Before 1790 all nails were made by hand. They were hammered out iron by a blacksmith. The shafts were square and double tapered. The heads were hammered and showed facets from the hammer blows. Due to the faceted head they are commonly called rose head nails. The history of nails and nail making is one of the tools that can be used to date antique furniture and buildings. After 1790 hand made nails were replaced by machine made cut nails and after 1880 by modern round wire nails.

Below is a rose head nail that was used to repair a tall case clock I restored. I removed this nail and made the repair with hide glue instead of the nail. You can see the hammered facets on the head.

1820 rose head

This is a bag of hand made iron nails I purchased. They are supposed to be unused 18th century made nails, but who knows for sure. They look good. I save these for repairs of period pieces.

18th century rose head nails

These are soft clinch nails made for the repair of steamer trunks. They are a cut nail with a smooth round head. I don’t know what they are made of but they are soft enough to hammer into a simulated rose head nail.

trunk nails

These are the tools I use to make the nails I use when building reproductions of pieces from the 18th century or earlier. The shafts can be hammered cold but if you hammer the heads without heating them they tend to pop off.


This is one of the trunk nails after hammering. The rectangular plate is a used up draw plate that I use as a nail header.

new nail

About millcrek

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3 Responses to Nails

  1. Interesting blog on nails. I’m thinking of buying the research paper to find out more.

  2. Joe says:

    Tom, here is a Coffee Can Forge on this site

    • millcrek says:

      Joe, Thanks for the link. I have a hand crank, coal fired forge, but it’s to big for a couple of nails. Building a small gas forge is something I need to do.

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