and Wood Screws
use of nails and screws can give an indication of the age of joinery or
its fittings and provides
a useful insight into a building's history
Reproduction rose-head nails of approximately four inches long:
Left and Centre: two machine-cut nails, one turned on its side to show two parallel sides (left) and two tapered sides (centre)
Right: a hand-wrought nail with a tapered shank and large rose-head.
(Nails supplied by
IJP Building Conservation)
Nails were among the first metal objects made by mankind, indispensable
or such everyday items as doors and roof coverings, shoes, buckets and
barrels. Early nails were usually square in section and the earliest were
individually forged by hand from iron. The head of the nail was formed
either by simply turning it over to form an L-shape or by striking a hand-held
mould or 'bore' over the end of the shank to produce a shaped end such
as a 'rose-head', a simple four sided pyramid shape. However, being hand-forged,
the variety of shapes and forms are infinite. These nails were expensive
to produce and were used sparingly.
Early Cut Nails
The introduction of cut nails dates from the late 16th century with the
advent of water-powered 'slitting mills'. After hammering (or, from the
late 17th century, rolling) the hot iron into sheets, each sheet was slit
into long, square-sectioned bars by rollers which cut like a shears. Bars
of the requisite thickness were then made into nails and spikes by 'nailers'.
Only the head and the point were forged, so these nails, which were common
from the 17th to the early 19th century, can be distinguished from earlier
ones by the sharp regular profile of the cut section.
The first machined nails were flat and headless. From 1811 these were
produced from rolled sections of plate iron, cut into strips of the same
width as the length of the nail. The strip was then placed under a powerful
guillotine which cut off a single nail on an angle. Then the sheet was
turned over and the next was cut. As a result these nails taper to a point
on two sides only, producing a square point (see illustration), and are
easily distinguished from earlier cut nails.
A machine capable of incorporating a simple head was introduced in the
1840s, and by the late 1860s nails had begun to be stamped, with several
nails being produced at a time.
The wire nails which dominate the market today date from the late 19th
century, although cut nails remained the principal form used until the
1930s, and are still common.
Although the principle of the screw is ancient, the wood screw - essentially
a round nail with a threaded shaft and a slot in the head to aid its removal
- seems to have developed in the mid 16th century when they were used
in locks and clocks in particular. However, these early, hand-forged screws
were expensive to make and they were not used for ordinary joinery work.
By the late 18th century screws with blunt ends were made by machine,
and in the 1840s George Nettlefield began to produce the modern pointed
screws at his factory in Birmingham, initiating their widespread use in
RESTORATION AND REPAIR WORK
The appearance of
the head of hand-forged and cut nails is easily distinguished from modern
fixings, and for restoration and repair work it may be necessary to use
modern reproductions. As with all reproductions, it is important to match
the originals closely, as fixings of a different period may be mistaken
for originals in the future, confusing the history of the building.
H Bodey, Nail
Making, Shire Publications Ltd, Princes Risborough, 1983
G Jenkins, The
Evolution and History of the Metal Wood Screw
GR Taylor, The
Inventions that Changed the World, RDA, London, 1982
Publications on tools
and trades can be obtained from specialist antiquarian book dealer Roy
Arnold, Tel 01449 720110
article is reproduced from The Building Conservation Directory, 1999
JONATHAN TAYLOR is the editor of The Building Conservation Directory and a co-founder of Cathedral Communications Limited. He studied architectural conservation at Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh and has a background in architectural design, conservation and urban regeneration.
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