The parts of the nail are the head, shank or shaft, point, and the gripper marks — slight grooves incised into the shank near the head of most but not all varieties of nails. The nail functions by displacing wood fibers when it is pounded into the workpiece, and the pressure exerted against the shaft by the displaced wood provides the holding power. Nails are sometimes referred to by their length in inches, but more often the traditional terminology of the penny is used. Dating from the days when nails cost a lot more than they do today, the term penny identifies the size of a nail. The pricing structure has long since been abandoned today, nails are sold by the pound , but the nomenclature of the penny survives. Wire nails are indeed the rule today, but not all wire nails are the same. They vary in size and in other ways as well. Various nails are manufactured for specific purposes, with differently proportioned and shaped heads and shafts. Nails are made of brass, aluminum, and copper, though most often of steel.
Nails and Wood Screws
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Briefly, a date nail is a nail with the date stamped in its head. For example, a nail with a “41” is from Date nails were driven into railroad ties, bridge timbers, utility poles, mine props, and other wooden structures for record keeping purposes. I concentrate primarily on the nails used by railroads. Most date nails are steel, though many are copper, aluminum, malleable iron, or brass. The nail heads can be round, square, diamond, pentagon, as well as other rarer shapes.
Over 2, different date nails were used by North American railroads which show the year. Add to that the nails which tell wood, treatment, and other information, and toss in all date nails used in poles and other timbers, and the total number of different nails from this continent easily exceeds 3, A typical date nail. The date 18 is stamped in the head. Note the crude, somewhat faint diamond on the shank to the left of the anchor markings.
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Looking at antique furniture, we often seek clues for authenticity and age. There are many factors that show true historic construction, but one clue that is often overlooked is the type of nail used to hold the piece together. Nails in antique furniture are often barely noticeable, but they are another key to unlock the history of wooden pieces.
New screws and mails are shiny with a zinc coat to prevent rust. The wood around an old uncoated nail or screw would be oxidized black.
When dating a piece of antique furniture, one of the most important clues to its history is often overlooked. A nail may not be a noticeable style feature, but looking at them carefully can help you authenticate the age of a primitive or antique furniture piece before you buy. Like restorers of historical buildings, you can identify the period by the technology used to create the nails and unlock the past of furniture.
Until the 18th century, nail production methods had not changed for hundreds of years. Iron ore and carbon heated together and then cooled created wrought iron, from which a nail length piece was cut and hammered on four sides to create a point. Hand-wrought nails have tapered but irregular and crooked square shafts. These nails have heads known as rose heads, a faceted and shallow pyramid-shaped design created from four blows of an ironsmith’s hammer.
Between the end of the 18th and the end of the 19th centuries, nails were cut into shape. In the early part of the period, nail-makers cut them by hand from a sheet of iron. Later, machine did the cutting, but nails were still made one at a time. The shaft of each exhibits cutting marks where the nail is stamped out of a sheet of iron in much the same manner as a cookie cutter. The nail has a tapered rectangular shaft but straight on two sides, and the shaft is smoother than that of the hand-hammered nail.
Wood screws are one of the least understood clues in establishing the date and authenticity of antique furniture. They are especially valuable for dating country and primitive furniture. The stylistic techniques used to date formal furniture such as Chippendale and Hepplewhite simply do not work for American country and primitive furniture; screws can tell a story about the history of a piece.
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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. Machine-Cut Nails The first machined nails were flat and headless. From 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. Stamped Nails A machine capable of incorporating a simple head was introduced in the s, and by the late s nails had begun to be stamped, with several nails being produced at a time.
Wire Nails The wire nails which dominate the market today date from the late 19th century, although cut nails remained the principal form used until the s, and are still common. Early Screws 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.
Most everyone knows that handmade nails are older than machine made nails. But could you identify a handmade nail if you saw one? And could you separate an old nail from a reproduction nail? In addition to looking at how old nails were made, this article will also discuss how to examine nail holes, rust left by nails plus where, how and why specific types and shapes of nails were used.
Nails, modern or antique, are able to be used as fasteners because of the cellular structure of wood on the microscopic level. As a nail is driven into wood, the tip of the nail pushes apart or crushes wood cells in its path Fig.
For example, a nail with a “41” is from They are usually 2 1/2″ long, with 1/4” shanks. Date nails were driven into railroad ties, bridge timbers, utility poles.
