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How do I remove floorboard nails from joists?

The nails are ~3-4mm diameter with no heads.

I've tried claw-hammer and wrecking bar with no success because without nail-heads, I cannot get purchase.

I guess I could attack them with a hacksaw and leave the lower part embedded, but I don't like that notion very much because around some of the nails, rust-stains are spreading which I guess is a vector for damp (??).

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Thank you all for your suggestions; I tried the one with the pliers + block first since I have those tools to hand. That worked! I have voted up the others since they sound equally effective. –  Peter Mounce Aug 19 '12 at 21:55
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6 Answers 6

up vote 10 down vote accepted

Another method is to get pliers and a block of wood about the height of the extended nail ( protruding out the wood). Grab the nail out the side of the pliers and insert the block of wood between the joist and the head of the pliers. then use the leverage to pull the nail out, this is also great because it will not damage your wood. enter image description here

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If you want to include an image before you get your first 10 rep, upload it to imgur.com and post the url in your answer. One of us will be happy to inline it for you. –  BMitch Aug 18 '12 at 17:17
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If you're covering them over, then a wack with a hammer so they go all the way into the joists should be fine. That's routine during a demolition. If you absolutely need to remove the nail, then get a large channel lock plier, grip the nail tight, and roll the pliers on their head to pull the nail. The long handle gives you lots of leverage to hold the nail tight, and the rounded head is perfect for smoothly pulling the nail.

channel lock

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Following BMitch's instructions, if, for some reason, you need to protect the surface of the joist, use a nail set to hammer them below grade or put a shim under the channel locks head when rolling them out. –  bib Aug 18 '12 at 16:29
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We usually use one of these standard nail pullers. Grab the nail shank and roll the plier to pull the nail out of the board. It has the best leverage out of all the recommendations here. Available from several manufacturers, end nippers such as Diamond horse shoeing nippers have longer handles for better leverage and the wide head doesn't dent the wood as much.

enter image description here

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A pair of vice grips might also work well. Clamp onto the nail near the wood, then rock back and forth to pull the nail out. Or clamp highter and then use a claw hammer under the vice grips to lift the nail.

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Yet another method for headless nails is the zig-zag pull. This works on nails with an inch or more protruding from the wood and requires the claw end to have a fairly acute vee where the claws meet.

  1. Using the claw on the hammer, tip the hammer forward till the bottom of the vee notch is touching the joist surface.
  2. Using a scrap 2x4 piece, drive the hammer forward till the nail catches in the vee, but before the nail starts to bend.
  3. The nail's headless, you ain't pullin' it that way.
  4. Push the hammer over sidewise like you're trying to bend the nail into a fishook. If the claws are shaped right, they'll have notched the nail and given you purchase. The nail will both bend and pull out at the same time.
  5. Repeat steps 1,2,4 except push the hammer over sideways to the other side from the last time you bent it over.

Doing this will bend the nail into a zig-zag while pulling it out in 3-4 steps. Aside from a scrap piece of 2x4 you were going to throw in the dumpster anyway, you didn't need any extra tools to do that, eh?

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There is a small handy tool known by many names, 'paws claw' being one. It has a notched head like a claw hammer but smaller at right angles to the body. Using a hammer tap the paws claw until the 'vee' is tight to the nail. Roll the tool backwards using a small scrap of steel under it to preserve the floor. Works very all regardless of shape or age.

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