly, the top grain of the
board is pushed in opposition to the nail’s taper, making the joint
fairly safe. Additionally, the tough floor end of a reduce nail is a
characteristic, not a defect – it additionally provides holding energy to the reduce
So the place do you get reduce nails? Fortunately, they’re nonetheless
accessible. One widespread supply is Tremont Nail Co. of Wareham,
Mass., which has been within the enterprise of constructing reduce nails since
1819 (name 800-842-0560 or Different sources
embrace Lehman’s (877-438-5346 or and VanDyke’s
Restorers (800-558-1234 or

There are all kinds of kinds of reduce nails (Tremont provides
20 or so differing types). For carcase building, I prefer to
use a reduce advantageous end nail. For moulding, I like a reduce headless
brad. Different kinds are helpful for cabinetwork, however these two
nail kinds are probably the most versatile.

How lengthy ought to your nails be? Most locations denote the size of
a nail utilizing the English pennyweight system. The origin of
“pennyweight” is a mite murky, so let’s stick with the information.
Pennyweight is denoted by “d.” So a two-penny nail is
2d. And a 2d nail is 1″ lengthy. For each penny
you add, the nail will get 1⁄four″ longer. So a Threed nail is
1-1⁄four″ lengthy. A fourd nail is 1-1⁄2″ lengthy. A 5d
nail is 1-Three⁄four″ lengthy. And so forth.

Nail Length Chart
You choose your
nail’s size primarily based on the thickness and density of board you
are fastening in place. Right here’s how the outdated rule works:
1. Decide the thickness of your board in eighths of an inch.
For instance, a 1″-thick board could be eight-eighths. A
Three⁄four″-thick board could be six-eighths. And so forth.
2. For a wooden of medium density (walnut or cherry, for
instance), choose a nail the place the pennyweight matches that
thickness – a eightd nail for 1″ inventory. A 6d nail
for Three⁄four″.
Three. For softwoods (white pine), choose a nail that’s one penny
bigger. For tougher woods (maple), use one penny smaller.

This appears complicated at first, however it rapidly turns into second
nature. Use the chart “Nail Lengths” as a cheat sheet. Word
that that is only a rule, not the gospel. The underside line is
that it’s best to use the longest nail that may be pushed simply
– let your work and expertise be your information.

Pilot Holes Pave the Method

The taper of a cut nail can work for you or against you. If you align the taper so that the two tapered sides bite into end grain (left) then your nail will hold well. If you align the taper so that the two tapered sides bite into face grain, your wood is likely to split – even with a pilot hole.

The taper of a reduce nail can give you the results you want or in opposition to you. If
you align the taper in order that the 2 tapered sides chew into
finish grain (left) then your nail will maintain nicely. In case you align
the taper in order that the 2 tapered sides chew into face grain,
your wooden is more likely to break up – even with a pilot gap.

When you get the proper nail, you additionally have to bore the proper
pilot gap. The wedging motion of a reduce nail can break up your
wooden, notably when you’re working close to the top of a

For the reduce advantageous end nails, I exploit a Three⁄32″ pilot gap that
goes nearly the total depth of the nail. For the reduce headless
brads, a 1⁄16″ pilot works fairly nicely for me with out splitting
the work.

The opposite consideration is the place this pilot gap ought to go –
that is necessary when working on the finish of a board. In case you
are too near the top of a board, it’ll break up your wooden,
even when you’ve made an applicable pilot gap. Nevertheless when you
place the nail too far-off from the top, you possibly can find yourself
driving the nail by way of the within face of your work, which is
nearly as unhealthy as a break up.

As you get closer to the end of a board, the risk of splitting the work increases. A couple test joints will quickly reveal the optimal location for your fastener.

As you get nearer to the top of a board, the chance
of splitting the work will increase. A pair take a look at joints will
rapidly reveal the optimum location in your fastener.

On the whole phrases, when becoming a member of Three⁄four″-thick inventory, maybe the
commonest carcase operation, I prefer to place the nail 1⁄2″
in from the top of the board. This can be a good place to begin.

