Looking for Cunning Tips on Removing Nails

I have a large number of old oak floorboards, about 40-50cm wide and 35mm thick, all with protruding nails.
The boards were laid back in the 1930s and removed last year. I would like to be anle to reuse them on a number of projects but need the nails removed.
Iron nails in oak are solid, I am having trouble knocking them back just to expose the head so they can be pulled out. It is not that I am a wimp or cack-handed with a hammer; the wood has a tight grip on them.
Does anyone have a cunning tip to loosen the bond between oak and iron? Soak in white spirit, water etc ? I prefer to remove rather than cut, I may wish to plane some, or use them where a sharp metal point could be hazardous.
This is a fairly common issue with older properties. Our previous UK house was built in the 16th century, nails neither went in nor came out of that timber frame.

If you can get them straight, try heating the pointy bit with a blowtorch before knocking back through - it does sometimes work. If it doesn’t, straighten that nail and cut off flat with a grinder or hacksaw leaving no more than 10 mm sticking out, then wallop with a big claw hammer, use the claw to lever the head out.

Might be a crackpot idea, but if they are not positioned too close to an edge, could you drill them out with a small diameter countersink saw and then fill the hole with a suitable dowel?

The tannin in the oak reacts with the iron nail and fuses them together.
Some can be withdrawn others can’t.
Good luck.

Might appear a mad idea, but, a very small drop of WD40 ?

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I seem to remember that H G Wells’s Time Traveller always kept a tin of WD40 in his carpet-bag when he travelled to the distant past and the far future of Eloi and Morlocks.

Apparantly the Morlocks took great interest in it, as their subterranean Eloi-mincing machines often seized up.

I think H G Wells’s works are sadly out of print now, and him out of favour, but he is a darned good read, ‘War of the Worlds’ and all that.

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Heat is often effective. At my boatyard, back-along, we often had stubborn nails in wooden bits. Forget the pointy end. There’s not enough metal to get decent heat into it. Go at the head end with either a soldering iron, the higher heat output the better, or a gas torch with a brazing bit fitted. No self-respecting DIY-ist can be without a gas torch so if not got one, go buy one instanter. Massively useful kit.

Apply heat for longer than you can stand the boredom, then let the nail cool down. According to the laws of thermal expansion, the nail should have expanded in all dimensions - hopefully enough width-wise that on cooling down and resuming its former diameter, it has broken the grip of the wood. A squirt of WD can’t hurt - it is, after all, a magic potion.

If you can get some turn as well as pull on the nail, that’ll help.

This also works with siezed nuts, bolts and screws, too


Not at all. It is a magic potion and can work miracles. One regular use for it is removing sticky labels or, if the paper layer of the label peels off leaving adhesive, it’ll soften that enough to get it off with a scrapey thing, like a thumb nail.

Yep. Totally crackpot, Peter. How do you ‘drill’ with a saw. Me and a pal had a woodwork biz. We had a massive array of tools from the finest of chisels and gouges right up to radial arm saw, planer-thicknesser and spindle moulder.

But we did not have a drill that sawed nor a saw that drilled. Please post the link to the supplier of same…

“… with a suitable dowel”. Now, this part of Peter G’s offering is not as crackpot as drilling with a saw, or vice versa. He means well.

If you can get the heads off the nails that refuse all persuasion to come out, you could cut them out with a suitable dowel/plug cutter. You then reserve a manky bit of board to produce dowels to fill the holes.

Easier - fill them with wood filler but not right to the surface. Use the manky bit to produce oak sawdust which you make into oak-coloured filler with PVA [which dries clear] and finish with that.

I know you think I’m daft, but what do you call those drill attachments that are cylindrical, and the cutting end is made up of serrated teeth around its circumference. I’ve even used one myself to cut a perfect hole in a plank of wood, and don’t chippies use them to perforate a beam to allow a pipe to pass through it?

I’ve even looked for one in my tool box, so I can reassure myself I’m not a total nutcase, but I’ve left the buggers in my Essex shed. :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

Hole saw drill bit?

Thank you Tracey. That’s why women make excellent DIYers. I always ask my wife’s advice if I get stuck on a job.

Let me rephrase that. I never used to ask my wife’s advice if I got stuck on a job, but she’s trained me how to ask, and not make a fool of myself, botch the job, and waste time and money to save my stupid face. Simples! :joy:


A core cutter might be a good idea, powered by a drill.
I think WD40 might soak into the wood, limiting how it can be repurposed.

Of course, it’s likely you’d have to offset the central guide drill so as not to foul the nail when drilling through, but it should do the job OK if the nail isn’t in a compromising position to start with.

What’s the smallest diameter hole—making dowel cutter that will fit a drill?

I have used it for that purpose but when I haven’t had any, peanut butter does very well. Any oil, really. And melted chocolate dissolves chewing gum stuck in a toddler’s hair.

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Ah, that is the point of a core cutter, it does not have a pilot drill. Down side is that the oak is quite solid. I have 30+ boards with 9 nails per board to remove.


A hole saw. The drill bit is for guidance and in the case in hand would be smack-dab on the nail …

The smallest hole saw I can find available is 19mm. The drill bit will be [mine are] 6mm. The external radius of the hole will be 9.5mm. The internal radius will be about 8mm. With a 6mm drill bit that leaves about 2mm clearance - not enough to run down the side of a meaty nail. So you’d have to go to the next size up - 22m.

This yer ‘ole is gettin’ rather big, yer 'onor. Plug cutter: tha’s the badger. No drill bit down the middle, see? Just a 'ole.


Smallest practical cutter

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How on earth did you discover that?

Nobody said it was gonna be easy!

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Re chewing gum and toddlers’ hair: I have 5 children :grin: