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Nails vs. No Nails

4563 Views 20 Replies 14 Participants Last post by  coloradoclimber
Reading Dick's post where he made a save using nails and hearing one of our esteemed podcasters put down the use of nails triggered a few questions. How do people feel about using mechanical fasteners?

Christopher Schwarz argues in his video Forgotten Hand Tools that if your building furnature to last for hundreds of years then the glue will fail at some point and that nails will prevent that. He goes on to show toe-nailing techniques.

I think Norm uses mechanical fasteners mainly for convienience. Tack in place until the glue drys 90% of the time.

I'm in the camp of use them where it makes sense and would never look down on someone for using them.

What do you all think?
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I use screws for added strength at certain times, usually with butt joints and when a joint may be stressed. Of course, having a Domino may remove some of that need, but you can not use it on plywood edges.

I do sometimes nail a joint when it is glued up to help it keep attached and aligned. That is mainly with a nail gun or brad nailer, depending on the size of the wood. This can be a big help instead of relying on clamps and time to cure the glue.

I admit that I do like to use wood as much as possible in what I do, including the joints. But, there are times nothing beats a few well placed metal fasteners.
You'll read in one place to use nails, basically as a clamp to hold the piece together until the glue dries, and therefore the glue will be holding the project together for the long run. You'll read somewhere else that a glue joint will eventually fail (perhaps this is only with certain types of projects, like chairs) - so then a nail or screw would be doing the holding from then on.

Norm uses brads, Sam uses screws in his chairs, others pride themselves on using only glue.

perhaps having to hide or plug the holes is one of the main reasons behing thier being frowned upon.

Nothing is good for everything, nor good for nothing. Everything has it's place, somewhere.
I guess it depends on the style that you are trying to achieve.
Me? I just want to make some boxes and with my limited skills I'd be at a loss without screws.
Someday I'll be able to move forward into other joinery techniques.
I find that brads are helpfull when clamps aren't possible or when I need to line up a joint with my hand and have something hold it until the glue could set. I like using dowels or mortise and tenon whenever possible, but agree that there are applications that require some type of metal fastener, like certain jigs, picnic tables, etc.

My favorite quick metal faster is sheetrock screws. They work good on plywood and solid wood alike. I've used them on most of my jigs and find that they along with glue won't let go.
There's not to many ways you can secure a table top without screws.
Brads, when I need a little "help", screws when I want a little extra…I do try to be careful and pay attention to metal type. Not many times do I use plain steel fasteners. Usually SS, galz or brass.

Good topic.
Christopher Schwarz uses cut nails in his video. Anyone know a good source?
Wayne, I believe Rockler has cut nails that you can pick up pretty inexpensively.

Also, one of the first issues of Woodworking Magazine has a great article with tips and techniques (and probably a purchase list) on using cut nails. You can only get it on the CD now, unless you happen to have purchased it when it was out two years ago…
Thanks Ethan. I will check Rockler next time I am close by. I may have the magazine. I'll have to check.
Having been a carpenter for over 30 years, I've learned that nails are the worst form of joinery. Maybe fine for framing, siding and general rough carpentry, they have (my opinion) NO PLACE IN FINE FURNITURE. If you need another form of joinery other than glue there are pieces that have lasted Hundreds of years without a single nail. When I need a little extra, I do, however, use pocket hole joinery and screws for things such as face frames in cabinets. For the cabinet backing I have used brad nails just to hold the back on til the glue dries but there is no way that the brads do anything other than hold the plywood in place.

I also use wooden dowels with the holes filled with glue. (Not totally full, but enough to hold the dowels firmly) And having made about 15 tables, I've yet to see the glue not hold.
The advent of the brad nailer has changed the face of fine furniture making.

Having handled thousands of pieces of fine furniture in the moving industry, including national collections of heritage pieces, I've had the opportunity to see really fine craftsmanship firsthand.

When I first saw Norm in action, and I love him, he's a carpenter first I thought, watching all the nails go into his work. I can handle it now because I do it too, but I still think that a craftsman should make fine furniture without nails at some point in time because it can be done. And it should be done to keep craftsmanship alive.
I don't know… if cut nails are good enough for Chris Schwarz, I'd say they're probably good enough for me.

(By the way, Wayne, there's a great source or two for cut nails for ya!)
Great article. Thanks Ethan.
I occationaly use loose, hand driven nails, cut nails only. Modern nails are made from wire and are round. they have no holding strenth. Cut nails on the other hand by the nature of their shape, actually will hold by wedging in the grain of the wood. A round nail splits the grain and has no real long term holding strenth. Many early peices were made used cut nails in the building process and a good many of them are just as hard to pull today as they were 100 yrs ago.

I have recently made purchased the Krieg pocket hole system I haven't tried it yet and have decided not to use it on my Thoreson table. I will probably find a project for them late this summer.

I do own a couple of brad/finish nailers. I use the Norm approach when it comes to trim work. I have made an number of book cases with built up crowns and its faster and easier to brad them in place and move on to the next peice than to clamp them up and wait.

Everything has it place, I just haven't quite figured out what to do wtih the box of wire nails my wife bought me other than to hang pictures.

Just my 2 cents worth.
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I'm with you, Phil. I have this vision in my head that the masters (of) the wood don't use nails/screws etc in their masterpieces. But that's just my vision I guess - kinda like my idea of a master photographer who is able to capture amazing photos without altering the environment, the photo or the subject…
Isn't it true that most modern adhesives are stronger than those used in the past? That in part would explain why modern projects will last longer without mechanical fasteners.

I agree with Dick.. how else are you going to attach the top to a table?

It seems that even many highend cabinetmakers go bonkers with the narrow crown staples.
Chris Schwarz's point is that all glue fails at some point. The new glues are much better than what people had in the 17 and 1800s, but that we really do not have enough experience over time with new ones to tell how long they will last for sure.

Forgotten hand tools really is an interesting video and worth watching. He demonstrates how to pin tennons in the video as well.
my house is full of cut nails, (siding, flooring, trim) and they are a bugger to pull out compared to modern round nails. I see Ethan beat me to the masonry cut nails link.
Hi Wayne;
I have been debating with myself as to whether or not get involved with or how to post a reply on this subject, so I will refer my opinion to my blog for today.

--and yes, if you want a short answer, 'wood joinery can be done without those pieces of steel we call nails….

....again, only my two cents….

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