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I used 18ga nails to temporarily fix a bookcase together with my nail gun so I can predrill and screw together. I have since unscrewed and knocked it back apart so that I can fill, paint and then glue & screw it back together. It might be a long-winded way to do it, but I do like making things harder for myself XD

For reference, I have used 18mm MDF board.

The issue I've found with this and previous projects with nails is that I find it difficult to remove the nails without distorting or bending them in the process. For clarity, I'm using my claw hammer to try and knock the nails from the pointy end back out the way it came in.

Today I have bought a decent set of wire cutters such that I can cut the nails down to ~5mm poking through and then again attempted to knock the nails back through, with a little more success, however it still doesn't appear to be fool-proof.

Is there any other method I can use that would have more success?

I should add that the faces where the nails enter will be hidden from view.

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  • 4
    I might recommend the purchase of some clamps for future use. They will do a fine job of holding things together while they're glued & screwed and they're very easy to remove. The #1 rule of the woodworker is that you can never have too many clamps!
    – FreeMan
    Commented Dec 17, 2023 at 13:23
  • 3
    @FreeMan - rule #2 is no matter how many clamps you have, you'll always find a job that needs a different size. [I now own clamps from 6" to 5ft in length.]
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Dec 17, 2023 at 15:18
  • There are specialty clamps available, e.g. Pony Angle Clamps, designed to clamp pieces at right angles. They can be used at corners and in the middle of carcasses, i.e. where a shelf joins the middle of a side. The pieces being clamped do not need to be the same thickness.
    – HABO
    Commented Dec 17, 2023 at 15:19
  • 2
    My pipe clamps, @Tetsujin are all 3' lengths. I also have a couple of threaded connectors so I can connect 2 clamps together to make 6' if I should need 'em! Corellary to Rule #2: No matter how many clamps you have, your next project will need two more.
    – FreeMan
    Commented Dec 17, 2023 at 18:01

7 Answers 7

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"without distorting or bending them"
I assume you're not trying to save them to use again ;)

One tap on the pointy end should knock them back far enough to get a grab with a pair of pincers.

enter image description here

Get a pair large enough that the angle as you extract remains small enough to not damage your wood face as you lift the nails out. Teeny pincers are only useful if space is restricted.

If your nails are almost headless & no-one will ever see the inside face ever again, you could save the hammer tap & just pull them straight through.

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  • I did see some of these next to the wire cutters I bought today, so might have to be a return trip!
    – physicsboy
    Commented Dec 16, 2023 at 19:05
  • I have been successful in pulling 18 ga brad nails all the way through with channellocks Commented Dec 16, 2023 at 20:35
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    I ended up buying some today and work wonders if there's enough nail poking. I didn't want to buy any too large that they would be difficult to store in my usual hand tool location, so I might have to invest in a nail punch as well, as I improvved my 3mm HSS drill bit as one and ended up breaking it XD
    – physicsboy
    Commented Dec 17, 2023 at 20:55
  • One point a lot of folk miss is that they're a rounded shape, so that once the head is gripped, they're rotated around that radius to extract the nail. A lot seem to try pulling perpendicularly. Not the best. To save damage to the surface, a piece of something flat could be between the wood and the tool.
    – Tim
    Commented Dec 25, 2023 at 12:44
  • Looks like my comment has been deleted - no explanation. The reason these pincers are shaped like they are is so that once they grip, they can be rotated around the semi-circular part, to aid nail removal. With perhaps something between them and the work to protect it. I've seen so many folk use them like pliers, which is not how they are designed.
    – Tim
    Commented Dec 26, 2023 at 8:44
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Crescent makes descent nail pulling pliers. To get it to fit tight against the wood I ground the pliers end flat and rounded the edges to roll better. Use a nail-set to punch the nail further into the wood, breaking any glue that might be holding the nail to minimize potential for breaking, then use the pliers to pry the nail out through the back.

Crescent nail puller

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    These definitely look like a specialty piece of kit! Googling shows them to be a bit of a premium as I thought, but will definitely do the job! I ended up going for pincer/end cutters, they do a very similar job with the curved ends to rock and roll them out. But I must admit, these specialty pullers do look much nicer ;-)
    – physicsboy
    Commented Dec 17, 2023 at 20:53
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I hope I'm misinterpreting your "without distorting or bending them" because that seems like not only an impossible endeavor but also a fairly pointless one since 18 gauge nails are not reusable.

