Three Dumb Nail Tricks

The ten-nail balance.
How the nail was trapped.

In heavy timber carpentry, the dangerous work is finished by the time the nails come out. Perhaps that explains the considerable lore based on fooling around with nails. Here's what carpenters were up to in 1678, as reported by Joseph Moxon:

A little trick that is sometimes used among some (that would be thought cunning Carpenters) privately to touch the Head of the Nail with a little Ear-wax, and then lay a Wager with a stranger to the Trick that he shall not drive that Nail up to the Head with so many blows. The stranger thinks that he shall assuredly win, but does assuredly lose; for the Hammer no sooner touches the Head of the Nail, but instead of entring the Wood it flies away, notwithstanding his utmost care in striking it down-right.

If you find yourself lacking in the earwax department, you might try betting that you can balance ten nails on top of one nail. The solution uses the rope walker's trick of lowering the center of gravity. First, lay one nail flat on the bench. Lay eight nails across this one, heads hooked over the first nail, points set in alternating directions. Lay one more nail between the row of heads. Lift the lower nail, and as the points of the crossed nails hang down, the heads will hook on either side of the upper nail. The whole affair will then balance on the head of a single nail.

One more? Okay. The tooth-and-nail puzzle is one you have to do at home and bring to the job. Take a 1 1/2 inch square piece of wood, about 4 1/2 inches long (basswood works best) and mark it in seven equal parts down its length. Saw and chisel out three slots that run two-thirds of the way through the block. This leaves four teeth. The challenge is to put a nail through the two middle teeth, leaving the outer teeth intact.

The trick to doing this is to get one of the outer teeth out of the way. Boil one end of the block in water for twenty minutes. Quickly set it in the jaws of a vise and compress the boiled end tooth to half its original thickness. Work slowly enough for the water to squeeze out but fast enough to get it done before it cools. After a day in the vise, the tooth will hold its new compressed shape, giving you access to drill the hole for the nail. Make the hole loose enough for the nail to move around in, and drop the nail in place. Set the compressed end back into boiling water, and in a minute or two it will expand to almost its original size. Let it dry and plane off any discoloration from boiling. The nail will look inexplicably trapped in a wooden cage.

You can try to justify these tricks by claiming that they force others to think about important things--things like hygroscopic wood expansion, centers of gravity, and earwax. But really, they're just one way we push at each other down here in the trenches: tight little packages of subversive woodworking.

Woodworking Tools and Installation Tips

Woodworking Tools and Installation Tips

There are a lot of things that either needs to be repaired, or put together when youre a homeowner. If youre a new homeowner, and have just gotten out of apartment style living, you might want to take this list with you to the hardware store. From remolding jobs to putting together furniture you can use these 5 power tools to get your stuff together. Dont forget too that youll need a few extra tools for other jobs around the house.

Get My Free Ebook

Post a comment