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During the renovation of our old house I uncovered a load-bearing beam which has a lot of old rusty nails just sticking out of it. By "a lot" I mean that there are around 50 nails in random places on a 2.5 meter long beam. Should I pull these nails out and fill the holes, or is it safer to just leave them where they are now?

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    I would cut off the nails at their interface with the beam and leave the remains in the wood. A touch of rust preventive coating may help to slow down the rate of rust forming.
    – r13
    Jul 7, 2021 at 18:32
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    If it were just a few, I'd pull them. The fact you're saying 50 of them, then I'd just get out the cutting wheel for my dremel tool and snick them all off and clean up to avoid injuries.
    – Bee Kay
    Jul 7, 2021 at 21:13
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    Just pull them all out. Sounds like my dad, he would hang anything and everything from the rafters from old nails. Drove me nuts as i got older, just because it looked terrible, and being taller, i'd hit my head on things. Dont bother cutting them, pulling them is much cleaner.
    – element11
    Jul 8, 2021 at 16:24
  • Depends on if you're looking at protruding tips from laminating the beams (no), or just unsunk heads that were probably for hanging stuff (yes).
    – Mazura
    Jul 10, 2021 at 21:20

2 Answers 2

29

Nails can be removed, even lots of them.

Why?

Wood fiber

Driving a nail into lumber is different from drilling holes of the same diameter: a nail will "squeeze" in, pushing the wood fibers aside. It does not remove or tear fibres to a degree that matters.

Nails rarely, if ever, reduce the strength of lumber, except when driving them causes the lumber to split. In this case removing them usually does not make things worse. You can avoid further splitting during removal by being careful: do not to apply too much lateral force when attempting to remove nails.

When it comes to large quantity of thick nails (8d/10d), you might prefer to cut them with a reciprocal saw or angle grinder, rather than pull them out.

Is it always safe? No...

Removing nails from siding is a different story: removing nails can destroy the water shielding provided by the siding. Also, if the siding is brittle (e.g. dry cedar), removing a nail can easily cause cracking.

Drilled holes

Also, compare the diameter of the nail to the allowance for drilling holes: in most joists, a hole that has a diameter at 1/3 the depth of the joist can be drilled with impunity. Engineered / laminated members and dimensional lumber beams have far less allowance, but holes under 1/2in and spaced at 3x the diameter are often easily tolerated. Specifics depend on the location of the hole, the specs etc... but the point is that the size of a nail hole is negligible even in these cases.

Filling to restore

Also, filling a hole that might have affected strength will not undo its weakening. To restore structural strength around some sort of bracing will be required, either by sistering or by applying rated metal strapping.

In some cases a "knot filler" can be used to restore strength around knots and crack, but this is mostly for furniture and decorative wood, not for building structure.

I don't know if there is an approved filler for framing wood, but filler is commonly applied to decay zones (rot surrounded by intact fibers).

Contrast this with concrete epoxy, which is indeed used to restore strength in foundation walls and slabs.

Filling a hole in siding of course does have a purpose: to prevent ingress of rain water, weeds etc...

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    A fiber-reinforced epoxy with high adhesion (stickiness) likely won't be as good as adding bracing, but I have used a few varieties on less-critical applications and many of the modern ones seem to be only slightly less strong than the original wood. So for cases like this where the beam is still strong enough to do its job, it might get you some additional safety margin without making things ugly.
    – Perkins
    Jul 9, 2021 at 19:54
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It's the first thing I do when I buy a new place--remove the zillions of nails, screws, hooks, picture wire, and other random crap that the previous owner stuck everywhere throughout the garage and basement. It's a safety hazard and not usually conducive to good organization or aesthetics.

It will have zero effect on the integrity of your lumber. There's no need whatsoever to fill holes.

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    How do you hang up your tools if you remove all the hanging points ?
    – Criggie
    Jul 8, 2021 at 19:41
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    I put up my own hanging devices. Chances are good that 1) the originals were poorly arranged, 2) they aren't in an area I'd use them, and 3) they're bent, rusty, or otherwise unattractive.
    – isherwood
    Jul 8, 2021 at 19:49
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    I've removed at least 500 nails and screws from the joists in the basement and I still find one I missed every now and then. Sometimes I think my wife must be adding rusty nails when I'm not home just to mess with me, hah
    – MonkeyZeus
    Jul 8, 2021 at 19:55

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