+1 to RG Hughes answer showing a tool that I wasn't even aware existed but a very similar tool that many people are more likely to already have and is my go to for removing brad nails are channel lock pliers. You can use a scrap piece of wood/plastic/other material to both protect the bookcase from damage and provide additional leverage like the round pivot point on those dedicated pliers does. The longer handle that channel locks typically have allow you to apply a tremendous amount of squeezing force that helps grab onto the nails although it's still very easy to just snap them in half when pulling from hard materials.

enter image description here


Another option since it's a painted bookcase and you plan to fill and paint the holes anyway is to just punch them below the surface and forget about them. This might be an issue for your specific problem since it sounds like you are actually concerned about the nail poking through on the back side and 18ga nails should already be inset on the front side. But if they are set deep enough you may be able to snip the back side flush and use a nail punch to set the back side in enough that you can fill the holes on both sides and just leave the nail in the wood.

enter image description here

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  • Alternately, the nails could simply be snipped, and the drift punch used to punch it a bit back out of the hole, and then the head could be grasped by nippers/pliers or a regular claw hammer/equivalent.
    – Huesmann
    Commented Dec 17, 2023 at 13:40
  • Good idea. Channel locks and pliers work, and I use them on larger nails where I can get a good grip. But for small nails I don't have the finesse not to pinch them off with pliers that don't have a 'bite' for nails. The main reason for grinding the crescent, other than getting at small stubs, is to get the bite as close to the wood as I can (don't know if it helps, but I can more easily punch broken nail back if the pull fails). The sharper bite requires less pressure and doesn't break as many nails.
    – RG Hughes
    Commented Dec 17, 2023 at 13:51
  • Channel locks are the best option, grab the nail and roll it forward over the curved part. I cant see any reason to buy a specific tool for this, when channel locks are such a more useful tool
    – element11
    Commented Dec 18, 2023 at 13:45
  • @Huesmann: it's very difficult and sometimes impossible to try and back 18ga nails out. They are about as rigid as a paperclip so bending is often the path of least resistance rather than pushing all the way back out the other side.
    – jesse_b
    Commented Dec 18, 2023 at 13:54
  • @jesse_b have you tried to use a drift punch?
    – Huesmann
    Commented Dec 19, 2023 at 14:14
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Pulling through the back with tile nippers is my go-to strategy, but sometimes doesn’t work with mdf (as opposed to wood). In that case, you can try bending them back and forth on the back side; oftentimes, this will break the brad below the surface.

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  • This is one of the things I used to do on the cabinet shop assembly bench. Commented Dec 17, 2023 at 21:50
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The usual answer would be to use smaller nails and just leave them in place, or to find another temporary holding solution.

Better question for the Woodworking stack than here, methinks.

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Pulling them will likely cause more damage than leaving them in on the face side.

I recommend cutting them from the back using either end nippers or side cutting pliers. If you use small versions of these tools, you should be able to get to about 1mm poking out which would disappear upon reassembly.

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    Just double checking I'm understanding what you're saying... You're saying to snip the pointy side as close to the board as possible, and anything still poking out will nip into the parts it connects to without issue? I forgot to add, but for reference, the faces where the nails enter will be hidden.
    – physicsboy
    Commented Dec 16, 2023 at 17:13
  • This is also one way I'd handle these 18ga brads on the assembly bench in the cabinet shop. Cut them off, let them be. Or if absolutely necessary, take a punch and bend the cut-of leftover 1mm tip sideways, below the surface of the joint. Won't be seen again, so no worries. Commented Dec 17, 2023 at 21:54
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Along with all the other good answers is a "cat's paw" nail puller. There's a wide range of variety with these, so I'm not going to post a pic. They are basically small prybars with a sharpened and/or pointy end.

The usual use is to dig out the nail head with this tool by tapping/smacking it with a hammer to get under the head while it's embedded in the wood, but that's obviously not the desired use here. These small nail pullers can still work really well to get out small nails or nails with small heads when there's little clearance between the head and the wood surface. Even if they can't get the nail completely out, they can usually get the nail out far enough so that another prybar, hammer, or whatever can grab on.

Some of the other options, like the "pinchers" can accidentally cut off the head, but a cat's paw is less likely to do that while still being able to grab hold of the nail with very little clearance.

A channel lock can be a very good alternative, and I've definitely used it for this before, but the jaws may not align well enough for some small nails. I have at least one (cheap) channel lock that wouldn't work for this. Even a pair of regular pliers may be good enough for a nail this small.

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