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I have a small wooden shed in my back yard that needs to be torn down, and for the most part, I can handle it fine. However, I have one concern about the cleanup afterwards: how can I make sure the nails get cleaned up thoroughly so my kids and pets don't step on them? I've thought of a magnet to sweep the yard, but the ones I've found need to be really low to the ground and I've not seen them be effective, especially as I'm not sure these nails are ferrous.

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    Non-ferrous nails are rare, in practice. diy.stackexchange.com/a/78184/18078 but you could try a metal detector and hope to find the lost gold ring that metal detector sellers all want you to believe is out there to find.
    – Ecnerwal
    Apr 28 at 14:49
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    Roofers have a strong magnet they drag over the ground to collect nails. Apr 28 at 15:23
  • @Ecnerwal I know they're rare, but with all the othere oddities (1/4 inch copper tubing to the dishwasher, countertop material for the shower stall, copper to iron plumbing, etc) of this house, I'm not ready to assume any kind of normalacy for this. Still, your point is well taken, as is blacksmith37's point about the strong magnet. I just haven't been able to find any, thought I might build an electromagnet if I can't find anything soon.
    – Tom A
    Apr 28 at 17:18
  • "rare earth magnet," search engine, get 'em. Know anybody that tears apart old computer junk, hard drive magnets, free or cheap. Have an old hard drive? Tool to tear it apart is cheap. Far less fuss than an electromagnet. None of that is odd, by the way. Just old. There are a few places, mostly on the roof, that copper or aluminum nails might get used, normally in copper or aluminum flashing. But that's unlikely on a shed.
    – Ecnerwal
    Apr 28 at 18:52
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    Why would their be nails in the yard after deconstruction? Surely if you are doing demo you are in control of where the nails go when you pull them out?
    – TylerH
    Apr 29 at 16:17

6 Answers 6

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Dismantle the shed into the biggest chunks that you can move. Then do as much dismantling as possible on a driveway so that any nails will (a) be obvious and (b) be easy to sweep up afterwards.

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    Maybe disassemble on a patio or on a tarp or drop cloth Apr 29 at 2:56
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    I was going to suggest this -- the trick here is to cut down the shed in large pieces. Don't pry apart every stud from every wall until you have a pile of sticks. Instead, get a reciprocating saw with a demo blade and cut the whole thing into four or five large chunks -- i.e., cut it into four walls and a roof and put each big chunk into a construction waste dumpster. That way, you really will have no nails to clean up. Apr 29 at 5:57
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    c. puncture your car's tyres. :-D I agree, fwiw, this is exactly what I do. But I'm always worried that I'm storing up trouble for when I park. Apr 30 at 13:42
  • c) easily found by driving your car over them. But seriously, sound advice.
    – SQB
    May 1 at 18:21
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Since you are planning to do the teardown yourself, you could lay a tarp or sheets of plywood to make a place for nails to not get lost in the grass/dirt in the process of tearing it down - or remove sections you can carry to a driveway or patio for further disassembly where nail cleanup is easy. Take your time in the "teardown" process and you'll save it back in the "not having to gather nails that flew everywhere" process.

For the most part, unless they are stuck through a piece of wood, nails lay down flat on the ground and don't actually poke people who step on them before they rust quietly away. Every person I know who has stepped on a nail (meaning gotten a puncture wound from that) stepped on a nail in a piece of scrap lumber. Roofing nails do have a higher level of hazard due to large heads, but are mostly a risk to the back tires of cars (or the front tires of cars reversing) as they will often briefly stand up after getting run over by the tire that comes first, and poke the tire behind before falling over again.

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    In addition to this, feel free to stop and pick up any nail you see dropping. The job itself might take a little longer, but the cleanup afterward will be a lot easier. I'd do this not so much because I'd be worried about stepping on nails (as @Ecnerwal mentioned, this is mostly a risk when they're embedded in - much more easily visible - pieces of wood), but so I can reuse the straight ones.
    – MiG
    Apr 28 at 15:09
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In addition to other answers, such as laying down a big tarp before starting the work, using a big magnet after, etc. go out after dark with a strong flashlight and sweep the area, possibly from multiple angles. Take some photos with a bright flash and zoom in to look for bright spots. The nails may have spots which are much more reflective than whatever dirt or grass they land in.

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I've thought of a magnet to sweep the yard, but the ones I've found need to be really low to the ground and I've not seen them be effective, especially as I'm not sure these nails are ferrous.

I've had two roofs replaced and both times they did a visual cleanup followed by a thorough magnetic sweeper. While there are some crazy expensive ones, these pros were using the same cheap model Harbor Freight sells ($13 at present). It's literally a magnet on wheels with a stick. Cheap and effective if you want to get more of them up.

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  • I'm getting a "Error 405 Not allowed" on that url!
    – MiG
    Apr 29 at 21:25
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    @MiG It's a US store chain. Maybe they restrict it outside the country
    – Machavity
    Apr 29 at 21:51
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    Good point, probably one of those blanket 'oh no it's GDPR' solutions. The interweb ain't what it used to be.
    – MiG
    Apr 29 at 21:53
  • If you decide to drag / sweep a magnet, be sure to wrap it in cloth, to allow the nails and various debris to be removed from the magnet. Or use an electromagnet.
    – SQB
    May 1 at 18:26
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The devices to use are called magnetic sweepers. Can be hired if they are not to be used frequently.

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Simply do your best to not drop nails while disassembling. When pulling a nail you can generally provide control by holding it. Should be possible regardless if you're using a hammer, crowbar, bootpinch pliers, or whatever prying tool you have.

You can clip a bag or pouch to your waist and that provides a convenient handy place to put all nails you pull out. Another option is an old tin with a hard drive magnet inside sitting nearby, but these risk falling over and off dwangs/nods and spilling anyway.

Lastly, your shed is likely to have a dead area underneath. Nails and rubbish are surprisingly visible when lying on flat dead soil. A careful emu parade will identify anything lying there. If there's grass nearby, your lawnmower will locate nails with a clang, guaranteed.

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