29

Yes, I know I can go to the big box store and buy lumber. That is not the point of this question.

I have some boards that have the nail heads removed, leaving the nail flush with the surface of the board. The boards come from pallets where apparently they used a sawsall or cutoff blade to reconstruct the pallets several times:

Side view:

image1

Close up view:

image2

After prying them out, I see tiny wires around the outside (my guess is to actually prevent removal ... what are these nails called?):

image4

https://diy.stackexchange.com/a/27821/81954 gives some hints on how to remove nails, but relies upon the head being somewhat close to the surface. But in this case, the heads are sheared or sawed off flush with the surface.

Since this is for shop use (not fine furniture), and I don't need to preserve the whole width of the board (but do want to preserve the length), I have been cutting a notch into the wood about 1/4" deep, and chiseling the wood out just enough to get a ViceGrip around the nail, and then slowly prying up the nail and ViceGrip with a long crowbar. I can subsequently rip off the edge of the what is left over of the board and reuse most of the board.

Here is a view of the result after I've pryed out the nail:

image3

That works but is time consuming.

Is there a tool that would both dig into the wood and around the nail, and have enough gripping force (similer to what I can get with the ViceGrip) to allow me to then pry out the nail? The "Nail Jack" style of tools are close but they don't have the toggle-bolt gripping action of a ViceGrip and lack a way to hammer the chisel edges into the wood deeply enough to grip the headless nail body.

How to remove these nails (no access to head)? seems like it would be applicable, but it is not.

  • 27
    What about driving them through and then gripping at the bottom? – bib Oct 2 '18 at 15:51
  • 9
    The wires are the remnants of the nail gun coil or flat pack. They're electro-welded to the nails to retain them, and simply tear free or break when the nail is driven by the tool. The nails are of the "screw shank" variety, which resist pullout slightly more than smooth shank nails. – isherwood Oct 2 '18 at 20:09
  • 8
    Why pull them out at all? Your images look like you are working with the pallet spines instead of the pallet boards. I just use a 20d nail like a nail set and drive these into the spine, about 1/4 inch below the surface – Michael J. Oct 2 '18 at 22:33
  • 22
    Obviously, run the lumber through an MRI machine. The strong magnet will pull out the nails. – Hot Licks Oct 3 '18 at 1:37
  • 11
    Everyone (especially a boss paying an employee) should consider the time vs the cost to just buy new wood. Pallet wood is cheap, and unless it's super fast is it really worth your time to remove nails from it. Even if you're not at work & just doing this for fun, is it really something you want to spend your time doing "for fun?" – Xen2050 Oct 3 '18 at 3:43

18 Answers 18

41

I use a device called a nail jack. It will work with or without a nail head. It has a beak that you center on the nail then a slide that you smack down on and it bites the nail. After it has a grip 1 sole has a lever that you rock back on and it pulls the nail out. I have used on all sizes of nails in both hard wood and soft wood. Aged oak with nails is the toughest as it sometimes bites through the nail and you need to get another bite, will try to see if they are still sold I have had mine for 35+ years. They call the nail puller 56 , cost is close to 60$ (after a little more looking I found one on line for $30 and some on eBay for less) but are well worth it and last for years or decades in my case. Added Here is a utube video of the puller in use you can see how little damage is done to the board and a finishing nail is pulled out, with a pallet the sole won't need the block of wood so it will even be faster. Nail puller 56 or slide hammer nail jack as you can see this will do what the op wants.

