Nail Chronology | Back Home Again: Nail Chronology

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Nail Chronology

So, I've been doing this #2014BloggerChallenge this year and one of my posts was about historic preservation. Alan told me that he thought I should find a way to make each challenge post about preservation and came up with a great idea for the next post, which was all about nails. While I already had a post for that particular challenge, I decided to go ahead and write out my historic preservation post all about nails...here it is!

TC Steele Site 009

Did you know that you can date a building's construction by the type of nails used in its framing? There are three main types of nails, hand wrought iron nails, machine cut nails and modern wire nails.



Hand wrought iron nails were used from the 1600s through the early 1800s and were expensive. They were mainly imported from England until after the Revolutionary War. These nails came in many different shapes and sizes and you can tell that they’re hand wrought because you can see the hammer marks.


Machine cut nails came into use around 1790 and allowed for nails to be manufactured on a much wider scale. Thomas Jefferson even bought a cut nail machine. Machine cut nails started out with just the nail portion being cut from a machine and the head was still man-made and hammered onto the nail. Starting around 1815, the entire nail was cut from a machine. These nails were more square than rounded with irregular or square heads. They were also made with iron.


Wire nails were developed in the 1850s in the United States and were originally used for things such as cigar boxes. They’re made from steel wire and came into preferred use during the 1890. They were made even more cheaply than cut nails and are the nails that are used today.

So there you have it. By knowing the type of nails used in construction, you can get an idea of when a building was constructed.

I know, I know. Why would you ever want to know this unless you work in construction, are an architect, an architectural historian or archaeologist? Well, I really don’t know…in case you’re ever on Jeopardy? I just thought you might find it interesting to see some of what I need to know to do my job.
Who knows, maybe I’ll make it into a blog series…weekly/monthly preservation facts…

What random knowledge do you need for your job? 

12 comments:

  1. I love finding old furniture to repurpose or fix up and you can tell how old it is by the nail and screw heads so for people like me that loves DIY projects and repurposing, this is fascinating. Thanks for sharing.

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  2. You can also tell by the saw marks on the wood...but that's another post for another day!

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  3. wow, I have no idea. so interesting!

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  4. As a collector of antiques, I find this sort of stuff very interesting. The nails are a very accurate way to date things.

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  5. My uncle deemed the term "shinfo" for items such as this! Not to mean that in a bad way!! hehe It's just a word to describe all the random knowledge we pick up throughout life that means something to someone (such as this for you) but little to someone else (like me....because I barely understand how a screwdriver works to begin with!). LoL Honestly, it was really interesting! I never knew a nail could be so detailed! And it's awesome to see women outside of the gender specific realm! ;-)

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  6. I can totally geek out on historical stuff with the best of them, so this post was really cool to read. It's even more relevant since Landon and I are thinking of purchasing a historical house here in Charleston that needs a lot of TLC--there's some debate going on with the realtor and the owner of the home as to how old the place actually is. One says it was built in 1868, and the other says it was 1935; guess I'll have to check out the nails next time I'm in the house! :)

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  7. That is a really awesome fact to know! I am going to tell my son about it! He loves history. I have to know quite a few random facts as a mom and a homeschooler, LOL!

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  8. Haha. Awesome :-) I am the queen of random knowledge.

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  9. That's an awfully big gap! Is one going with what the assessor says? Because that isn't always correct. The only way to for sure know is if there's something in the deed that states with it was constructed. Good luck with the house buying process!


    PS - I street viewed Charleston a few days ago and I SO want to move there. The architecture is AMAZING!

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  10. I didn't say I could build things... :-) When we look at barns in particular, it's really useful to know this stuff because the nails are exposed. With a house, they generally have some sort of "style" to them that was usually popular during a certain period, making it easier to date.

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