The Most Tenacious Nails Ever


I have removed some difficult nails during the last 20 years, including a lot of manufactured cut nails and blacksmith-made wrought nails. Both of these styles of nails always hold much better than modern wire nails, which hold about as well as hot-melt glue or nails made of spaghetti.

But today I had to pull out one of the French die-forged nails from Rivierre Nail Factory. If I had to write a song about it, I’d call it “I Fought the Nail and the Nail Won” by Nine Inch Nails.

Here’s how it began. I was attaching 1/2”-thick poplar backboards to a white oak carcase using the 40mm nails. First I drilled a 1/8”-diameter pilot hole for the nail that was about half the length of the nail. Then I hammered the nail home.

As soon as I finished, I saw my error. The backboard had shifted about 3/16” from where it was supposed to be.

First I grabbed my 3 lb. lump hammer and a beater block and tried to knock the backboard free. After all, it was just one nail holding the backboard in place.

The nail didn’t budge.

I tried to slip a thin cabinetmakers’ pry bar between the backboard and the case to lift the back board.

No dice.

I tried to knock a small crowbar between the back and case with a hammer and some gentle taps so I didn’t destroy the backboards.

No joy.

Then I reluctantly took my Japanese cat’s paw and dug under the nail’s head to pull the nail out by its head. This is always my last resort.

But I couldn’t pull the head up. Even with the 90° leverage of the cat’s paw.

After five minutes of digging around under the head I finally abused the poplar enough that I could lift the backboard enough to get a serious crowbar between the case and backboard.

And with a mighty groan, the nail gave up. But not without cracking the backboard and cracking the shiplap on the adjoining backboard.

I considered replacing this backboard with a new one to hide the evidence of the scuffle. But I decided that showed a lack of respect to the nail. So I fastened the backboard in place, leaving the splits (which are cosmetically minor).

If you haven’t tried these nails, do. They are awesome and inexpensive, even with the international shipping. I’m afraid I do not know of any North American supplier of these nails. If you do, speak up!

Here are two entries I wrote on their details.

A Quick Guide to Dictum’s ‘Roman’ Nails

Buy Nails, My Pretties! Buy!

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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17 Responses to The Most Tenacious Nails Ever

  1. stillad says:

    Any reason why reversibility is considered one of the big benefits (among other things) of using hide glue, yet the “reversibility” of wire nails is viewed less favorably. Or is it just that wire nails never hold worth a damn to begin with?

  2. I love the perspective of respect that came through instead of frustration! The nail is designed to hold, and did it’s job expertly. Just because something makes my life difficult, doesn’t mean that my life isn’t also enriched by the struggle and the new-found knowledge of a nail that holds its own.

  3. Roger Hylr says:

    Are these coated w/ a thermoplastic glue that is heated by the friction of driving then sets up like glue when cooled like the American version of similar coated wire nails. Same problem removing: hellish!

    • Stefan Rusek says:

      They are blued, but no other treatment. The wedging action of the nail does the holding. This is why regular wire nails don’t hold great. Their wedge is just at the tip.

  4. Hank Cohen says:

    I had to laugh at the notion of showing proper respect to a nail. Perhaps we should call the wire things something else. They have corrupted our knowledge of the original.

  5. abtuser says:

    I’m getting ready to use these on my current bench build. I’m hoping the half-lap I’m using keeps things aligned now that I see your post.

  6. waltamb says:

    Chris, I hate when you post about great products which cannot be bought here in USA.
    well… hate is a strong word.
    I’m surprised that Tremont has not adapted their process enough to make these here.

  7. Stefan Rusek says:

    I love these nails. For xmas I was making a stocking hanger to go on our mantel. The hooks were being hung from a board 1/2 thick. Because the shape of these nails, I was able to cut them down to 1/2 inch and they still held TIGHT!

  8. bedrock608 says:

    I build barn wood furniture part time and part of our job is to remove the nails before the saw gets to them. The old cut nails are the hardest sumbit*^$% I have ever had the privilege to try and remove. No wonder 200 year old barns are still standing with their siding still attached!

  9. allenhamilton2014ahamilton says:

    Chris could you please restate your pilot-hole technique for these nails? Many thanks! Ham.

    • The pilot hole should be big enough that the board doesn’t split. And its depth should be no more than two-thirds the length of the fastener.

      The diameter of the pilot depends on the size of the nail and the wood being nailed. After a while you get a feel for what will work. Until then, I recommend you make a sample joint using the species and nail you will be fastening.

      Usually I start with a 3/32″ hole and move up or down from there.

  10. Dionysius says:

    What pretty nails. I took the children to a farm, where a blacksmith took a nail and turned it into a coat hook. It was a regular nail transformed into something beautiful. The nails on their website just shows, the french do more than make wonderful food and wine! Thanks for the piece.

  11. charlie says:

    This would make a good Science Fair experiment for an 8th grader. Could also be the makings of a million dollar grant for some State University Forestry Lab.

  12. Oak, did you say?

    Tannic acids in Oak will set up a fiercely frictive bond between the wood and the iron, leading to black staining in time…. like the bolts on old church doors.
    I suppose that you could abandon it and make another, but if you are inclined to experiment, there’s an ancient technique that works some of the time on big nails that are not too badly corroded, but may be thwarted by the small size of your nails….. dunno.

    But here goes…….Take another (preferably more massive) nail with the same size flat head. With pliers, apply heat to get it red hot, then invert the head on the offending embedded nail; hold it in place and allow the heat to transfer and the stuck nail to get hot.
    Allow it to cool then apply an opposite force with a hammer. The idea is to heat-expand the nail in its hole, break the bond to enable you to drive it out. It may be necessary to repeat the exercise if you start the thing moving.
    In my experience, the success rate is about 50%, but sometimes the thing just will not yield.

    Good luck

  13. a regular nail puller might have been quicker, with about the same level of damage to surface.

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