My townhouse has some outdoor stairs built out of 6" x 8" lumber (i.e., the first step is comprised of two pieces of lumber (with no "nosing")). A couple of the steps are rotten and I need to change the lumber. I have the lumber and the replacement 10" nails (spikes). My question is, what is the best way to remove the old spikes? Someone suggested sawing off the head of the spikes, but they are driven in the lumber, so I am not sure how to do this. I have almost no tools (other than a hammer, drill, basic stuff -- though I suspect I will need to get at least a sledge hammer to drive in those spikes -- how big?), so simplest way possible please.

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  • 2
    Photos might be helpful. – Tester101 Apr 27 '14 at 15:17
  • ...and they are! – Ecnerwal May 8 '14 at 3:06

Use a prybar to lever up the treads about 1/8" and then use a Sawzall type reciprocating saw with a metal blade to cut the shank between the tread and the riser. Check to see if you can rent the reciprocting saw at a tool rental. The blades are readily available at any Hardware and Tool supply.

You won't be wanting to drive back into the same hole as the new spikes will have less grab in the wood anyway. Be sure to check the risers for rot.

Personally, I don't do spikes anymore, there are structural wood screws available that are a bit easier to install, can be removed and have better bite in the wood. Since you already have the spikes, Eastwing makes a nice 3-lb mason's hammer that would probably be better than trying to drive them with a 16oz framing hammer.

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Structural Wood Screws will be installable by drill motor, though you might want a 1/2" corded drill with a little torque behind it. Consult the manufacturer as most are self-drilling, needing no pilot hole.

They will be either Hex drive or Torx and the manufacturer usually provides the bits for quality control so the heads don't get bunged up during installation. The items and manufacturers below are chosen because they are recommended for timber framing and available in 10" lengths:

FastenMaster TimberLok (top) and HeadLok (bottom):

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GRK Fasteners RSS (top) and RSS LTF (bottom)

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Simpson Strong-Tie SDWS (top) and SDWH (bottom)

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All these manufacturers will provide installation information, strength tables and recommendations on use. Lots of Acrobat files to read if you're so inclined.

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  • I am willing to throw away the spikes in favor of structural wood screws if the latter are easier to install, can be removed and have better bite! Just because I am very likely to not find them or find the wrong thing, would you have more details about what structural wood screws would I use to replace the 10" spikes? Do you just screw them in with a drill? Thanks! – Jimmy May 7 '14 at 16:54
  • I tried to use a 4' crowbar to pull the nails out and they would not budge. The lumber was rotten enough that was able to hack it up with a hammer. I was still unable to remove the nails after the lumber was gone, so I used a sawzall to cut the nails at the base. – Jimmy May 11 '14 at 14:06
  • Since there is never anything simple for me when I do these projects, the corded drill was unable to screw a 10" TimberLok screw in -- When the screw was about halfway through, the wood would would start whining real loud, the drill would stop turning and even smoked a little. Thinking I might have hit a knot, I tried again in another hole; same result. So I just finished by hand. It took a few minutes, but it was surprisingly easy (what kind of weak drill do I have!). – Jimmy May 11 '14 at 14:09
  • The secret behind the holding power of nails, they rust and become one with the wood. Yep, I'm used to drill motors with a gearbox and enough torque to break your knuckles. They have a tapped hole in either side and you have a handle with a stud on it that screws in so you can hold the drill against the torque. Motor stall can burn out the windings. Glad you could finish by other means. – Fiasco Labs May 11 '14 at 20:46

Try a local tool-rental outfit - they often have some big hand tools that rent fairly inexpensively (being somewhat harder to kill than the power tools they also rent.) If you only need them once, it's a better deal than buying.

A 3 or 4 foot crowbar is about right for the size of spike you are talking about.


A perfectly ordinary hammer you already own will drive in spikes if you are patient. Pre-drill a hole about half the diameter of the spike to make it a bit easier.

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  • I tried to use a 4' crowbar to pull the nails out and they would not budge - possibly due to poor technique from my part... – Jimmy May 11 '14 at 14:09

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