I’ve been inundated with questions for the live stream Q&A that Chris and I are doing on Saturday at 11 a.m. Eastern on January 30, so I’m afraid we won’t be able to answer all of them before it’s time for our weekly Saturday lunch at Crafts & Vines (outside and socially distanced, of course). So, I’ll be tackling some of them on the blog. Here’s the first.
Q: Where would you recommend for purchasing nails for period pieces?
A: This is an easy one, because as far as I know, there are only two possible answers, and the appropriate one depends on what is meant by period.
From the early 19th-century until the late 19th-century, cut nails were easily available (more easily the later one gets into the century). Today, as far as I know there is but one maker of cut nails: Tremont Nail (now owned by Acorn Manufacturing). So barring reclaimed nails from a salvage place, that’s the only supplier (I think). Tremont nails can be ordered direct from the company, but are available in smaller quantities from some retailers (Lee Valley Tools and Tools for Working Wood among them).
For period work prior to the early 19th-century, the only truly appropriate choice is blacksmith-made nails. But they are not cheap…so I would use those only when I’m wholly committed to authenticity. For these, make friends with your local blacksmith, and expect to pay anywhere from $1 to $3 per nail.
If, like me, your wallet isn’t quite so well-stocked, consider using Rivierre square-shanked nails. These have the look and shape of blacksmith-made nails but at a far more affordable price. They are available in the U.S. from Lee Valley Tools. Another option is Tremont “wrought head” nails. These are tapered, cut nails, but the heads look kind of handmade (and they’re available in a black oxide finish).
p.s. If you want to read a lot more about cut nails and square-shanked nails, and how to use them, I wrote about them at length on the Fine Woodworking blog.
22 thoughts on “Period Pieces & Nails”
Tremont has a nice display of their line available – makes a nice wall hanging for the shop! Plus they have soft nails that you can clinch if you are into that. But for Arts & Crafts furniture with expose nails, the Riviere nails are great.
Several years ago I ordered handmade 2.5” nails from a blacksmith in Transylvania (not many as they was not for a wood project), not cheap but not as bad as I had expected, obviously took quite a while to receive, beautifully done.
I have purchased the Tremont oxide nails, but at some point I also got some solid copper nails that were excellent reproduction blacksmith-style nails, online but I do not remember where now.
If one wants the look and is OK with a less-authentic source for cut nails, masonry cut nails work quite well and are readily available at hardware stores. I installed a wide-board white pine floor with these over 15 years ago and they’re still holding fast. Only an expert would know the difference by looking at them.
Yes, but a caution: those are not flexible (woodworking nails are), and can thus split a piece of wood during season movement.
This is good to know, I think I got lucky because the subfloor was running at an angle so probably a lot more forgiving with seasonal movement. At 90 degrees I might have been a sad panda.
I’ve annealed masonry nails (heat to red hot and let cool slowly) They easily bend after annealing. I used annealed masonry nails to hold the divider in place on my Dutch tool box…Besides, I had a 1 lb coffee can of them sitting on the shelf.
That sounds like a lot of work 😉
Not at all! Set up a dozen nails on a brick and hit them with a propane torch and drop in the oil. Five, maybe 10 minutes. Only needed eight, now I’ve got extras for the next Dutch tool box 🙂
Aye , the 1lb coffee can will do it every time .
I’ve had success with Kennedy hardware as well. I think they basically just source old boxes of nails, but they have a few sizes Tremont doesn’t make, depending on their availability
Side bar comment: what about black slotted screws. I’ve looked at Lee Valley and such and only find them in short lengths (less than 1”) or in brass. Does any have a good resource or maybe I’m overlooking an ole standby. Thx
For slotted screws, I buy cad plated screws, remove the plating with a dunk in paint store muriatic acid, rinse, dry in the oven, and immediately hit them with Birchwood Casey cold gun blue. Then I oil with Balistol. Do the dunk/rinse outdoors. Nasty stuff. BTW, the same process works with hinges and such for quick and dirty faux-period hardware.
I throw zinc plated steel wood screws in enough vinegar to cover for a couple of hours. Zinc is usually gone, but if not another hour will do it. I heat them to below a dull red and drop them in some 30wt motor oil. Comes out nice and black. Don’t want the oily finish?, rinse in acetone.
Have you tried blacksmithbolt.com?
Look up ‘BlacksmithBolt.com’ in your favorite search engine, all sort of interesting and just plain odd fasteners. Just a happy occasional customer.
If you only need a handful.of nails you can buy just a few from sellers on Etsy.
I’ve been using Tremont cut nails for a lot of years. I hope this boost of awareness doesn’t create an availability problem. And, just so’s y’all know, Tremont makes great brads as well.
I worked as a chippy in London in the sixties , tongued and grooved flooring planks (solid wood , not chipboard) , were always nailed down with cut nails , ALWAYS ! Didn’t split the ends of the planks and held the planks down , at least until you were paid and off the job ! I loved using them , the feel of them and the way they went into the timber . Just turned around , scratched my backside , had a smoke , and they were gone .
Rivierre nails hold great. Fantastic. But I’m not really happy with the heads. To my eye, they are a little large, a little too “perfect,” too mass-produced, maybe? I’ve thought about trying to alter some, maybe re-hammer the heads or something. So far it’s just sat in the theoretical part of my brain.
I have a full-size and a couple of smaller ATCs, but have decided to build a Dutch chest — after your book comes out. My motivation is because I have grown tired of having stuff piled on top of the ATCs. They make great finishing racks. But having the sloped top of a DTC means I could still get at my tools.
Anyway, maybe I’ll try some adjustments to the Rivierre nails for a Dutch chest build.
Historichousefitters.com sells hand hammered nails. I’ve bought quite a few for making doors. They are great.
Any opinions on/experience with Old Quebec Hardware (Quincaillerie du Vieux-Québec)? They sell square nails, though they don’t identify the source – perhaps it is Tremont? They seem to be quite a bit cheaper than Lee Valley (in Canada, at least –18.99 CAD for 1 lb of 1″ wrought-head, vs 25.20), though personally I am entirely unqualified to assess why. In any case, they have all kinds of archaic hardware, some of it allegedly blacksmith made: https://oldquebechardware.com/catalog/nails-cast-iron-hooks/square-nails/all/?page=1. Been planning on doing a “boarded” project of some kind and would be nice to support something local and small-ish up here in the process
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