More in Hand Tools

The Humble, the Essential, the Nailset

Only the finish is more important than properly sunk nails in beautiful woodwork

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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.

PHOTO (left) :

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

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.

PHOTO (left) :

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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Four With Features

 

Four With Features

nailsets
Photo by Laura Johansen
From Top to Bottom:
Handmade, Knuckle Protector, Hammer-Free, Set and Pull
Click on "Four With Features" at right for details.

(photo #2 at left from top to bottom)

Handmade
The rough surface of this Japanese tool still shows the hammer blows of the blacksmith who forged it. The head is narrow and slightly convex, but it will flatten and widen with repeated use. $12, japanwoodworker.com

Knuckle Protector
A cushioned protector guards your fingers so you can concentrate on tip placement. The disk makes it harder to see what you're doing, but you don't have to guess about the tip size: It's clearly engraved in the head. $20 for a set of five (1/32 to 5/32), garrettwade.com

Hammer-Free
To use this spring-loaded, "hammerless" nailset, you hold the bottom half in a tight pincer grip and pull the top half away from the nailhead. Letting go pile-drives the tip into the nail and the nail into the wood—after about a half-dozen hits. Handy when you encounter an unexpected nailhead, say, while painting. $8, noxontools.com

Set and Pull
The square-cut tip sets nails; the Japanese-style nail puller on the opposite end can dig them out, although the puller's claws will damage the surface whenever they extract an embedded nail. $9, sharkcorp.com

Depth Guide: 1/8 inch, recommended depth to set a nail.

Size Guide: Nailsets are sized by tip diameter to match particular nailheads. If you don't know the size of a nailset or a nail, use a tip slightly smaller than the head of the nail you wish to sink.

Finish nail: 4d
Nailset tip: 1/32

Finish nail: 6d
Nailset tip: 232

Finish nail: 8d
Nailset tip: 3/32

Finish nail: 10d
Nailset tip: 4/32

Finish nail: 12d
Nailset tip: 6/32
 

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Nailsets:

 

Nailsets:

Can't-Miss Nail Drivers
Photo by Laura Johansen
To eliminate the chance of missing the mark, these tools have a hollow shaft that slides over the nail and rests on the wood. Striking the tool drives an internal pin against the nailhead; you can't miss. One disadvantage: You have to lift the tool up to see how deep you've driven the nail. For nails up to 5d, use the Nail Driver (far left), $6, leevalley.com. For nails up to 6d, use the self-centering nailset, $5, stanleytools.com.

Stanley 58-930, 58-011
Stanley Works
New Britain, CT
800-262-2161
stanleytools.com

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Garrett Wade 77G01.02, 89E01.01
New York, NY
800-221-2942
garrettwade.com

Noxon 32R42-1
Spokane, WA
800-356-6966
noxontools.com

Lee Valley Tools 44K13.01, 86K50.01
Ogdensburg, NY
800-871-8158
leevalley.com

Japan Woodworker 5/32 Kugishime
Alameda, CA
510-521-1810
japanwoodworker.com

Shark 21-2301
Shark Corp.
Wilmington, CA
800-891-7855
sharkcorp.com

Special thanks to

Chris Woolley at Stanley Works
Petra Pope at Garrett Wade
and Andrew Strome at Lee Valley Tools.
 

 
 

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