how to forge a nail

Ok, so, we got into a debate about the "correct" way to forge a nail. I had been taught to taper, and then shoulder the shaft on two sides below
where the nail head would be using a sharp edge of the anvil. If you shoulder it correctly, the nail header will slide up to the shoulder and stop and be a tight fit. You then score the nail above the shoulder, stick in the nail header, twist off, and hammer out the head.
The person I was talking to had never heard the idea of putting in the shoulder and was taught to just taper, and then slide the header on the taper until it stopped, and using that as the guide, cut off the rod above that point and hammer out the head.
Checking the internet, I couldn't locate any step by step instructions on nail forging.
I did find a collection of youtube videos that showed nail making and most did not seem to be using the step of adding a shoulder like I was taught. Though one or two did seem to taper the nail in a way to create a semi-shoulder for the head. That is, they didn't produce a straight taper from the tip all the way to the straight shaft. The taper took a noticeable increase in size to act as a stop for the header.
Anyone have an opinion on the best way to make nails? Or how they used to make nails back in the day?
I was also once told that it's better to make the shaft mostly straight instead of tapered because it holds in the wood better. A full taper tends to work loose easier. Sounds reasonable but I've never tested it. Using the shoulder technique I use seems like it would work better when trying to make straight shaft nails.
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Curt -
Not pushing a product - but there are some good software packages that convert human words into text. Wonder if you can watch a Utube and play the info in speakers that then driver the mic which then drives the software making you a document. Just no pictures - maybe screen capture using Cntl-printscreen or alt-printscreen - Just got the hair brained idea.
Martin
Martin H. Eastburn @ home at Lions' Lair with our computer lionslair at consolidated dot net "Our Republic and the Press will Rise or Fall Together": Joseph Pulitzer TSRA: Endowed; NRA LOH & Patron Member, Golden Eagle, Patriot's Medal. NRA Second Amendment Task Force Originator & Charter Founder IHMSA and NRA Metallic Silhouette maker & member. http://lufkinced.com /
On 9/10/2010 4:48 PM, Curt Welch wrote:

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wrote:

If you are asking which is historically correct, I would go with the way that Peter Ross makes them. For those of you who do not know Peter, he is considered by the Colonial Williamsburg smiths to be the quintessential master smith of their program. The historic examples of clinch nails that have been found at Fort Vancouver seems to have full tapers, they are going to be clinched over anyhow so they do not pull out. Regular nails tend to have a point, then a straight shaft to hold a bit better. Having some hammer marks in the shaft make it slightly irregular. Once the wood grain expands back around the nail, that seems to help hold them in place. Several years ago, Peter Ross made nails as a part of our annual Williamsburg Weekend demonstration at Fort Vancouver. Peter made about a dozen nails that we captured on video. Each nail was made exactly the same and each nail took exactly 31 hammer strokes. The tip was tapered for an inch or so, then the shank was fairly straight, than there was a shoulder, then the head. The order was to taper the tip, create the shoulder with half on blows on two sides and hammer out the shank. Next he cut the head about 90% of the way through, put the nail in the header and broke it off and hammered out the head. All done in one heat.
I am not saying that any other method is not correct. Any nail that holds is correct. When you ask what is historically correct there are probably just as many answers. Nails were made by thousands of people and as such were made with a huge variety of methods. Whatever makes a good nail and does so with the minimum number of heats and hammer blows is what is correct for you. The smiths at Williamsburg have made hundreds of thousands of hand made nails. I would say that they have a pretty good handle on what works best.
Craig...
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Thanks Craig! That's the sort of answer I was looking for.
I concluded as well from talking to a few other people that the technique of making the two sided shoulder for the head was the standard down at Williamsburg and that is the way I had been taught to make them as well. I'm in the DC area so we are close to Williamsburg and run into the Smiths from there all the time at demos around here, and two of them typically come to our annual Spring Fling event every year as well. I think it was one of the Williamsburg smiths I had just recently seen demo that same technique which is why I was surprised to find out there was some debate about how to do it and surprised that I couldn't find a single video on youtube talking about that specific technique as you describe above.
The idea that they learn to do it with precisely 31 hammer strokes every time I find fascinating as well. I was down at Williamsburg in the past month (because my son is going to school there) and was watching one of the newest smiths down there making nails. His technique struck me as little odd because he seemed to be making highly deliberate strikes using his whole body that made it look to me like he was kinda new at it and trying to get something just right per his training (aka his technique didn't look all that natural to me). I bet what I was picking up on was that he was actually counting his hits and trying to precisely duplicate the hit-for-hit technique they use down there. And he was, of course, making one-heat nails from 1/4" square stock without even making it look hard - no rush needed etc.
I didn't watch careful enough to answer my question about exact technique but next time I'm down there, I'm going to talk them about this and see if I can get their exact technique documented.
This morning I spent making 12 larger nails(/spikes) from 3/8" square stock to experiment with technique. One thing that's clear is that I'm not yet getting any sort of consistency in the size and shape of the nails or the heads. I'll have to work on that. I want to make some better headers as well for different sized nails.
As you say, I think the bottom line is that they have been made lots of different ways over the years.
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We had Jay Close at our annual conference a couple of years ago and I took notes on his nail making technique. You can find them at:
http://www.spaco.org/Blacksmithing/Nails/Nailmaking.htm
You don't have to pay any attention to my comments about my own nail making technique; just scroll down the the Jay Close part. I sure learned a lot that day. He sure is a great instructor! Pete Stanaitis --------------
Curt Welch wrote:

