De-Nailing Antique Lumber

Furnituremakers consider ways to get old cut nails out of old chestnut. October 8, 2005

Recently purchased some beautiful 8/4x16"x9' wormy chestnut planks for a harvest table I hope to build, working on getting the material ready for the planer. I still have quite a few cut nails that are broken off just below the surface and want to know the best way to remove them? I am not worried about the hole they leave but would like to keep the surface damage around them minimal. I have new knives on planer and would like to keep it that way for as long as possible.

Forum Responses
(Furniture Making Forum)
From contributor A
Maybe a pair of wire dikes to grab the ends of those nails, or if they go all the way through, why not use a nail set and drive them out? Pretty risky - if you miss just one,
well, you know they do sell new knives.

From contributor B
If they are below the depth of the next pass, do they have to come out?
If there is anything still sticking up, I like to use a small torch to apply high heat to them, then vice-grips will usually get them.
If they are broken off below the surface, and they have got to come out, I will sometimes use a plug cutter to cut a circular hole around it, then chip away so that I can heat and use needle-nose vise-grips again. Down there a soldering iron is good for the heat source. A plug then is used to repair the damaged area.

From contributor C
One more method - cut a two inch piece of the smallest diameter brass tubing you can find. On one end file in "teeth"360 degrees with a triangular file. In the other end inset a short piece of wire or piece of a broken drill bit to keep that end from collapsing when you chuck it up in a drill. Use it like a hole saw with no pilot bit.
This actually works well for screws and nails.

From contributor D
Abrasive planer/wide belt sander. Let the hardware show/shine as proof of provenance.

From contributor A
To contributor D: I would be worried about sparks going to the collector! Seen belt sander bags smolder after hitting steel while sanding.

From contributor D
To contributor A: I forgot to mention turning off the dust collection and running an old belt/s. The sparks are not something to even chance. In fact, I'd do it early in the day, after cleaning the loose dust out from the inside and around the machine, then again after the sanding. Thanks for bringing it up before someone burned down their shop!

From contributor E
To contributor D: Metals, wood dust, and widebelts don't mix. He really shouldn't do this at all. It brings to mind a demonstration I saw in high school chemistry class, showing how surface area affects reaction rates. Teacher had a coffee can with lid, inside was a handful of flour (sitting on the bottom of the can) and a candle. There was a hole in the bottom of the can and one of those rubber bulbs hooked up to a piece of tubing running to the hole. When you squeezed the tube you got a small puff of air. First, he put the lid on the can and sealed it, without lighting the candle. He puffed the bulb a few times to show that it wouldn't blow the lid off by itself, although it did raise a nice cloud of flour dust. Then he took the lid off, lit the candle, resealed the lid and quickly gave one puff. The lid blew across the room with a bang. Same thing could happen to your widebelt whether the collector is running or not - there will be plenty of dust in the air inside the machine if you are abrasive planing these boards.

From contributor D
I stand corrected - not a good idea to send it thru the widebelt. Now I'm wondering how far I tempted fate the 3 or 4 times I've done this in the past -and had no trouble. Dumb luck is better than no luck, I guess.

From contributor F
If you still have to surface the lumber by 1/16 to 1/8, I would try chiseling out around the nails, pulling them and then surfacing to remove the chisel scars.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor S:
I would suggest using a slide hammer nail puller. It doesn't damage the wood much more than the nail, and it works really well on square cut nails. Chestnut is fairly easy to get the nails out of with one of these. I use them on reclaimed white oak which is much harder to de-nail and they do a good job.