Property: Know your nails, or I'll insist on a tusked tenon

DOCTOR ON THE HOUSE; There's more to joining timber than hammering in a brad here, a spike there and pins everywhere, says Jeff Howell

ANY FOOL can hammer a nail into a bit of wood, which is a shame, because according to Mike the Chingford Chippy, nailing timber - rather than using proper joints - has taken much of the skill out of the noble art of joinery. After all, the title "joiner" originally referred to one who used the traditional joining methods - dovetails, scarf joints, tusked tenons - rather than just bashing in a couple of nails.

These joints are nice to look at and are the best way of building with timber, because they provide tensile strength and allow the two joined pieces to move as one. Medieval timber walls and roofs didn't use nails, and the surviving examples are a testament to the skill of their carpenters.

Another reason why nails were rare was that they were expensive, each one being hand-made by a blacksmith.

Mechanisation has now made nails available in quantities and at prices that would have astonished builders in the early 1800s, and the quality of modern timber work is almost certainly poorer as a result.

Still, if you are going to use nails, then you might at least use the right ones for the job, and every builders' merchant sells a bewildering variety. The longest nails - over 130 mm - are called spikes; the smallest are called pins. In between come brads and tacks. Got all that? I'll be asking questions later.

Cut nails are square in cross-section and are made by being sheared from steel plate. Because they are wedge shaped, these cut nails provide a good firm fixing, which is why they are also called clasp nails in some parts of the country.

There is a specific version of cut nail for fixing floor boards, called a floor brad. The "brad" bit comes from their intermediate length - 60 mm - and the "floor" bit is because their heads only stick out on one side, causing less damage to the surface of the timber. The advantage of floor brads is that when you have to lift the floor - to get at the plumbing, say - the nail comes out clean with the board, and can be hammered back into the same hole afterwards; whereas wire nails will always stick in the joist and the head will rip through the board.

Wire nails come in two types, round and oval. Round wire nails are the cheapest; they have big heads and so are useful for holding things together in structural work, but they can split the wood unless it is pre-drilled. Ovals are more expensive but are better for avoiding splits, especially for fine finishing work like skirting boards and architraves; also, their smaller heads can be easily countersunk and filled over - vital for decorating.

Nailing is a means of fixing one thing to another, and the rule is that the nail should be at least twice as long as the first thing - if you get my drift. (If you don't, think about it this way: if you're nailing a floorboard to a joist, the nail should be twice as deep as the floorboard.)

Another rule is that nails should not be driven closer together than half their length; nor should they be closer to an edge than one-quarter of their length.

Got all that? Come to think of it, it may be easier to tell you how to make a tusked tenon.

q You can contact Jeff Howell at the `Independent on Sunday' or by e-mail at: Jeff@doctoronthehouse.

Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

The benefits of being in Recruitment at SThree...

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Comission: SThree: SThree, International Recruitme...

Test Analyst - UAT - Credit Risk

£280 - £300 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Test Analyst, Edinburgh, Credit Ris...

Trainee Recruitment Consultants - Banking & Finance

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little