While you are watching the bricks and mortar component of the Armoury project, the blacksmiths are busy with hardware manufacture. Later in the summer when the framing is set in place, the carpenter’s crew will need thousands of nails to fasten siding, roofing and flooring in place. Current estimates call for nearly 30,000 nails to be used on the building. How does one make 30,000 nails? Well, nails are made one at a time- just like all of the other components of the building. Making nails by hand might seem laborious, but in the context of hand manufacture of building materials, nails are actually the quickest and easiest component to make.
Nails begin as “nailrod,” iron bar that is about one quarter of an inch square. The rods are broken down into lengths of about 36 inches in order to be handled conveniently. One end of the bar is heated to a bright yellow- about 2,500 degrees F- in order to soften it and make it respond to the hammer. By turning the bar back and forth one quarter turn in between each hammer blow we reduce the width and thickness of the bar, and increase its length, creating a smooth taper and forming a point. In blacksmiths terms, this is called “drawing out”. Next the bar is brought to the near edge of the anvil and a shoulder is created on two sides of the bar by striking the metal with the hammer half-on, and half-off of the anvil and turning one quarter turn between hammer blows. This shoulder will act as a stop when the head is being formed, determining the length of the finished nail. The shank is drawn out to blend the taper into the point.
Next the bar is held on a “hardie”- a cutting chisel that fits into the square hole in the anvil- where the bar is still full size, and it is cut most of the way through, isolating a small lump of the full sized material to form the head. This is then broken off and held upright in a “heading tool” while the head is hammered into shape. Typically it takes about six hammer blows to form the head and complete the nail. The finished nail is dropped on the floor to cool. The goal is to complete the nail while the metal is still glowing red- about 1,000 degrees F. This entire process can be completed in less than 30 seconds by a competent workman (or woman). By contrast, it probably takes the carpenters eight to ten minutes to form a shingle, which will be held in place by one nail.
So how do we make 30,000 nails? Again, one at a time. But knowing that this project requires great quantities of nails, we don’t wait till the last minute to make them all. We have been making nails since last summer. We try to average about one hundred nails per day, in between our other work projects. We might warm up in the morning by spending twenty or thirty minutes making nails(40 to 60 nails made) and late in the day when a project is finished and there is not enough time to start on another, we can finish out the day making nails (another 40 to 60 nails made). Averaging one hundred per day will give us over 30,000 in the course of a year- enough for a major structure like the Armoury.
The bulk of the nails are 8 penny common nails for siding and roofing, but we will have some specialty nails for applying trim, nailing down the rafter feet, attaching hardware, building double thickness doors, etc. Those are required in much smaller quantity and are often made shortly before they are needed.
In the very near future, I will add a section on nail sources in the eighteenth century.
-Contributed by Kenneth Schwarz, Master Blacksmith
Photo credits: Tom Green