  • 4
    Found one of those in an old barn I'm refurbishing. My dad knew what it was, but I didn't. Quite the handy little device. – isherwood Oct 2 '18 at 20:16
  • 6
  • 4
    As a kid, it was my job to pull nails from salvaged lumber. That nail jack was the best tool in the shed! – fred_dot_u Oct 2 '18 at 22:51
  • 1
    youtube.com/watch?v=8j82IQr9O44 – Valorum Oct 3 '18 at 5:36
  • 2
    @bgoodr give it a chance it takes time to get really good with this tool. You will find 2-3 slams of the slide in the correct position will create a small divot then lift the slide up and pull back the other side will bite the nail on the other side, once it has a grip I have successfully pulled the nails out of both low quality and high qulaty pallets planing them and using a joiner making a solid butcher block bar almost 20' long yes the boards were thin but it only cost me some time and sharpening the blades well. + glue and the allthread rod to hold it together. It was really nice. – Ed Beal Oct 6 '18 at 21:14
55

Once we bought an old pallet factory, so I really got to "see how the sausage is made".

Pallets are made in extremely, extremely high production because the typical corporate customer orders thousands and pays about $6 each for them. There are also an infinite number of pallet sizes and styles, though most fit a 40x48 footprint. These two requirements force the industry into extreme levels of automation with CNC machines and very high production gang nailers.

As such, the nails are not really recognizable as nails in the normal way. They are a very heavy industrial version of power nailer nails, made in very long chains with wires spot-welded to the nails. They are made to not break and not jam, because that stops production. When driven the bits of wire just get driven too. They have a spiral shank and have virtually no head, being one-shotted in by sheer pneumatic or electrohydraulic force. (The air system was surprisingly lightweight, so I suspect the latter; the machines took copious amounts of 480V.)

Being woodworkers, we evaluated the wood since there was a fair bit of it laying around never nailed. The wood used in pallets is positively awful. It is the junkiest of junk hardwood. Cleaning it up in a jointer and planer was not worth the blade wear and did not produce anything we would call good lumber.

As such I see no point in cleaning up the wood. Just use it rough, and then you don't need to remove the nails.

Also in the future when you want to salvage pallets, pry the deck board about 1/4" off the stringer then tap the deck board back down. The nail should pop up with head exposed.

  • 7
    "Just use it rough, and then you don't need to remove the nails". Not sure that is safe to do: Not mentioned in the question because it was not supposed to be relevant (see first sentence in the question): The use-case is to rip cut the nail-free board at a 45 degree angle with a circular saw down the length for a french cleat. Thus, the possibility of the saw blade encountering the nail presents some risk of damaging the carbide tips on the blade, or causing bits of chiselled nails flying about. However thanks for the detail as that clarifies some things. – bgoodr Oct 3 '18 at 14:10
  • A possible counter to my previous comment would be the comment at diy.stackexchange.com/questions/147952/… which provides me some ideas. Yes it is true that, strictly speaking, I would not care that the nails stay in the wood for my particular use-case in making some french cleats. – bgoodr Oct 3 '18 at 14:48
  • 5
    This post makes absolutely zero attempt to answer the question of "How to remove headless nails which are flush with the wood surface?" – MonkeyZeus Oct 5 '18 at 17:35
  • I muse agree. While we salvaged used pallets, it was either as fixed pallets to keep the firewood off the ground or as firewood. – Joshua Oct 6 '18 at 14:33
16

I'd take a different approach. I'd simply drive them in with a nail set so they effectively disappear. In cases where you need to make cuts, shift things to avoid the nail locations.

  • 8
    +1. IDK what the OP is doing but they should just buy saw blades for nail embedded wood. – Mazura Oct 2 '18 at 22:57
  • 3
    Most saw blades have carbide teeth these days, but sliced nails are unsightly and potentially dangerous. I'd shift the cuts. – isherwood Oct 3 '18 at 14:13
  • 2
    @Mazura and isherwood: Good ideas. I would have shifted the wood a bit but would rather have the 45 degree rip cut down the center be at the center, leaving me with enough "meat" left over in either result slice of wood for attachments to them as french cleats. – bgoodr Oct 3 '18 at 14:51
  • 5
    It would have been good to know more about your intended usage in the question. – isherwood Oct 3 '18 at 14:54
9

I know this may not apply to every situation, but as an electrician I use a pair of side cutters and leverage it out of a hole. Lineman's pliers work too if there is enough space and you can get enough of a grip on it.