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Good notes Pete! I'm sure I've read that page of yours before (didn't you share the link just in the pas few months?). It means more too me know however that I'm paying more attention to the details! Strange I couldn't find your page when I was trying to Google for "hand forged nails" and the like. You might try adding a few more keywords to your page!
I was nicking the head on two sides as well tonight and thought that the logical way to do it was as to place the nicks on the same side as the shoulder per what Jay said. That creates more mass in the nail towards the side where it must be spread - which seemed logical to me before I tried it. But most the time, when I tried it tonight, I found the nail head tended to want to bend over in that direction despite how I hit it - creating too much lean towards that side. I wad getting better results by nicking on all four sides. But i was also using 3 to 4 heats per nail so I had more time to mess around with it than when trying to get it down to one heat per nail.
I was also placing the nail in the header so that shoulders and nicks where facing away from my hammer hand so that the nail needed to be spread towards my hammer hand as it was formed. It occurs to me now, that to keep it from folding over like it was doing when two nicks were used, I might try placing it 180's degrees in the other direction. I'll have to try that next time.
I found it interesting that Peter Ross nicked the opposite sides. I'll have to try that as well....
Someone once described to me a special cutoff hardy for making nails. It had an indentation in the center and was sharp only in the indentation. The idea is that you place the nail in the indentation, and give it one strong blow to nick it. The hammer is intended to drive it all the way down and bottom out on the sides of the indentation. That way, you cut the nicks in one blow, and don't have to worry about delicate hammer control. I might have to try making myself one of those to see how it well it works.
Another issue I have is keeping the head centered over the shaft of the nail. Once you start to hammer it out, it's hard to tell just where the shaft is. To improve this, I tried putting some cross hair marks on the nail header. It definitely helped but I only did it with a marking pen to experiment. I'm going to try making a new header with cross hair alignment marks chiseled or ground into the header with a bit more accuracy.
I'm wondering how many months it might take me to actually get good (and fast) at making nails!
My recent attempts:
http://picasaweb.google.com/Curt.Welch/BlacksmithProjects#55165851649341937 46
The larger nails are from 3/8" square stock and the smaller are from 1/4" square stock. None were made in a single heat.
I'm going to be down in Williamsburg in a couple of weeks and with luck I'll have time to visit the blacksmiths there and will try to get detailed information about how they do it.
And I also have to figure out what I should make with my nails! I was thinking a tool box would be a fun thing to start with!

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Curt Welch wrote: <snip> Nice job of describing your process improvement work, Curt.
Strange I couldn't

