Building Skills: Tips for better driving and for a finished look.
I own half a dozen pneumatic nailers in various gauges. They’re my go-to tools for slamming nails into framing lumber and for installing trim quickly and without leaving what my old helper Rob used to call “elephant tracks” from my hammer on the wood. But I still pull the hammer out of my tool belt to hand-drive nails on occasion. Sometimes it’s the best or even the only way; for example, when working with hardwood trim, a nail gun can get you into trouble. More than once, I’ve had those thin pneumatic nails follow the grain of, say, really expensive quarter-sawn white oak, and blow out through the face of the jamb to which I’m nailing casing. With a hand-driven nail, I’d have noticed the angle of the nail changing as it began to follow the grain and would have been able to prevent that disaster.
Other times, it’s less trouble to hand-nail a small job than to haul out the nailer, compressor, and hose, and then put them all away again. And finally, particularly when working on my own house, I sometimes hand-nail just because I like to swing a hammer. If work isn’t inherently satisfying, you’re doing something wrong.
The key factor in driving any nail is to swing the hammer so that the shaft of the nail is tangent to the hammer’s arc. If you paid attention in high-school geometry, you’ll remember that when a circle’s tangent line intersects with its diameter, they are perpendicular. That means that when the head of your hammer strikes the nail, the nail’s shaft should be at a right angle to the hammer’s handle. Get this wrong, and the nail bends.
In order to get this right, keep…