Square Cut Nails

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Forum topic by DonJ posted 03-15-2012 11:50 PM 3452 views 1 time favorited 6 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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250 posts in 3521 days

03-15-2012 11:50 PM

I will be using square cut nails for the first time in building a colonial reporduction. I’ll use them to attach varied width lapped paneling on the back of a corner cabinet. The paneling will be 1/2” walnut, with the nails attached through the paneling into 3/4” thick shelves. The grain of the paneling will be running vertical while the shelves will be running horizontal. Is there a specific way to install that type of nail, so as not to cause any splitting? Should I drill a little pilot hole to ensure the shelves don’t split? Are there any issues with nail spacing or how many nails to a board? Lastly, how long of a nail should I use? Thanks for any assistance.

-- Don, San Antonio, TX

6 replies so far

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Mainiac Matt

8029 posts in 2322 days

#1 posted 03-16-2012 12:42 AM

I put down ~250 s.f. of red oak flooring that I harvested and had milled on site with a woodmizer and face nailed the boards with box nails….

As Is it here and stare at the floor I’m reminded of some things…..

1. I pre-drilled a hole that was just large enough to encompasses the small square section at the tip.
2. Stay at least 1/2” in from the side edges of the boards
3. Stay 2” to 3” back from the end grain
4. Make sure the long axis of the rectangular head is parallel to the grain. This is not as easy as it sounds, as many of my nails rotated while being driven.
5. Watch the grain very carefully…. If the grain angles towards the edge of the board, the nail will likely cause a split along the grain lines that will blow out the edge
6. I took an old cold chisel and ground the head to the exact shape of the nail head and used it to set the nails.
7. Stay well clear of knots and the curved grain going around the knots.
8. Use a heavy hammer and stout controlled blows. No tap, tap, tap stuff. You want the sharp edges of the nail to cut the grain fibers. The nail needs to move more than a nanometer with each blow to do this
9. Don’t get so hung up on your nailing pattern that you put a nail in anything other than straight grain.
10. Drive the nails sub flush with you punch, so you don’t trash your sander.
11. Make sure you test your nail length on identical thicknesses of the same materials…. These nails tend to blow out the back side quite dramatically…even if the nail is shorter than the total thickness.

BUT THEY LOOK GREAT! and are worth the extra effort.

I have a small stash of hand wrought box nails salvaged from a 1780 house that I’m saving for something special.

-- It’s the knowledge in your head, skill in your hands and motivation to create in you heart that makes you a woodworker. - Mainiac Matt

View Clint Searl's profile

Clint Searl

1533 posts in 2355 days

#2 posted 03-16-2012 12:53 AM

Drill a pilot hole with a tapered bit. I just did a dozen that way yesterday in a current project. I get mine from
4 penny nails will be perfect for your job.

-- Clint Searl....Ya can no more do what ya don't know how than ya can git back from where ya ain't been

View ChuckV's profile


3118 posts in 3521 days

#3 posted 03-16-2012 01:10 AM

These are great suggestions. I would highly recommend that you test things out on some scrap pieces if possible. If I understand, you are attaching two pieces with the grain directions perpendicular and are nailing into the 3/4” edge of the selves. So it is not possible to make both boards happy with the orientation of the nails. You might have to experiment with various pilot hole sizes to find the combination that will prevent splitting and still give a solid connection.

-- “Big man, pig man, ha ha, charade you are.” ― R. Waters

View DonJ's profile


250 posts in 3521 days

#4 posted 03-16-2012 04:22 PM

Thanks for all of the good advice. One additional quick question: What size of a tapered drill bit would you suggest for a 4 penny nail? Thanks.

-- Don, San Antonio, TX

View canadianchips's profile


2600 posts in 2990 days

#5 posted 03-16-2012 04:26 PM

You can also try wetting the wood or the nails. The old timers held them in their mouth for a reason, A wet nail won’t slit the wood as easy .(I suggest a cup of water, not sure where your nails may have been)

-- "My mission in life - make everyone smile !"

View Clint Searl's profile

Clint Searl

1533 posts in 2355 days

#6 posted 03-16-2012 06:44 PM

The tapered bit I use is the same length as the nail and maybe 3/4 the width of the widest part of the nail. On the example shown I drilled the pilot hole almost as deep as the nail shank. I wanted the nail to get a good bite without risking a split. BTW, the nails I use are handmade and the profile varis along the shank.

-- Clint Searl....Ya can no more do what ya don't know how than ya can git back from where ya ain't been

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