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I temporarily nailed decorative 1x4 poplar boards on the ceiling of our foyer after ripping out part of the plaster between floor joists when doing a bathroom remodel above it. I put the boards up because there was a question in my mind about how to repair the drywall, which was thicker than contemporary 5/8 thickness; it was a three-layer board installed during the late 1940s when plaster was transitioning to drywall, and the sheets had a base coat of plaster applied, then a second coat of plaster, and a final cream coat. It was like plastering, only over sheetrock not over mesh or lath.

Anyway, back to the question. In a hurry, I used what nails I had on hand, 3" 16GA finish nails like the ones below; and now they need to be removed so I can reuse the boards (and repair the ceiling properly) but they are easily bent and therefore cannot be hammered out by tapping on their pointy end.

Is there a clever a DIY-hack to help accomplish that task?

16 GA finish nails

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  • Are the boards worth your time to save?
    – Tony Ennis
    Jun 1, 2022 at 20:46
  • @Tony Ennis: These boards run about $25 apiece at the lumber yard, so they're worth the time. Yesterday I paid $10 for an empty one-gallon paint can at the big box store.
    – mr blint
    Jun 2, 2022 at 21:08

7 Answers 7

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Pull them out from the back by prying with a locking pliers, channel-lock pliers, etc. Roll the rounded jaw along the length of the board for maximum leverage.

Nails that break off can often be left in the board. They're soft and most saws won't even notice them in the rare case that they fall under a cut. I'll often just tap them to the side and flush with a hammer so they're not a risk to flesh or finish.

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  • 4
    +1 The rolling motion with channel-lock pliers worked best.
    – mr blint
    May 31, 2022 at 14:49
  • End nippers work great for this. If you have some that are a bit dull, even better. Jun 1, 2022 at 13:28
  • 1
    Pulling with pliers is a great way, but go easy; some nails are brittle enough they can snap. Use a putty knife or other piece of stiff metal on top of the board for your pliers to lever against to avoid damaging the wood.
    – spuck
    Jun 1, 2022 at 14:25
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With finish nails sometimes it is possible to use a nail punch and drive the nails though the wood from the nailing side.

Have the wood supported so only the nails are in the air and drive them though the wood.

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  • 2
    +1 The nail punch helped me remove the nails that had broken on my first attempt.
    – mr blint
    May 31, 2022 at 14:49
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    In my extensive experience this results in a double-sized hole in your board at least 50% of the time. I'd leave the broken nail in place. Saws won't even notice.
    – isherwood
    May 31, 2022 at 15:59
  • I usually leave the nails in also. Nails not good if using a chainsaw.
    – crip659
    May 31, 2022 at 16:19
  • @isherwood: I accidentally left a nail in place in one of the boards and only noticed it as the board was being pulled by my planer's rollers towards the blades like a cartoon heroine headed for the buzz-saw. Unfortunately this Dudley Do-Right didn't make it to the power switch in time, but luckily the blades missed the nail-head by about 1/64th of an inch.
    – mr blint
    Jun 1, 2022 at 16:07
  • Planers are a different story, but these nails are so soft I doubt it would have been an issue anyway. I've hit them with carbide blades in hand planers plenty of times. They shear right off.
    – isherwood
    Jun 1, 2022 at 16:09
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if pulling them through would not have been an option, there is a reliable way to pound them back through.

Do either of these:

  • Get a piece of metal tubing just big enough to go over the nail. Cut a section ~1/2" shorter than the nail is sticking out. The cut 2-3 more, each 1/2" in shorter than the previous.
  • or, get/cut a block of wood ~1/2" shorter than the nail is sticking out. Drill a hole through it that is just bigger than the width of the nail. The cut 2-3 more, each 1/2" in shorter than the previous.

You will now have several spacer sleeves.

Now you can place the longest sleeve over the nail, and tap the pointy end until it's flush. Then move to the next size space sleeve, and repeat.

Eventually you may get enough practice swinging that you can do @mdmay74's answer, and this will work if you need to preserve the nails, unlike @AdamBrown's solution

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Experiment with different pliers and nail pulling tools (like the claw of a hammer for example) to try to pull them out the "wrong way", ie use the pointy end to pull the head all the way through the board. You'll have to experiment to find a tool and technique that doesn't break the nails.

