Thursday, January 22, 2015

New tool chest for the sea 2, making your own nails

For this project I have decided to take a slightly different approach compared to how I have previously done things out here:
I plan on doing all the stock preparation before starting the actual joinery. My idea is that it is probably a bit more effective compared to the system where I prepare stock as I go along. I think that it might make the process faster as well, since I won't have to shift focus all the time. But we'll see once the project is done.

I have settled my mind for a ship lapped bottom, so I needed to find some nails to attach it with. I was pretty sure that we had some appropriate nails on board, but it turns out that we didn't..
This meant that I had to take a small metal working detour of the stock preparation, and make a small batch of nails. I quickly summed up the number of nails I would need for the bottom, and set to work.

I pretty much copied my last effort of making nails, and it worked even though the material for the nails had changed from brass wire to mild steel.
I would have preferred brass but we didn't have any. The closest thing we had was some bronze brazing that had the right diameter, but it was too brittle. So that when I tried to form a head it will just crack and break. 
Just in case you are wondering why it is not on my own blog: Brian Eve over at Toolerable generously allowed me to try out if blogging was something for me by writing a few posts as a guest writer.

Making your own nails can be accomplished with very few tools/materials:
Some single strand wire; steel, copper, brass etc. 
A ball peen hammer.
A stout piece of iron/steel
A drilling machine with a drill in the same diameter as the wire.
Pliers for cutting.
Pliers for pulling the finished nail out of the stout piece of iron. (You can use a combination pliers).
A machinist's vice.

First test that the wire is malleable. Just hit one end with the ball end of a hammer and see if you can flatten it. If the wire flattens without breaking, it is usable. I am not talking paper flat here, but just get an idea if the material is brittle or not.

Decide for the length of your nails. Find a drill of the same diameter as the wire you are using (I used 2 mm).
Drill a hole in the stout piece of iron. The depth of the hole correspond to the length of your nail.
Please remember to wear safety glasses while drilling. Small drills are prone to breaking, so be careful. (The extra hole that can be seen in the pictures was because I broke a drill..)

Clamp the stout piece of iron in the vice with the hole facing upwards.

Insert one end of the wire into the hole (make sure you reach the bottom). 

Cut off the wire approximately 5/32 (4 mm) above the hole (this will work for a 2 mm nail, if you go up in diameter you might want to increase the figure a bit.

Use the ball end of the hammer to shape the head of the nail by hitting the protruding piece of wire. The trick is to hit the periphery of the small wire. It takes a bit of practice, but it is not that hard. 
Don't use too big a hammer, I find it easier to control using a lot of small blows instead of 3 heavy ones. (But I am not a blacksmith so that could be why). This is essentially the same technique that is used when forming the head of a rivet .

Pull up the finished nail with the pliers.

You can add a bit of texture to the shank of the nail by either clamping it in the vice after it is done or scratch up the surface with a file. But this is optional. I just like that the nails aren't too smooth on the surface, I think they'll hold better with a bit of texture.
The vice trick works pretty good for brass nails and I suspect also for copper nails.
For these I used a file.

A piece of wire, being pressed into the hole.

Protruding piece after cutting the wire.

Head shaped by means of the ball end of a hammer.

A finished nail (before adding texture to the surface).


  1. Hi Jonas,

    That is great information, I can't wait to give it a try. I once took a blacksmithing class and learned how to make bigger iron nails but I am not set up to do that in my shop. These finished size nails are definitely a possibility though.


  2. Hi Jeffrey.

    thanks for leaving a comment.
    Normally I buy nails, but since we are at sea at the moment, I thought that I would make them myself.
    But if you need a few special nails it is definitely an easy way of getting them + it is kind of cool to make your own nails :-)


  3. Finally I know what to do with all the coat hangers that the dry cleaner refuses to take back.

    1. Great idea!

      I actually think they will work really good, since it is fairly soft steel.

      You could start your own small scale nail factory.
      Cheap raw materials and all, it is bound to be a success :-)


  4. I meant to ask you before, do you have an anvil at home? I was going to purchase a used one, don't ask me why, but my wife was dead set against it, wondering: "where are you going to put it?"

    1. Hi Bill.

      No, I sadly don't have an anvil. I would love a big one, but I don't think I can really justify buying one.
      If I need to pound some iron, I'll use the back end of my machinist vice.

      I remember doing a bit of black smithing as a child for fun. We would heat up a piece of iron and hammer away till it looked like a spear. We never made any handle for it, just the tip. And man we were proud of ourselves!

      But actually, if I got my hands on one, I am afraid that it would just be left unused for most of the time.

      I am in that incredible fortunate situation that I have a father who willingly supplies me with loads of chisels etc. so I actually don't really need any more new tools. (lucky me).

      Strangely enough that still can't keep me from looking at old tools and buying them if they are cheap and fine. I like to tell myself that I am making sure that all our children can be supplied with a fairly complete set of tools once they start their own families.