The 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. Hand-Forged Nails 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. Machine-Cut Nails The first machined nails were flat and headless.
From 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.
DIY techniques: Removing old nail and screw fixings
InspectAPedia tolerates no conflicts of interest. We have no relationship with advertisers, products, or services discussed at this website. Here we describe antique and modern cut nails focusing on tree nails, wrought nails, and cut nails used in wood frame construction or interior finishing or carpentry work. We include useful dates for the manufacture of different nail types along with supporting research for various countries from Australia and the U.
How you go about removing old screws and/or nails depends on how the fixing was originally made. It also depends on whether you need to do the job with care.
The stylistic techniques used to date formal furniture such as Chippendale and Hepplewhite simply does not work for American country and primitive furniture. Country furniture does have its styles based predominately on religion and region. The catholic French and the Irish built cupboards with bold moldings, cut out feet, raised panels and they painted their cupboards in bright colors. The puritan New England cabinetmakers built simple unadorned cupboards painted in drab colors.
The Shakers are well known for their simple but elegant furniture. Furniture built in the Midwest and the South is different from New England made pieces. The problem with using style to establish the construction date of country and primitive furniture is that regional styles remained unchanged for most of the 19th century. Unable to use style, dealers and collectors have turned to the telltale signs left on the furniture itself by tools and by construction methods.
This system is remarkably accurate to within a ten-year period. During the Industrial Revolution, the method of making nails, screws, hinges, latches, and of milling lumber changed often. Each change is documented, most are patented. The style of nails changed a dozen times, the hinge changed four times, the screw changed three times, and so did latches and pulls.
The methods of working wood also changed during this time. The saw changed, molding styles changed, mortising changed.
Fasteners and fastening systems have evolved steadily over time. Nails, as a means of fastening wooden objects, date back to approximately BC in ancient Egypt. Around , cut nails square nails were made from wrought iron.
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If a cemetery has 10 headstones, very often there will be a few, or more than a few, additional unmarked graves case in point: a cemetery in White County, Illinois, with 7 headstones, but [! When a cemetery has so many unmarked graves, the range of the interment sequence can often be observed through analysis and interpretation of the mortuary materials associated with coffins and caskets. Nails were used for almost all wood coffins and caskets constructed prior to circa , and this type of hardware is found in most graves.
They were used for joining wood pieces on the coffin box and lid, and to secure the coffin lid to the coffin box. Wood screws were also fairly common, but they were typically used to secure the coffin lid to the coffin box, rather than in joinery for the coffin box. The patent for the tapered-end wood screw that is common today dated to circa ; therefore, if tapered-end wood screws are present, the grave dates after These screws are one of the first known types of hardware made specifically for mortuary use in the United States.
The coffin screw heads could be domed or straight, and they often held a flange decorated with filigree. Also available were matching coffin tacks. The decorative coffin screws and tacks were typically used on the coffin lid. To my knowledge, there are no known patents for this type of hardware, but archaeological evidence from dated graves suggests they were introduced circa Improvements to screws used to secure coffin lids to coffin boxes occurred circa the s, but the exact timing is a little messy.
Figure 2 presents the full variety of thumbscrews available by circa the s, with the first generation type depicted on the bottom row.
How to Determine the Age of Antique Furniture
A straight-grained, unrestrained board can usually withstand moderate fluctuations in relative humidity without damage. Because wood expands and contracts in response to fluctuating humidity levels, these junctions where members are joined may become weak points in the object, susceptible to pulling or pushing stresses that may eventually cause breakage. The mortise and tenon joint : Because the pieces of wood are at cross grain to one another, different degrees of expansion and contraction can cause the joint to fracture or pull apart.
The dovetail joint is another traditional technique used to join the edges of wide boards, common for the sides of drawers and chests.
Nails and screws were expensive and hard to obtain, so many cabinetmakers used small wooden pins or pegs when building furniture. Newer.
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Two views of three screws: The one on the left was handmade in the late 18th century. Note the flat spot on the shaft, the irregular threads, blunt tip and the off-center slot. The screw in the center is machine-made around It has sharp, even threads, a cylindrical shape, blunt end and the slot is again off-center.
Nails were used for almost all wood coffins and caskets constructed prior Flat thumbscrews date after , and specific stylistic patents and.
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