Photo: Laura Johansen
There's a reason most toolbelts have narrow sleeves specifically designed to holster nailsets. These short, tapered bars of steel are handy companions to a hammer, focusing its final few blows onto the exposed heads of finish nails, sinking them beneath the surface without collateral damage to the surrounding wood. That's why nailsets are essential for such jobs as installing decorative molding or face-fastening wood flooring; once a nail is "set," it only needs a dab of putty to make it disappear.

Though simple in appearance, a well-made nailset is metallurgically sophisticated. Its shaft and tip must be hard enough to survive repeated collisions with nails, while its head has to be considerably softer so it won't chip or shatter when struck. Engineers have even established performance standards for nailset manufacturers, to ensure that these tools do their job safely and effectively. That leaves one last problem to solve: how to avoid clobbering your hand when you miss the nailset. Don't worry, tool designers are working on that, too.

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LEFT: Carpenter's Classic
When most people think of a nailset, they think of this version from Stanley, with a square head, knurled body, and cupped and chamfered tip. Color-coded grips indicates the sizes of the tips: yellow = 1/32 inch, gray = 2/32, red = 3/32. $7 for set of three, stanleytools.com

MIDDLE: Flooring Nailset
This 6½-inch-long tool has a 5mm (roughly 6/32-inch) tip for sinking big 12d to 20d finish nails or driving chunky flooring nails into antique floorboards. $7, garrettwade.com

RIGHT: Two Sets In One
On this Japanese tool, the small, anvil-shaped head is actually a second nailset, meant for striking 8d nails in tight spaces. The 4/32-inch tip on the long shaft is flat, so hold it square to the nailhead and strike firmly to avoid a slip off. $6, leevalley.com
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