Everytime you encounter a brand new species of wooden or a brand new type of
nail, it’s best to make just a few pilot holes in some scrap items
and pound in a few of the nails you have got picked out for a
mission. This may allow you to see how large the opening needs to be and
how near the top of a board you possibly can place it earlier than
catastrophe strikes. That is actually not as difficult because it sounds,
however being conscious of this stuff will be sure that your first
encounter with reduce nails is an effective one.

Angling your nails left and right increases the overall strength of the joint. Do this wherever you nail, including when you’re toenailing.

Angling your nails left and proper will increase the general
power of the joint. Do that wherever you nail, together with
whenever you’re toenailing.

One final and necessary element on pilot holes: When becoming a member of
furnishings elements, I hardly ever drive nails straight into the
work. Normally I angle them about 7°. Half are angled left; the
relaxation are angled proper. Angling the nails will increase the wedging
energy of the nails in two methods. One, the nail is extra more likely to
cross extra grain traces when it’s pushed at an angle. And two,
it makes the board and its mate a lot tougher to pry aside
as a result of the angled nails will work a bit like dovetails do to
maintain the items collectively.

Selecting a Hammer
Now you’re able to drive a nail – after you have hammer.
This element would appear to be a easy matter, however there’s extra
to hammers than meets the attention. A great hammer acts like an
extension of your arm. You may swing it with exceptional
precision; and after just a few hours of use, you’ll be capable to
drive nails completely flush together with your work and with out damaging
the encompassing wooden (these dents are known as “French marks” by
the best way, although I don’t know why).

The primary consideration is the load of the top. A hammer
that’s the improper dimension received’t drive the nail simply. A too-light
hammer would require too many blows and can end in quite a lot of
bent nails. A too-heavy hammer is difficult to wield precisely and
tires you. You’ll discover hammers in sizes from Three ounces as much as 28
ounces. The sizes for woodworking are usually accepted to be
between 10 and 20 ounces.

Most woodworking texts inform you to begin with a 16-ounce
hammer, and that’s good recommendation. My two favourite hammers (out of
the too many who I personal) are 16 ounces and 19 ounces. One fast
tip on weights: A number of the greatest (and worst) hammers will be
discovered used. How will you decide the load of a hammer head
primarily based on a fuzzy photograph on the Web or whereas searching an
vintage retailer? Have the vendor put the device on a postage scale.
Take the overall weight of the device and subtract 6 or 7 ounces
for the standard 13″-long hammer. That will likely be fairly shut.

Here you can see the difference between a hammer with a flat face (left) and a bell-shaped face. The bell-face hammers allow you to drive a nail flush to the surface without marring it.

Right here you possibly can see the distinction between a hammer with a flat
face (left) and a bell-shaped face. The bell-face hammers
help you drive a nail flush to the floor with out
marring it.

The face of the hammer is important. It have to be clean and free
of chips. You’ll additionally discover faces which might be flat and people who
are barely convex, which is named a “bell-shaped” face. I
favor the bell face. It means that you can drive the nail head
nearer to the work; I additionally assume it reduces mis-strikes.

For claw hammers, you’re going to search out two primary patterns to
the claws. Usually I don’t use the claw to take away errant
nails (I exploit pincers). But when you will take away nails
with the claw then it ought to have a reasonably honest curve to it and
level nearly straight down. The opposite widespread sample is what’s
known as a “ripping” hammer. Ripping hammers have claws that
don’t curve a lot in any respect – they largely stick straight out. These
claws are used for ripping woodworking aside – eradicating trim
moulding or studs that had been improperly nailed. I’ve discovered
little use for them within the woodshop.

Past the top, there are different elements. The deal with have to be
secured to the top with none wiggling. Typically you possibly can
drive within the metallic wedges up on the device’s eye to tighten
issues up, however simply be sure that there’s no wiggling in use.

A poorly rehandled hammer (right) will be difficult to wield accurately. Look for a head that is secured tightly and squarely to the handle.