  • 8
    That sounds like it should work, but I suspect it's bad for the cutter's blade. Maybe it's best to use an old pair of side cutters if you're going to do a lot of this. – mrog Oct 2 '18 at 19:31
  • 5
    Good idea, but look at using boot pinch pliers instead. They're very similar but the bite is across the beam, not diagonal, and the sharp bit goes the other way like fingernail cutters. – Criggie Oct 3 '18 at 6:03
9

You might be able to use a pneumatic denailer.

It punches the nails through the wood to drive them out, and seems to work from either end of the nail, so would not require the nail to have a head.

It is probably an expensive investment for a one-time task, but you may be able to rent one from your local home-improvement store.

Here is a video of the denailer in action: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4gbm15fzNQM

  • 1
    Good idea. Another option is to use a big 6~8 inch nail or a nail punch, and simply hammer the nail all the way through yourself. Once something's poking out the other side, boot pinch pliers can grab it. – Criggie Oct 3 '18 at 6:04
  • 1
    Yeah, or just (switches to machinist's hat) grind it flat, bap it good-n-plenty with a center punch so the drift stays cented, then drive it through with a drift. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Oct 3 '18 at 16:32
6

Use a small hole saw to drill out a wood plug around the nail. The method you have been using also works, obviously, though you don't need to clear so much area to get the grips on.

You can either leave the "artificial knotholes" resulting, or plug them. It would be a lot faster than cutting and prying each nail.

  • 2
    Seems like a quick way to ruin a hole saw (Unless everything is supernaturally straight/positioned every time). – Brock Adams Oct 2 '18 at 20:13
  • 4
    Nail is less than a quarter-inch diameter. Put the center drill of a one-inch hole saw close to the nail and the nail will be in the plug you remove, but not touching the edge or the drill hole. – WGroleau Oct 2 '18 at 21:18
  • 4
    Ecnewral with the nail jack I can usually pull up to 20 penny in about 5 seconds I doubt A hole saw would be that fast. Shorter nails can be even faster, I have salvaged pallet wood in the past if I don't bite through the nail it is quite quick. – Ed Beal Oct 2 '18 at 23:26
5

When I had to remove several hundred nails from hardwood flooring, I used something called Fencing Pliers. The flat part at the top of the tool could grip a small section of nail protruding from the floor and the curved edge of the tool's head provided leverage to extract it. It did require a very small amount of the nail protruding from the wood. Based in the image you provided, I think there is enough. The tool was under $50 and in my case was well worth it.enter image description here

  • 1
    "a small section of nail protruding from the floor" is not my scenario, unfortunately. The nail heads are sheared off, leaving the top of the resulting nail body flush with the top of the wood. – bgoodr Oct 3 '18 at 15:12
  • 4
    Based on the quality of the wood used in pallets, you can probably apply pressure to the wood and get a grip. I was able to do it on hardwood floors (real oak, not laminate). – Leatherwing Oct 3 '18 at 15:25
4

We used end cutters when I was an insulator and had to pull nails from asbestos shakes. We usually used a grinder to flatten the top of the end cutters even more.

End Cutter

  • 3
    I had to read that twice to see that you weren't using the grinder on the asbestos shakes. (I'm relaxed about asbestos cement, but using a grinder on it is a bit far even for me.) – Martin Bonner supports Monica Oct 3 '18 at 15:47
3

Since this is for 'shop use,' you may just leave the nails in. If they are flush, there is not really any need to remove them.

If you really just want them gone, I have had luck using a thin punch to just force them the rest of the way through. Even though they do not have a head on them, you can bang on the top of the exposed nail with a round punch and knock them through.

These types of fasteners will continue through and out of the wood MUCH easier than they will move in the reverse direction. They are designed to NOT be pulled out, but they can be easily pushed in ... and out through the other side.

