my Old Workshop

Finish carpentry tips Part II – Nailing

When you’re working with trim and other finish jobs, nailing becomes a whole new ball game. Your goal is to hold it all together as unobtrusively as possible. Here are some ways to make your nailing nigh on invisible.

Using proper finish nails is your obvious first step. Thin, spiral nails with an indent in the nail head provide a good grip, while giving you a dimple in which to set your nail set. Drive the nail close to flush, but not quite, then use a proper-sized nail set to drive it just below the surface. Fill the indent with putty or wood filler, let it dry and sand it. If you’re painting, the filler can be any color. If you’re staining, you should choose a color close to the finished color, or mix your stain in with some wood filler before applying it.

Here’s another nifty way to hide your nails. By lifting up a small chip of wood, you can drive the nail into the indentation, then replace the chip over top of the nail. Special tools can help you do this, or if you’re careful, you can do it yourself with a thin quarter-inch chisel. Hold the chisel as close as possible to parallel to the stock, aimed along the grain, and tap it till a chip starts to rise. Lift the chip, without detaching it if possible, drive in your nail, set it, and glue down the chip, making sure to wipe away any glue excess. Invisible nailing!

Trim is often narrow, and even with finish nails, it’s apt to split when you nail near the cut ends. You can avoid this in a couple of ways. Blunt the tip of the nail by setting it on its head on a hard surface and hammering the tip. This way, the nail will push the wood fibers down rather than trying to separate them. You can also drill pilot holes, using a drill bit the size of the nail or smaller. You can even use the nail itself as a drill bit, by clipping the head and tightening it into your chuck. It’ll work in a pinch — for a half-dozen holes or so.

Finally, consider getting a finish nailer. This nailgun lets you drive finish nails with one hand, freeing up your other hand to hold the wood. And because they drive the nails at high speed, you don’t need to drill pilot holes or blunt your nails; they’ll rarely split your wood. You’ll save time and energy, too.