That key phrase is there in the meta desc and keyword tags, but I changed a few pieces of text to that phrase, just in case. Now,if my host's end would just let me in to move the file----
Nail making setups: About half way down in this gallery,
http://www.spaco.org/Blacksmithing/Pictures/Eurotools/EuroToolGallery1.htm
there are 2 pix of European nail making setups. I am pretty sure that I have a bunch of other pix of dedicated nail making setups that I could put up if anyone is interested.
Also, Roy Underhill did a segment at Williamsburg that was mostly focused on nail making many years ago. I think I have a tape of that somewhere around here. Should get put onto a DVD someday, as well as the other first 10 or 15 years of his shows. It's great the you live close to Williamsburg and can just "drop over" to check things out.
You guys probably already know that the last 3 or 4 years of The Woodwright Shop are available from Roy's
http://www.pbs.org/woodwrightsshop/video/2900/2901.html
website. There are at least 3 blacksmithing related segments in there!
If I were going to try to add anything at all, it would be this: For years I have been trying to make the shank of the nail fit perfectly into the header, but I almost always err on the "too small" side. This causes a little bit of the head to squirt thru the header and it gives me a slight but noticeable notch up close to the head. Lately, I have been trying to learn to leave the shank a tiny bit oversize, so the first blow sets the head and matches that last little bit of shank to the header. This makes a much nicer looking finished product.
Pete Stanaitis -------------------------------
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Yeah, that's one of the many little details I've been fighting as well as I experiment. When it "squirt's out" too much and the shaft at the shoulder was too small, it makes for a very ugly result that probably is prone to bending when you try to hammer it into wood.
It is certainly one of the arguments for NOT using the technique of shouldering the head. If you just taper the shaft on the anvil and create a rounded set of shoulders near where the head will be (on all 4 sides by hammerer near a rounded edge of the anvil), and then cut off the head after measuring to see how far up the nail header slides, it's far easier to get a good nail with no odd deformed sections. But having to measure where to cut the head by putting it into the header, marking it, taking it out of the header, notching it, slows it down to the point you have no hope of doing it in one heat. And it also makes it very hard to consistently control the length of the final nail. So the simple taper, measure, mark, notch, reheat, form-head technique (which most videos on youtube show) are probably good "beginner" techniques, but not good for mass production of consistent sized nails.
Part of how much the nail wants to squirt though past the shoulders I think is a function of both how hot the head is, and just how that first blow works. I've been trying to hit it in a direction away from the shoulders with the idea I have to move the material in that direction to even out the head. But I think that instinct might make the squirt though problem far worse because I'm driving the head down with the first blow in the direction where the shoulders are not supporting the head. I'm thinking now it might work better if that first blow actually drives the mass down onto the shoulders which might help the head spread out more and squirt through less - even when the shaft is smaller than the hole in the header. This is why I was thinking it would make more sense to orient the nail in the header so that two overhanging sides were toward the hammer hand, instead of away from it, so that the first hit with a lifted hand (lowered far edge of hammer) would drive the nail head mass back towards the hand, and down into the shoulders. I'm thinking that first hit will establish a wide enough head and thick enough shaft to prevent squirt though past the shoulders and then the next two blows could spread out the mass in the direction away from the hand to center the head mass over the shaft.
I've not tried that sequence yet to see if it works but it might be the key to allowing one to intentionally error on the side of a too small a shaft, without creating the squirt through problem. That could (if the idea works) allow one to be less accurate on the shaft size so we can always safely error a little on the small size to maximize the odds that it will fit in the header on the first try without a reheat.
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Guys, I am just thinking, what would be a typical cost of a hand forged nail today. $3 per piece? Say hourly wage of $30/hour plus shop overhead.
i
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It's said a good nail maker can do 100 nails per hour for 10 hours straight. In that case, nails would be more like $.50 each maybe using your $30 rate?
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Not as bad as I thought.
i
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Peter Ross told us recently that there was a nail making contest in England many years ago. The winner made 10,000 nails in a week. You figure the income. Again, you've got to realize that the nail making "factories" of the past had specialized equipment. We are simply adapting our general forging stations to nail making, and we are not doing it all day, every day. Jay Close told us that his nail making rate was about 70 some nails per hour.
But, any way you cut it, hand made nails were a lot more valuable a few hundred years ago than they are today. Modern nail headers made 600 nails per hour 50 years ago, so that's why they are cheap today. What we are doing is to recreate a piece of the environment of the past just to understand how they did it and to show some of that history to folks who don't know about it.
Pete Stanaitis --------------
Ignoramus5013 wrote:

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Somewhere I saw a picture which I can no longer relocate of a (Colonial?) portable nailmaking station that had a small anvil, notched cutoff hardy (as was mentioned elsewhere in this thread) and a header, all in a tight little arangement that might fit in a 6 or 8" cube. There was even a little seesaw lever under the header to pop the nails out again with just a hammer tap.
But the idea of dedicated nailmaking tools was not even remotely a new idea even then. In the blacksmithing section of the museum in the Roman fort at Saalburg, Germany there was a neat little anvil just for nailmaking...it had a groove in it--I don't know if it was more to hold a tapered nail so you could head it against the side, or if you'd simply slap the hot stock in there and shape it to match the grove by mashing your hammer down to the face...or both.
--Glenn Lyford
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Dave Einhorn just shared a picture of that on facebook (where I've also been talking about this stuff). Here's his facebook link (don't know if it will work if you don't have a facebook account);
http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?pid 5124&fbid2663998755456&op=1&o=global&view=global&subjI4820780144&id0000355696631
And a copy of the picture I put on my Picasa account:
http://picasaweb.google.com/Curt.Welch/MakingNails#5517167804076191666
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On Sep 15, 12:10pm, snipped-for-privacy@kcwc.com (Curt Welch) wrote:

Roman anvil from Saalburg: http://www.flickr.com/photos/77732556@N00/4994896434 / --Glenn Lyford
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In the book - "a Museum of Early American Tools" by Eric Sloane - He devotes two pages and shows hardy / benches // foot operated and several 'headers' that take a tapered square and allows a head. Rose sharp, Rose flat, Clasp, Horse, Plancher (flooring), Brad(L-head) Lath and scupper(tack). Pages 92 and 93.
ISBN 0805012923 He writes books on early Americana wood and metal, barns ...
While not the high tech book nor the trash book - Sloan entices my wife for the old Americana and myself for the tools of old.
Martin
Martin H. Eastburn @ home at Lions' Lair with our computer lionslair at consolidated dot net "Our Republic and the Press will Rise or Fall Together": Joseph Pulitzer TSRA: Endowed; NRA LOH & Patron Member, Golden Eagle, Patriot's Medal. NRA Second Amendment Task Force Originator & Charter Founder IHMSA and NRA Metallic Silhouette maker & member. http://lufkinced.com /
On 9/15/2010 6:50 AM, Glenn Lyford wrote:

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Here's another good page on nail making I just found:
http://www.piehtoolco.com/Product_Info/nailheading.htm
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snipped-for-privacy@kcwc.com (Curt Welch) wrote:

Thanks for that, Curt. Very nice instruction & explanation.
The late Slim Spurling recounted, at the 1976 ABANA conference, how he started novice smithing students.
Shown how to make a nail, they were instructed to make a nail themselves.
Once the presented a well-formed nail, they were told to make 100 nails. If any of the 100 nails subsequently presented weren't up to snuff, Slim rejected the batch and sent the student back to make another hundred.
When the student presented 100 good nails, he was then instructed to make 100 nails in an hour.
According to Slim, when the beginner could make 100 good nails in a hour, he had enough elementary skill to go on to more advanced things.
Similar, I guess to the account of the elderly German smith -- I forget his name -- who demoed, IIRC, in '78. As an apprentice he was given a block of lead and told to hammer it into 1/4" (probably 8mm) square. If there were gofer or other helper tasks, he was called to do them but otherwise spent his first day hammering out a long coil of lead.
At the end of the day, the master looked over the strip of lead, melted it down and, next day, the apprentice was set to the same task. That lasted for a *year*, the notion being that by that time he had acquired enough hammer control to try hitting hot iron and had, presumably, picked up enough general shop knowledge to be safe and useful in the smithy.
I missed the '78 ABANA conference and only heard this yarn 2nd hand. Maybe someone who was there will remember the Gewrman guy's name.
--
Mike Spencer Nova Scotia, Canada

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Good stories! I've heard multiple stories about how a blacksmith apprentice would be "tortured" doing silly stuff like that. It would be hard to see people using that sort of "teaching" technique in today's world. However, I can see how such stuff could actually be useful for someone who intended to spend their life as a blacksmith. Spending a year just practicing basic hammer control really could make sense - especially when iron was expensive and you had a shop full of highly talented smiths doing the real work. There's probably not much real work a beginner could even do. Even more so if you are starting as an apprentice when still very young (12 years old say) so it might be as much about building strength as well as skill while waiting for the young kid to finish growing.
I wonder if with the 100 nail test, they were allowed to throw out the bad ones, or if they were being trained to make 100 good nails without making any mistakes?
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snipped-for-privacy@kcwc.com (Curt Welch) wrote:

Dunno, but allowing the trainee to select would be a test of his judgement, too, so I'd guess that would have been allowed. On "the 100 nails in an hour" part, you'd be hard pressed to do it if you made many mistakes.
BTW, Curt, in your .sig, you have:

Curtwelch.com resolves to 10.1.1.11, (in IANA 10.0.0.0/8 reserved for intranet addresses) and isn't routable on the internet. Is that a transient on my DNS server or are your authoritative servers deluded somehow?
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