3

I've always used a device that was called a "cat's paw" or "cat" to pull nails like this. It looks like a small crowbar with a head a little bigger than your thumb. It will allow you to dig a small divot into the wood and grip almost any size nail down to a brad.

one type of cat's paw nail puller

  • That link is broken. Could you change it to be the amazon share link? – bgoodr Oct 5 '18 at 15:31
  • Just go to Amazon and search for cats paw or nail puller. I prefer the style shown above because it always can dig below the serface of the wood without gouging it up too much. And it all most always will bite into and grip the nail shaft. – Robert Cline Oct 8 '18 at 15:10
  • Without purchasing and using it, I am left to believe that the size of the divot left by the cats paw will be much larger than the nail puller at diy.stackexchange.com/a/147964/81954 – bgoodr Oct 9 '18 at 18:24
  • @bgoodr The video associated with your link shows the size of a cats paw compared to the nail puller. While the divot is smaller the reason he was using the nail puller was to get into a restricted area that a claw hammer or cats paw could not easily get into. In your case you have a totally flat surface the size of the divot only marginally larger. It's up to you if want pay around $80 for the nail puller vs. $8-$15 for a cats pawl you can keep in your tool pouch all the time. – Robert Cline Oct 10 '18 at 19:22
  • Good point. However I picked up a very old nail puller for $20 from CraigsList, not $80 new. I will likely just pick up a cats paw anyhow as they aren't that expensive, even new. – bgoodr Oct 13 '18 at 1:41
3

I have pulled many pounds of gnarly rusty nails of all sorts, with and without heads and getting them out of a pallet is the worst. The suggestions with the nail pullers or drilling approaches seem good and I might see if I can locate such specialty tools. That said, here is the approach.

  1. If there is any remnant of a head or even misshapen top that might be grabbed, I take my Estwing nail puller and pound it in so it scoops under the remnant head and firmly engages the offending nail shaft. I then carefully pull and hope the nail moves. The small or mid-size Estwing is best. I ground the ends of mine slightly to make them easier to to dig in under the headless nail head.
  2. If #1 did not work then I have probably dug enough wood from around the head that I might be able to attach a good (small) pair of vice grips with ridged grabbing surface. The vice grips get clamped on to the protruding section with all the force I can muster and they lock and hold themselves in place. Not, I get my little pry bar under the head of the vice grips and lift the nail up. This is similar, I think, to the methods you describe, but I do not pull on the vice grips, but get under the end with a separate pry tool and lift it out.
  3. If this fails, then I try the punch (with indented tip). Pushing it out is best if the nail is mostly through, but it is hard to push the nail more than a fraction of an inch before the punch ceases to engage solidly. If you can find the other side, pushing up works pretty well.
  4. If the wood type or nail type (or rust) causes the wood and nail to grab very tightly, the above may not work. Sometimes, I can put a second nail (or screws work too) adjacent to the first and this serves to break the strangle hold on the offending. Drilling next to the nail works also and may be repeated with multiple holes around the nail. Once you have it loosened, the pushing or pulling strategies sometimes work.

Some of the tools and drill bits mentioned earlier sound like good ideas I can try next time :) Good luck!

  • I occasionally (about I guess about 40% of the cases) have to resort to using your #2 tactic after the nail puller is not able to grab the nail properly. I have yet to resort to #3 and #4 tactics but I'm sure there is a pallet with hardwood in it that will force me to. – bgoodr Oct 13 '18 at 1:46
2

You might consider a plug cutter.

plug cutter

You could use a plug cutter like this to drill around the nails.

  1. Drill through the wood, if its thin enough, nail and wood fall out.
  2. Drill down 1/8 to 1/4, or just enough to expose the nail head. You may have to use a screw driver to break the bits free. Then with sufficent head exposed you can pull it normally.
  • If trying to drill out this would be better than a hole saw. – Ed Beal Oct 4 '18 at 17:32
  • 1
    As long as the nail goes straight, going to be expensive to replace one of these when it touches the nails a couple of times. – James Jenkins Oct 4 '18 at 18:15
  • right, not interested in damaging a good plug cutter on a skewed nail. – bgoodr Oct 5 '18 at 15:34
  • 1
    I found a video that demonstrates using the plug cutter in conjunction with a vice-grips at youtu.be/brLOm5Kh3yw?t=33 and for my use case, that would eliminate much of the time consuming part of removal which is the sawing and chiseling part. – bgoodr Oct 7 '18 at 15:52
  • 1
    @bgoodr I am glad found you my suggestion helpful, and saved you some time. That is exactly how I envisioned suggestion #2. – cybernard Oct 7 '18 at 20:32
2

