An Antique Look for Nails

      Advice on creating a look of staining and age in antique nails in a custom mantelpiece. February 12, 2009

I need to build a mantle for a customer that wants an old look. She wants to use antique nails to make it look like an old piece. Is there some sort of chemical I can spray on the nails to get them to leave a stain running down from the head of the nail? I thought I have seen products that cause some sort of reaction with metals to give that old look, but I don't remember where I saw it. Any help would be appreciated!

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor R:
I have gotten antique nails from Rockler.

From contributor G:
Tremont Nail Company has worked for me.

From contributor S:
Maybe just some water sprayed on it overnight will give it a darkened ring.

From contributor L:
Here's your antique juice. But remember the dark stain running down the wood from the nail is a chemical reaction between the iron nail and the tannin in the wood. You can try an experiment putting vinegar on the hail head, letting it run down in the shape you like. You can also check the Knowledge Base for iron acetate - there's quite a bit there.

From contributor U:
Im not too sure about what finish you are looking at when you say "running down from the head of the nail". Would it not depend upon the direction of the wood? If you are speaking about the nail reacting with the wood, then the stain mark will run with the grain. However, if you refer to weathering then the stain would be on the surface of the finish and not on or in the wood.

Long ago when lath and plaster was king, they nailed the lath onto the structural timbers with 1 1/4" square shanked nails. To make sure that the nails got a good hold they soaked the nails overnight to start the rusting process, then when driven into the wood the next day the extra moisture rusted them into the wood, leaving a stain (oval in shape) running with the grain around the nail. Contributor L is right about the vinegar. I have a jar on the shelf with old iron nails and vinegar in it, just for staining.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for all the help! I guess I am just looking to make some sort of ring around the nail head. I will try the vinegar trick when I get my antique nails.

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