Furniture Repair Nails

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Although nails aren't used in making furniture joints, they do have some uses in furniture. The nails and other fasteners you may see are finishing or casing nails, upholstery nails, tacks, dowel pins, corrugated fasteners, and staples.

The common nail has a head. Finishing and casing nails have virtually no heads and, when used, are driven below the work surface with a nail set. Then the hole is filled to hide the nail. They can be bought in lengths ranging from I to 3 inches, but when buying nails, look for the "penny" size number and not inches.

In England, 400 years ago, nails were sold by the penny weight. That is, you got a certain weight of nails for a penny, and the bigger the nails, the fewer you got for

Common nails

Sd. 2W long

4d: 1V2" long

2d 1" long

Finishing nail

Wire brad

Corrugated fastener


As a general rule, nails are (or carpenters, not furniture restorers. To fasten furniture parts together, use wood joints (dovetails, etc.), dowels, and glue. When metal fasteners are needed, use screws. The two legitimate uses of nails in furniture are to hold a drawer bottom in place by driving a single small nail up through the bottom panel into the drawer back, and to pin a dowel joint. Do NOT use nails to mend broken furniture parts.

Note that in pieces made before 1895, square nails often were used, usually to reinforce glued joints or parts glued together. When restoring these pieces, reuse these nails just as they were used originally, They confirm the antiquity of the piece. If the nails have been lost or are not fit for reuse, you can buy replicas at woodworking specialty shops to replace them. If you choose not to replace them, do not use modern nails in the joint. Instead, use dowels and glue.


Nails are sold by "penny" sizes (designated by "d"). The smallest nail is a 2d or 2 penny, which is 1 inch long. A 3d nail is 1 '/* inches long. A 6d nail is 2 inches long. A 10d nail is 3 inches long.

Common nails

Barbed dowel pins

Corrugated fasteners


Typical nail with a head. In furniture, a 2d common nail will hold a drawer bottom. The thickness of the shank increases with the length.

These are nails without heads and with scored shanks. Used to pin a dowel in place by being driven through the dowel from the outside of the joint; then countersunk with a nailset and puttied.

These are small wavy steel fasteners with sharp teeth on one side. In cheap furniture, they are sometimes used to reinforce mitered joints by being driven into the wood across the joint. Can be used for some repair work.

More and more staples are showing up in furniture. They are commonly used to hold backs on dressers and chests, and to hold drawer bottoms in place. In cheap furniture, staples may be used to fasten joints, replacing glue. It is best not to use them in woodworking. They are ideal for use as replacement for tacks in upholstery work.

Upholstery tack

Gimp tack

Webbing lack

Ornamental nail

Tacks are intended for upholstery work. Head and shank styles vary according to the job lor which each is designee


Tacks come in three standard types: upholstery, webbing, and gimp. The upholstery tack is the commonest. Webbing tacks have barbs on their shanks to give greater holding power. Gimp tacks have small round heads and are nearly invisible when used in applying upholstery. Use tacks only for upholstery work, to tack fabric to wood frames, and never for joining wood. Be cautious when driving tacks, as they may split the wood into which they are driven. Ask for tacks by their weights. The chart below gives the weight and the length of the tack shank.











1 oz.


12 oz.


2 oz,


1 Vz OZ,


14 oz.


2V2 oz.


2 oz.

3 oz.


2Vi oz.


4 oz.


3 oz.


6 oz.


4 oz.


6 oz.


6 oz.


8 oz.


10 oz.


12 oz.


14 oz


16 OZ.


16 oz.


20 oz.

your penny. This system has evolved until today the penny size number refers to the nail length. A two-penny nail (abbreviated 2d) is an inch long. A three-penny nail is I 'A inches long. Each penny number adds '/« inch to the length. A lOd nail turns out to be 3 inches long.

Upholstery Nails Upholstery nails arc made with round, ornamental heads and arc used to attach upholstery fabric wherever a fastener would show — usually at the edges of upholstered chair arms and seats. There is only one size of upholstery nail, but a wide selection of plain and fancy head designs.

