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Woodworking Tips and Tricks – How to Drive a Nail


If you have tried to hammer a finish nail into a hard wood like maple or oak, you may find (unless you are a better aim with the hammer than I am) the nail will tend to bend before you get it all the way flush.  Or you are nailing towards the end of a hard piece of wood and about half way through the piece splits, then some ingenious repair skills are in order.

These are times when you need to predrill a nail hole so the force of having to hammer the nail in does not bend the nail nor split the wood.  Trying to find a drill to be exactly the same size as every nail you might use is pretty tough unless you have a complete set of number and letter drills, and even then they might not be perfect.

Well, problem solved and it’s already in your toolbox: the nail you were trying to put in.  Cut the head off, insert it into a drill and drill the hole with the nail.  You end up with a perfect sized hole and no more split or bent nails.

The hole is a hair oversized because of the point on the end will make the hole larger than the shank but still way smaller than the head, which will do the holding power.  If you need a slightly larger hole, just hammer the point a little bit to enlarge it.  This isn’t officially “drilling” because no wood is removed but it is pushed off to the side.  When you finally nail into the hole, the wood fibers enclose around the nail, almost as if you had driven it without the hole.  So the holding power is there, not only with the head of the nail, but also the shank.

When I was an apprentice (yea, many many years ago…yes, we had nails then), the shop I worked at built a lot of bank fixtures.  The framing was made from  fir (a very hard material once kiln-dried), cut and milled to 2×4 dimensions.  It milled like maple.  When nailing the framing (like house framing but smaller), the ends would almost always split and that’s where the drilling came in.  The middle areas were nailed with a 16 penny framing nail gun (which was a pretty scary thing to use!) but it would always split the ends, which we finally had to nail by hand, pre-drilling all the holes.  With these nails, we used a drill bit, because the heads on the nails and the glue coat did the holding.

I have used this trick innumerable times and it works every time.  One place it’s especially needed is when nailing thin trim like door and window casing or even scribe molding made from any hard wood.

Hope this helps!


  1. Hey I love this article,Thanks. 4 months ago, I started looking for woodworking. The industry is extremely interesting but I have problems with how I can do it.My uncle who has been doing more than me in this industry, has suggested to me to follow Teds plans, Do you think it’s a good move to follow these plans? ? I keep reading good reviews about Teds Plans but I am unsure if it will still work on me.At this time I can purchase these plans at a very low price,so if possible can you leave me feedback on wether I should do it or not. It would mean a lot coming from an expert in this field.

    Teds Plans That My Uncle Used

    • HI! I’m definitely not an expert but I know some stuff after all these years. After making every mistake in the book and inventing some of my own, I think I may have a little perspective on your question; others may not agree.

      I have never heard of or used these plans. Not knowing your level of skill, I would say that there is a LOT that has to happen with one’s woodworking skills (that plans will not give) BEFORE attempting anything with equipment that can maim you for life. In looking over the plans, I suppose one can successfully build something from them. BUT if you can’t conceptualize in 3 dimensions, then the plans will not help.

      Most of woodworking (like most trades, crafts and arts), whether it’s cabinets, toys, wood turning, carving, etc, are conceptual. It’s bringing something into being that did not exist before. It’s shaping materials into forms that they were not originally intended for. And if you can’t “see” that, see the project completed somewhat ahead of time, no amount of plans will help. I have had some clients who know exactly what I am talking about when I try to explain what I intend to build for them. They are a dream come true. But then there are those who have no clue, regardless of how many sketches, drawings, or even full size layouts that I draw. They just don’t have the skill. I have struggled at times getting the job and then saying, “How am I going to build that?” So I start drawing and thinking and waking up in the middle of the night worrying it out to final assembly.

      So if you can conceptualize, then the plans may help. But I think the price is way too high for what you get and for how few projects you will actually build from them; 10 years from now, how many will you have actually built? You may learn structures and how things are meant to go together, but these things can be learned elsewhere. Watch 200 hours of youtube videos of how others are doing it. They will actually guide you through the process. I subscribed to Wood Magazine for years (I could deduct it as a business expense and got at least one tip per issue) and they actually show you HOW to do the cuts that are needed for the joinery. I didn’t see any of that in those plans, just very detailed drawings.

      I have just started turning bowls on my huge ancient wood lathe. I am now watching a LOTS of hours of youtube vids to see how, why and what’s needed to be successful, without killing myself or losing an arm or eye. I see how I can build my own tools instead of spending $75-$150 each on them. I see how to mount the blank, how to start the cuts, how to angle the cutter for most precision, what processes happen in what sequence. No plans will tell you that, nor will they be in a format where you can ask questions, which is key. There is more to woodworking than following plans. They are just the beginning. Your most telling line in your text, “I am unsure if it will still work on me.” And that is key and a very good question to ask at the beginning.

      If you were to build a box, how would you go about it? What size would the box be? What material would you use for strength or aesthetics, what dimensions of that material are available and how would that affect the final outcome? What joints will you choose for your intended outcomes? If you can successfully build a box, with all the variables involved, then build one with a lid, and then one with a drawer (which is another box) and door, and so on. You now have kitchen and bath cabinets. All else is extra embellishment. That includes fancy grandfather clocks. There are basic construction techniques that need to be learned and then applying those to your project.

      I think plans stunt the creative learning process and bypasses the thinking of “why” something is done a certain way. It’s just following step by step and here is an object, regardless of how nice it is. Sure there is satisfaction in that, but it’s not yours. You didn’t create it, you just followed directions (are there even step by step directions? Wood Mag had that).

      Another key component to any project is “why”. I heard that those who only know how will always work for those who know why. Why did he choose a certain wood? Why this joint, because it’s easy or best? Why build it this way? I used to watch New Yankee Workshop with Norm Abrams. It was kind of a comedy show for me. I watched what he did (he did beautiful work) and thought about how some poor guy at home tries to duplicate what he just did on a zillion dollars worth of equipment. He built a corner hutch with all this fancy joinery and doors and then screwed the back on with black sheet rock screws…Why? When you look at plans, ask why did they choose to do it this way? Is there another easier, simpler way and get the same result? Why make things so complicated, just because they can? Antique furniture was not built with fancy joinery because the had a choice. It’s what they knew. I have repaired a LOT of antiques, including clocks from the mid 1800s and they are junk. All hand made but didn’t last. They did not follow through with the engineering of things and just “got it out the door, next please”. So asking why is super important. I have a reason for everything I do. I can answer the question. I never follow blindly what “the plans show”. I have had interesting discussions with interior decorators about “why”. Form follows function. Always.

      Sorry, I can’t be more encouraging on buying plans, but for $297 you can buy a REALLY nice router or some nice carving tools, or some other tool or tools to further what you need in your shop, which will be used every day, including 10, 20, 30 years from now. The plans will not. You may get to the point in your skills where you say, “Why did I buy these?” and now you are stuck with them. You may decide after a year of sawdust in your eyes that you want to just go a play golf instead.

      I would suggest you buy individual plans (they are all over ebay and the internet) for what you want to build to see if it’s helpful, to see if you have the eye to see the project completed, understand how to interpolate from plans to actual material and processes to final completion.

      I would not buy the package just because it’s a good deal…I realize that’s the American way and everyone needs to make a buck, but use the money in the most advantageous way. And I would think that buying tools would be more useful than plans. I still use tools I have had for over 45 years. I have no plans…

      May not have been what you wanted to hear but I hope this was helpful in some way!

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