The tool should not be too sharp where it grabs the nail, so you should have to grab it firmly, and it should translate its leverage in a way that pulls the nail straight up at 90 degrees to the board. You should frequently adjust your bite to be near the board and to use the tool at 90 degrees.

When I attempt this with random hammers or pliers I have handy, the nails end up breaking and then are impossible to extract. Don't do that!

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  • 1
    +1 Thanks, experimentation was required. First set of pliers did indeed break the nail. Frequent adjustment to grab the nail closer to the board also worked well.
    – mr blint
    May 31, 2022 at 14:47
  • Food for thought on other tools... Google "Stanley 10" Double Ended Nail Puller # 55-114" (I have one... less damaging than you would think, but probably not good for this particular job) and "Crescent 450mm Sure Grip Nail Puller".
    – Stax
    Jun 2, 2022 at 1:40
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It's not easy, but I have had some success with hammering out skinny nails by hammering their pointy end.

I steady the nail by holding it with a pair of pliers somewhere near halfway, then use quick taps, swinging the hammer quite quickly, but pulling back when it has only just hit the nail (a small impulse is better for getting past the sticking friction, while a long hard push is more likely to bend the nail). If the nail does bend slightly, I try to stop as soon as possible, straighten the nail and try again.

If it bends too many times, then I consider cutting the nail short (just long enough to get the pliers on to hold it steady) and hit it again, as a much shorter nail is less likely to bend. I think this is what @AdamBrown suggested.

Once the head is sticking out of the good side, then pincers, claw hammer or similar can be used to pull them the rest of the way.

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    I've also hit the pliers, instead of the nail, to force the nail back. Grab the nail just away from the board, and strike the pliers jaws near the nail. This will slowly push the nail out. You need a heck of a grip on the nail, and it won't feel good on the hand holding the pliers, so a locking pliers and not holding onto them while hitting it also works. The further away from the board the more hits and fewer times you have to reset the pliers, but the more likely chance the nail will bend. Trial and error will help figure out the gap and how hard the nail can be hit without a bend. Jun 1, 2022 at 22:23
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    I normally use @computercarguy's tip about grabbing the exposed nail with pliers and hitting the pliers. You typically have to only drive the nail back out far enough to grab the other end with the pliers and pull it out the rest of the way. Harder to do with rusty nails, but still works great for me.
    – Suncat2000
    Jun 3, 2022 at 15:26
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If you want to keep the size of the hole small, you can cut the nails almost flush to the back side of the board - leaving say 1/4 inch protruding. Then you can hammer the nail from the back side until the head sticks up enough to extract them from the front side with the claw on your hammer. Or drive them completely through from the back side with a small nail set or short nail of similar diameter.

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  • Getting a claw hammer under the head of a finish nail (without damaging the finished surface) to extract it is going to be rather tricky, no matter how much of the nail is sticking out the back side of the board. If you have any tips/tricks/suggestions on how to do that, by all means, please edit it into your answer, as this is something I know I struggle with!
    – FreeMan
    Jun 1, 2022 at 13:13
  • @FreeMan The shorter the nails have been cut, the less chance of them bending when hammered back through, from what used to be the pointy end. That then only needs to be pushed through enough for the claw-hammer to grip.
    – MikeB
    Jun 1, 2022 at 14:10
  • That seems reasonable, @MikeBrockington, however, it's not what this answer says... ;)
    – FreeMan
    Jun 1, 2022 at 14:26
  • @FreeMan I edited my answer to clarify the idea. Thanks.
    – Adam Brown
    Jun 2, 2022 at 14:51
  • If you don't care about the nail, cut it short, strike with a hammer, then pull out with pliers has worked well for me and leaves the wood relatively undamaged.
    – Suncat2000
    Jun 3, 2022 at 15:32
1

Use some nail pulling carpenter's pliers, also called Boot Pinch pliers in some trades.

These allow you to grab the shaft and pull the nail backwards. Or with some effort you can pull the head clear through the wood.

Another option is to grip the nail on the point side and push it back through the wood to make the nail head accessible.

This tool is cheap and versatile and should be in your toolkit for special occasions like this.

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