Tacks Tacks are used tmly in upholstery work and never to hold or attach anything but upholstery materials in furniture. Standard upholstery tacks are rated in size by the ounce. That is, you buy boxes of tacks marked "1 oz." or "2 oz." Tacks in the i -ounce box are -Vis-inch long, and those in the 2-ounce box arc !A-inch Check the accompanying table for other lengths.

Webbing tacks are the same as standard tacks, but bigger, and arc used to attach webbing in chairs and sofas.

The gimp tack, small and round-headed, is used to attach fabric coverings. The small round head is almost invisible when driven into a fabric, so gimp tacks are used when you must tack in an obvious place but don't want the heads to be seen.

Dowel Pins Dowel pins are nails with no heads. On occasion, a furniture maker will make a dowel joint and then secure it by driving a dowel pin through it. The pin is then countersunk and the hole filled. This isn't done very often, but when you are taking a chair apart for regluing you may find a dowel joint that refuses to come apart. When this occurs, inspect the area carefully for evidence of wood filler over a nail hole. If you see a small telltale circle on the surface over the dowel, you know the maker used a dowel pin.

To remove the dowel pin, use a nail set Tap it against the small circle of the wood filler to drive the pin through. Then use a pliers to pull the pin out. You should then be able to disassemble the dowel joint easily.

Corrugated Fasteners Corrugated fasteners are strips of corrugated metal an inch or so long, with one side sharpened like the biade of a knife. You won't find these in good furniture, but in some cheaper furniture they are used across miter joints to hold the joint together. Furniture repairers sometimes use them as a quick way to repair cracked or loose joints (not a good idea). You should never use them for any reason.

If you encounter a corrugated fastener in a piece you are restoring, take it out and rebuild the joint in correct fashion. You probably will find that the dowel or tenon of the original joint was damaged, and the repairer didn't want to take the time to make the right repair. To remove the corrugated fastener, you may have to chisel a bit of the wood away from its upper edge in order to grip the edge with a narrow-nosed pliers.

Brads Brads are small headless nails, and actually arc small versions of the fin-

Shown here is a brad driver, a tool especially designed to drive the srnai lastenefs. Bfacs are used for fastening wood trim.

ishing and casing nail, with the same uses.

Staples A staple, of course, is a piece of bent wire applied with a staple gun. Stapling with an electric staple gun is very fast, which appeals to present-day furniture manufacturers. By using staples wherever possible, they can cut labor costs. Traditional furniture buffs feel that the staple is an abomination, useful only for tacking two pieces of paper together.

The fact is that the staple is a very good fastener in ccrtain applications, and a very bad one in others. We have found that in applying covering materials in upholstery, the electric stapling gun beats hand tacking by a mile in some places. (Tacking fabric along the bottom rail of a chair or couch is a good instance.) The staple holds better than the tack, and the work goes much faster. We part company with the traditionalists here.

Staples are a handy alternative tor upholstery tacks. Do not. however, use staples to replace correct joints or wood screws.

But we agree with traditionalists on the matter of using staples to fasten wood parts together. We don't like this technique. First, to use staples in making furniture you must design the furniture for them. In designing a chest of drawers, for example, you might decide to staple the back panel in place. In good furniture, made the old-fashioned way, you would cut rabbets (grooves) on the inside face of the sides near the back. The back panel would slide into the grooves. Today, in cheaper — and even in some better — furniture, you would skip the grooving entirely, lay the back panel against the back of the chest, and staple it in place.

If the staples used are long enough, and if a sufficient number of staples are driven, then the stapled back stays in place and does its job of closing the back and bracing the whole chest. But the panel can be seen from the side because it has been stapled to the outer surface of the side pieccs, and the appearance bespeaks cheaper work. We prefer the old-fashioned method because it is neater and adds value to the furniture.

The second problem with staples is that they loosen and pull out easily when used in places where they are under stress. This isn't a problem with stapled backs, but it is when staples are used to replace good wooden joints. A drawer made by stapling the sides to the front won't last long. A drawer with the sides dovetailed to the front is a strong, lasting construction.

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