A poorly rehandled hammer (proper) will likely be tough to wield
precisely. Search for a head that’s secured tightly and
squarely to the deal with.

Search for a hammer that has the unique deal with or one with a
deal with that has been fastidiously changed. It’s astonishing how
poorly some folks have rehandled their hammers. The top should
be completely aligned in each instructions on the deal with or the
device will verge on ineffective. Because of this, I usually stick
with hammers that had their handles put in on the manufacturing unit.

Lastly, I like a deal with that has a slight swelling within the
center of its size. As you’ll quickly see, there are (at the least)
two grips for a hammer, and the swelling assists a type of

Most handles are elliptical in cross-section, although there are
a good quantity with octagonal handles. Both one is okay; choose
one which feels good in your arms.

One closing observe on hammers: There are hammers designed for
nearly each craftsman on the market, from cobblers, to farriers,
to masons, to individuals who set up slate roofs. All of them have
hammers designed for the career. These hammers would possibly drive
a nail when you get accustomed to the their quirks, however I feel
you’re higher off sticking with the common-as-dirt claw hammer.
You’ll by no means have issues discovering a type of.

Talking English
Along with the claw hammer, there’s one other form of
cabinetmaking hammer you would possibly encounter in catalogs and from
vintage sellers. It’s predominantly an English hammer and has a
brief wedge the place you’ll anticipate to see a claw.

The cross pane on these English hammers allows you to start small brads and tacks without smashing your fingers.

The cross pane on these English hammers means that you can begin
small brads and tacks with out smashing your fingers.

This hammer is often known as a “cross-pane” hammer –
generally you see it known as a “cross-pein” or a
“cross-peen.” That flat little wedge of metallic is definitely used
to begin brief brads or tacks. The pane means that you can maintain the
brad between your fingers and begin the fastener with out
hitting your fingers. When you’ve began the brad, you flip
the hammer’s head round and drive the brad the remainder of the best way
with the face.

These cross-pane hammers have quite a lot of commerce names, though
the one which appears to come back up probably the most is the so-called
“Warrington” hammer. I like having a cross-pane hammer round
in a smaller dimension. I’ve one which’s most likely 31⁄2 ounces that
begins brads and is nice for adjusting aircraft irons and driving
in small wood wedges when chairmaking. A 6-ounce hammer is
additionally good for beginning small brads.

Grip and Drive

Gripping the hammer at the end of the handle (at top) increases the power in your stroke. Gripping it up at the swelling (below) reduces your power and can increase your accuracy. Note the extended thumb on both grips – this will also improve your accuracy.

Gripping the hammer on the finish of the deal with (at high)
will increase the facility in your stroke. Gripping it up on the
swelling (under) reduces your energy and might enhance your
accuracy. Word the prolonged thumb on each grips – this can
additionally enhance your accuracy.

There are two widespread grips for hammers for cabinetmaking. By
greedy the hammer on the finish of the deal with you’ll enhance
your pounding energy however barely lower your accuracy
(though your accuracy will all the time enhance drastically with

The second grip is the place you choke up on the deal with and grasp
it on the swelling on the deal with’s midpoint. In case your deal with has
a swelling you possibly can transfer your hand there effortlessly. Choking
up decreases the facility of the blow, which is sweet for element
work. And it will probably enhance your accuracy.
One different option to enhance your accuracy with both of those
grips is to increase your thumb out alongside the deal with. Strive it. It

Place the tip of the nail on the pilot gap and twist it so
the tapered sides are according to the grain of the wooden. Begin
the nail with a lightweight faucet. As a result of reduce nails are irregular,
some will attempt to twist on you through the first blow, so maintain
the nail firmly.

With the nail began, take away your off-hand and drive the nail.
When every little thing is in sync – right-size hammer, nail and pilot
gap – it’s best to be capable to drive the nail flush to your work
in 4 blows. Be at liberty to take it a bit straightforward at first as you
get comfy.

