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Woodworking Tips and Tricks…How to Remove Nails!


This one is such a simple thing, but will cause you no end of trouble if you don’t do it.

Let’s say you messed up and need to knock something apart you nailed together.  Or you are repairing something and need to disassemble it to do the repair.  You have knocked,  pried, hammered, pulled and now the parts are on your workbench.  How do you remove the myriad of nails and more important, which way to you take them out?  If the nails have a head on them  (not finish nails) you have no choice but to knock them from the back side out the face.  But if they are finish nails, you have a choice:  you can either knock them out the face, the way they went in, or take them out the back.

Well here’s where most people get into trouble.  Finish nails are usually sunk beneath the surface and then puttied over.  If you push them back out the front (which seems to be the natural thing to do for most people, including me), I can guarantee you, 9 times out of 10, you will raise out a chip of wood from the surface as that little head of the nail comes out.  Now what do you do?  Good question.  If it’s painted, then you just putty it over.  But what if it’s natural or stained finish?  You now have an unsightly messed-up area where you will have to try to glue that chip back in and hope it doesn’t show when finished.

OR you can pull the nail out the back side.  What a concept!  If it comes out in a place where it doesn’t show (like the bottom of the cabinet), then you can pull out the nail all the way.  But what if it chips coming out the back side and the chip is longer than the area that hides the hole?  I pull it out part way (leaving the head inside) and then cut the nail off and hammer it back flush.

If a cabinet partition needs to come off and the nail stays in the partition instead of the bottom (which will happen with nail gun nails as these are cement coated and the glue is stronger than the wood), don’t pull the partition all the way out as the head of the nail coming through may pull up a chunk of wood further than the partition will cover.  What I do is pull it up just far enough to get a pair of wire cutters in there and then I cut the nails off.  Then the nails can be pulled out of the bottom of the partition and the stubs still in the bottom can just be hammered flush.

This applies to any kind of house trim. Sometimes the trim will come off without disturbing the paint on the outer surface.  No sense in messing that up hammering the nail out the front.  Pull the trim off and then pull the nail out the back.  Now it can be re-positioned without having to deal with all the extra hole and chip out from the nail coming out the front.

I know some of this may be hard to visualize just being words on a page, so “always pull the nail out the back” is all you need to remember.

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