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InspectAPedia tolerates no conflicts of interest. We have no relationship with advertisers, products, or services discussed at this website. This article series describes antique and modern cut nails focusing on tree nails, wrought nails, and cut nails used in wood frame construction or interior finishing or carpentry work.


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Looking at antique furniture, we often seek clues for authenticity and age.

There are many factors that show true historic construction, but one clue that is often overlooked is the type of nail used to hold the piece together. Nails in antique furniture are often barely noticeable, but they are another key to unlock the history of wooden pieces.

The quest for the ideal nail has taken centuries of development. The ancient Egyptians and Romans used organic glue for wood furniture, especially with decorative veneer techniques, but like much advanced technology, glue for wood became a lost art after the collapse of Rome in until the Renaissance, aroundwhen glue and veneer techniques reappeared. During the Middle Ages, furniture was held together with pegs, dovetails, mortise and tenon ts and a few nails.

Archaeologists have found hand made bronze nails from as far back as BC. The Romans made many of their nails from iron, which was harder, but many ancient iron nails have rusted away since. The hand-forged nail changed little until well into the 's.

For thousands of years, the traditional hand-forged nail was square and tapered, with a hammered head attached by the blacksmith.

One nail at a time was heated and laboriously pounded out to shape with a hammer on an anvil. Nails were fairly valuable, and ruined buildings were often burned and nails were scavenged from the ashes to reuse. The name refers to the price of nails in England in the 's: the price of nails for one penny gave the size: 4d 4 penny nails cost 4 English pennies or pence.

Dating a house site with nails – dating a building with nails

One hundred larger 10d 10 penny nails cost 10 pence. Most local blacksmiths made nails.

Thomas Jefferson, a true Renaissance man, made nails on his plantation. Until the very end of the 's, most nails in better furniture had a head that was rose-cut or faceted like an old miner's cut diamond.

The humble nail – a key to unlock the past

Here are examples of hand-forged nails with tapered square shafts and hand-hammered he from the 's:. This new technology was also employed by Jefferson, and the new cut nails had rectangular he attached by another machine, one nail at a time.

This greatly accelerated the manufacture of nails, and these rectangular nails quickly became dominant by the early 's. Here are examples of small cut nails from the early 's:.

Cut nails continued as the standard until the end of the 's, and were used in building construction, ships and furniture. These nails fairly accurately date furniture to the 's, although it is worth remembering that sometimes modern nails were added in subsequent repairs. Machinery was developed to produce cut nails in the 's, and they are still used in flooring and concrete applications, where holding power is paramount, and power nailing tools are standard. Machine made cut nails are also made for use in reproduction or hobbyist replica furniture, but they are so perfect and identical that it is usually easy to see that they are new.

This is an example of a replica cut nail:. These continue to be used to attach small moldings and trim.

About in America and in Europe, the modern wire nail was developed. Machinery was invented to cut pieces of steel wire, sharpen a point at one end, and put a flat round head onto the other end.

These nails were much cheaper to produce. Because their sides were straight rather than tapered, they have only a fraction of the holding power of cut nails with tapered sides.

Nevertheless, the reduced cost factor made wire nails the standard very quickly. A reasonable date for furniture originally constructed with round wire nails is after Here are examples of the modern straight-sided manufactured wire nail:.

The simple nail serves as a key to furniture dating. Until aboutnails were hand-forged — tapered square shafts and hand-hammered he. During the 's, cut nails have tapered rectangular shafts and rectangular he. In the 's, the round wire nail with straight sides and a round head are the standard. Nails are one of many clues to the age and authenticity of antique furniture and building construction as well.

Square nails history

Author Ken Melchert has taught Art History for many years. Here are examples of small cut nails from the early 's: Cut nails continued as the standard until the end of the 's, and were used in building construction, ships and furniture. Here are examples of the modern straight-sided manufactured wire nail: The simple nail serves as a key to furniture dating.