Pulling out (Rusted) Nails

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    Steve Giles


    I have some restoration projects where the original piece was held together with nails. I would like to pull out the nails and glue the wood together properly, but the nails are flush with the surface and some of them have rusted, which makes it really difficult.

    Is there some clever method of removing nails like this whilst causing minimal damage to the surrounding wood? Sometimes a hammer can be used to knock the wood pieces apart, and sometimes the wood itself can be used as a lever, but this is not always possible.

    Any ideas would be much appreciated!




    Use a soldering iron on the end of the nail. The heat will expand the nail and it should loosen it just enough to make removal possible. A minute or two should be enough.
    Bob L.


    If these are finish nails (small heads) and if the pointy end is till protruding, you can grab the pointy end with a pair of lineman’s pliers and pull the nail, dragging the head right through the wood. Depending upon the circumstance, you either leverage off of the tip of the pliers or act like you are rolling the nail around the end of the pliers. You can get a lot of leverage! Use a block to protect the wood, if needed.

    A carpenter taught me to do this when removing trim. He taught me to pry the trim off from the back and ignore the nails. If they pull through, great. If not, pull them through the back after the trim is off.

    It must be a finish nail or brad, though. Not a cut nail or a common nail.

    Steve Giles

    Thank you for the replies.

    There is a variety of different nails, including big ugly ones with a criss-cross pattern on the head. Not what I would have used to make furniture, but hey, this is Bulgaria! The funny thing is that whoever made these things went to the trouble of dovetail jointing the corners, but used a hotch-potch of different (and mostly unsuitable) nails to secure the trim.

    I used to do electronics, so already have a soldering iron. Will give that technique a try.

    • This reply was modified 6 years, 4 months ago by Steve Giles.

    Perhaps the trim was added later, to bring an old piece up to date? I’m dead keen to see it now, any photos? Might help with suggestions as well.

    Just to clarify – the piece is still together, and the nails are keeping it this way? Or is it apart, and you just need to get the nails out?

    For my tuppence, I think I’d punch the nails all the way through. This would be particularly useful if your dovetails are nailed through the pins into the tail board. You can use a parallel-sided nail punch or pin-pusher, or a biggish nail with the point filed flat to do this. Once the wood’s apart the nails are either driven below the surface, forever entombed, or pulled out with pliers/pincers if the head is above the surface.

    If you try to pull the nails out, inevitably you need to dig a hole either side of the head in order to get your pliers onto it so I think punching is almost certainly going to cause less damage. As a previous poster said, they have to be lost-head/finish nails or brads/pins for this to work.


    Southampton, UK

    Steve Giles

    Here’s a photo of one of the pieces. Both the hinges and trim are held on with nails. I think that maybe the nails were added later as a quick way to stop the piece falling apart. It seems unlikely that the person who made the dovetails would secure the hinges and trim with nails.

    I have several other items in similar condition, and a solid walnut table/desk (see photo) that needs help.



    • This reply was modified 6 years, 4 months ago by Steve Giles.
    • This reply was modified 6 years, 4 months ago by Steve Giles.
    • This reply was modified 6 years, 4 months ago by Steve Giles.

    If the pieces are small enough, you can heat them in a microwave oven for 20-30 seconds. The metal will heat the surrounding wood, softening it.

    Steve Giles

    Thanks Reno, that is something I would never have thought of.

    Unfortunately they are too large for that. The projects I was referring to have gone on the back burner for the time being anyway.

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