Setting the Nail
If the face of your hammer is bell-shaped, you’ll  find a way
to reliably set the nail flush to the floor of the wooden
with out marring the wooden. Whereas this feels like a tough
aim, it’s a reasonably easy talent with a bit observe.

This is the proper way to hold a nail set. Resting your hand on the work helps reduce mis-strikes.

That is the correct option to maintain a nail set. Resting your hand
on the work helps scale back mis-strikes.

All that’s left to do now’s set the nail. Nail units are available a
number of sizes – the widespread ones have ideas which might be 1⁄32″,
1⁄16″ and 1⁄eight″. Some have a flat tip; others have a dimple,
which helps preserve the nail set in place whenever you strike it.
Select a nail set that’s as massive as attainable with out
enlarging the opening made by the fastener.

Maintain the nail set between your thumb and forefingers on the
knurled part of the device’s barrel. All the time attempt to have the
fringe of your hand resting on the work, which helps regular the
nail set as you strike it. Sink the nail head so it’s 1⁄16″ to
1⁄eight″ under the floor of the wooden. Sink it to the shallower
depth when becoming a member of skinny items or when the wooden you might be
fastening is able to end. Sink it to the deeper depth when
you will must take away extra materials by way of sanding
and planing.

Nailing Methods

Toenailing allows you to nail joints from the inside of a project and to conceal the nail head in carcase construction.

Toenailing means that you can nail joints from the
within a mission and to hide the nail head
in carcase building.

There are just a few widespread methods to bettering the power or
accuracy of your nail joinery. One trick is to all the time drive the
nails in at a slight angle, as talked about earlier. One other trick
is toenailing. This additionally includes angling the nail, however is a
bit totally different as a result of it’s sometimes finished from inside a carcase
and is a approach of concealing the nail. See the photograph at proper for
how this works.

Nails will also be utilized in different shocking methods. Some reduce nails
are known as “clinch” nails. These extra-long nails are usually
extra malleable than brad nails for a particular motive. Clinch
nails are designed to be pushed all through the work
after which the protruding tip is bent again into the wooden. Completed
correctly, this can be a exceptional option to fasten issues. In
normal, clinch nails are put in with two hammers: One to
drive the nail, and the opposite held in place in opposition to the nail’s
tip to show it round.

Right here’s a tip for trimwork: With the moulding unattached and on
your bench, drill your pilot holes and drive your nails into
the moulding so their ideas simply peek out from the opposite facet.
Now place the moulding on the case or on the wall. Faucet the
nail nearest the miter that’s the most important or seen a
couple instances to begin the nail. If every little thing appears good, faucet
the opposite nails, take away your arms and test the work. If the
moulding suits you possibly can drive and set all of the nails in coarse
work. Or, for advantageous work, take away the moulding (it ought to come
off simply), drill your pilots, add glue and reinstall the

Or, fairly actually, this could be the case in your 18-gauge
brad nailer. Though I actually like reduce nails for carcases,
backs and the like, nothing installs moulding like a brad
nailer. WM
— Christopher Schwarz

"Woodworking Magazine" 2004-2009 CD (Includes all 16 issues of this short-lived, but excellent, magazine)

“Woodworking Journal” 2004-2009 CD (Contains all 16 points
of this short-lived, however wonderful, journal)

Editor’s observe: I’m gathering a handful of Shaker initiatives
from our archives for an upcoming eMag (
6 Iconic Shaker
Initiatives – due out in about two weeks). We’ve revealed a
lot of Shaker initiatives over time, and a few of my favourite
(and among the many most iconic) are from

Woodworking Magazine
. However nearly each considered one of that
journal’s 16 points in constructed slightly like a how-to ebook, with
inner “refers” – that’s, to construct one of many initiatives (or
to study a number of of the methods or instruments utilized in a
mission), you need to see one other article in that concern. And my
eMags are “allowed” solely so many pages. So, above is considered one of
these “inner refers,” to which I’ll hyperlink from the eMag; free
and good data on an necessary device: Everybody wins! — Megan

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