I just use an appropriately sized nail punch to drive the headless nail all the way through the wood until there’s enough of the shaft showing for my claw hammer to get a grip. Works a treat every time, especially on those ribbed nails. The ribbing provides more grip for the hammer.

1

A drill with a metal bit should help. You can try using it to push the remainder out, or, if it won't move, drill the nail out of the board.

  • 10
    In my experience, trying to drill out a small metal object in wood leads to the drill walking off into the wood, not following the metal to drill it out. – Ecnerwal Oct 2 '18 at 18:00
  • 1
    @Ecnerwal It's not the best but if you have no purchase for pliers it's the next best solution – Machavity Oct 2 '18 at 18:08
1

If you don't mind making a small divot in the wood then you can use something like this Estwing Pro-Claw Nail Puller.

You just have to position the claw at an angle and strike the backplate to dig the claw into the nail shank. It will essentially create its own grip points so that you can pull the nail with ease.

I own one of these and I absolutely love it. They are sold in different sizes so make sure to get one which is suitable for your need.

  • Definitely to be considered, after extensive trials using the ancient nail puller I bought as a result of Ed Beal's answer at diy.stackexchange.com/a/147964/81954 – bgoodr Oct 5 '18 at 15:34
  • @bgoodr Interesting. You might also like Dewalt's claw tool as well. It has a protruding cylinder on side and I believe that it is used to strike around your broken nails to better expose a gripping surface but I've had zero trouble just hammering the claw into the wood and the resulting divot is minimal. – MonkeyZeus Oct 5 '18 at 15:44
  • Video review of Stiletto cats paw: youtu.be/GtGeAMPp68A?t=142 (and also youtu.be/YJz4314-3V0?t=621 ) but requires a titanium hammer (so that would be a "no" for me because I will never remember which type of hammer to (not) use. – bgoodr Oct 5 '18 at 16:27
  • Video review of Bond Cat's Paw: youtu.be/GtGeAMPp68A?t=279 – bgoodr Oct 5 '18 at 16:27
  • 1
    @bgoodr Cool. Just make sure to get one with a strike face on the back of it. If I ever have to re-buy a "cat's paw" tool then I would probably go with Dewalt just because of the lifetime warranty. Anyways, good luck with your pallets. – MonkeyZeus Oct 5 '18 at 17:24
1

Slammer Hammer

The comment at How to remove nails with heads cut off? might actually be "spot on". Perhaps I should make my own "slammer hammer":

  1. Make a vise grip pliers slide hammer attachment
  2. Slide Hammer Puller - Say Hello to my Little Friend

Or maybe not, as it might just suffer from the same problem indicated on the Sure Grip 56 at my other non-answer at https://diy.stackexchange.com/a/148183/81954 where the thickness of the thing I expect to jam into the wood is 0.2020 inches in width which will not dive deep enough. How can I expect the claws of a ViceGrip to dig in deep enough then?

Answer: No, it won't. Give it up.

If that reasoning is sensible, then that lends weight to using the Cat's Paw answer at https://diy.stackexchange.com/a/148129/81954 because in this case, I don't care about preserving too much of the wood around the embedded headless nail. I do care that it is removed, and with the least amount of tooling involved, and with minimal time (as that multiplies across every embedded headless nail I need to extract, and I expect there to be many of these nails!).

  • Given my observation at diy.stackexchange.com/questions/147952/… I suspect that I will need to make my own Slammer Hammer using a long nose vicegrip with an altered tip so that it can dig deep into the wood to be able to grip tightly around the headless nail and be able to pull it back. This is attractive because then I can have a single tool that could eliminate the use of hammers nail pullers cats paws, drills Etc. – bgoodr Oct 13 '18 at 1:49
0

Use a plug cutter to expose about one inch of the nail.

Then use a chuck extractor. It is composed of a chuck with a long shaft on which a weight can run (don't be grossed out, but I've seen one at my dentist's).

The chuck takes hold of the nail and is serrated tightly. Now nail, chuck and shaft are a single body. You hold the weight and drive it away from the chuck along the shaft, until it smashes with the block at the opposite end. This has the effect of pulling out the nail. Repeat as needed.

This is a variation of the same tool, with a differently (and unsuitably) shaped chuck:

enter image description here

In the end you're left with a small hole on the wood, with a nail hole at the bottom. You can even plug the hole with a wood insert of the same size.

  • I cannot find any info on "chuck extractor" using my Google Fu. I did find a page on the above image at bonehamusa.com/product/pull-dowel-extractor-tool which is called a pull dowel extractor. – bgoodr Oct 6 '18 at 15:16
  • Unfortunately I do not know the English name of the tool - it would be something like 'reverse small hammer' - and I made it up. I could probably build myself one - the chuck is the only complex part. I've only seen it used once, but believe it should be known to woodsmiths. – LSerni Oct 6 '18 at 15:18
  • 1
    @bgoodr it is exactly the same principle of that 'slammer hammer' in your answer! Only the gripping part is different, and it is much smaller. – LSerni Oct 6 '18 at 15:27
0

Given the qualifications/exceptions described below, Ed Beal's answer is THE best answer, in my opinion:

Earlier, in this answer, I claimed incorrectly that the Sure Grip 56 Nail Puller id not work if the nail head had been sheared off flush to the wood surface. It does work in most cases, and is still useful to try first as it does work a majority of the time, and saves wasted motion when having to use additional/multiple tools. However, you do have to pound the slammer down a sufficient number of times to allow the claw on the tool to reach a sufficient grip friction around the nail body, before attempting to lever it out of its hole.

The cases where this nail puller does not work (all by itself) is when the nail is either in very hard wood or is in a knothead, for instance, this case:

knothead

In those cases, I used a old screw driver that I ground down to a small sharp 1/4 inch chisel edge (because I wasn't about to use one of my nice chisels for this). I would then pound down to the left and right of the nail to give the nail puller's jaw a fighting chance at gripping the nail:

screwdriver chisel at work

This removes some of the hard/compacted wood to allow nail puller claw to get closer to the wood, but leaving most of the wood nearby to allow something for the claws to push against when the nail puller's slide-hammer is slammed down repeatedly.

In some cases even that was not enough, and I had to resort to using a long-nose vicegrip pounded down around the nail body and then levering it out that way. See this YouTube video https://youtu.be/DsgaLMmHCF8 :

long-nose vicegrip

For future reference, below are the the pictures of the Sure Grip 56 antique nail puller I purchased. (Patent reference https://patents.google.com/patent/US708841 ):

  1. https://i.stack.imgur.com/qjBTX.jpg
  2. https://i.stack.imgur.com/glM2R.jpg
  3. https://i.stack.imgur.com/KCwyQ.jpg
  4. https://i.stack.imgur.com/HBTjk.jpg
  5. https://i.stack.imgur.com/BXwEE.jpg
  6. https://i.stack.imgur.com/gDRzp.jpg
  7. https://i.stack.imgur.com/JmeIG.jpg
  8. https://i.stack.imgur.com/y6IXJ.jpg
  9. https://i.stack.imgur.com/oFbwX.jpg
  10. https://i.stack.imgur.com/xd00V.jpg
  11. https://i.stack.imgur.com/FmHdg.jpg
  12. https://i.stack.imgur.com/96WJz.jpg
  13. https://i.stack.imgur.com/yuplk.jpg
  14. https://i.stack.imgur.com/WxXr2.jpg

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