How to pull finishing nails with minimal damage

mainemanMay 28, 2005

Hi all,

We have a kitchen cabinet that needs to be moved. It was apparently sort of "built in place" rather than just install a prebuilt cabinet. One serious obstacle is removing a bunch of finishing nails while doing minimal damage to the wood.

I am no carpenter or woodworker, but I was thinking of using something like a small Forstner bit slightly larger than the finishing nail, so that I could straddle the nail and drill out the wood immediately around the head of the nail so I could get needle nose pliers on the nail head. I could later fill the hopefully neat holes with wood putty or some such thing.

What is a good way to remove finishing nails while doing minimal damage? Is there such a thing as a finishing nail extractor?

MM

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Jon1270

I'm not clear on what sort of part you're removing the nails from, but it's ususally best to gently pry the pieces of wood free with a thin-edged pry bar of some sort, then use a pair of end nippers (heavy-duty wire cutters with their edges perpendicular to the handles) to grasp the nails from the back side of the piece of wood and pull them out through tbe back so that any tearout is on the back surface. I don't know of any way to do it without some disassembly, if that's what you're looking for.

    Bookmark   May 28, 2005 at 6:36AM
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brickeyee

Finish nails need to go out the back if you want to re-use the material. Nippers work well, clamping vice-grips on the nail and using a pry bar gives more mechanical advantage for larger nails.
If you use the nippers place them over the nail, close them tightly and roll them on the curve to pull the nails through.

    Bookmark   May 28, 2005 at 3:55PM
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joed

I have never seen built in place cabinets that were removable. The surrounding walls are the structure of the cabinets. When they are removed they fall apart. Acutally usually they can't be removed without destroying them.
They only way to remove finish nails from wood without surface damage is from the back. Pull the nails though from the back.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2005 at 10:16AM
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maineman

Jon,

"...it's usually best to gently pry the pieces of wood free with a thin-edged pry bar of some sort, then use a pair of end nippers (heavy-duty wire cutters with their edges perpendicular to the handles) to grasp the nails from the back side of the piece of wood and pull them out through the back so that any tearout is on the back surface."

I've already sacrificed as much as is sacrificeable, namely a bunch of quarter round that was put in with small finishing nails. I am now faced with major pieces of cabinet wood that are toed to 2x8 ceiling members with finishing nails. I can't very well go out through the 2x8s, so my only apparent option is to pull the finishing nails out the same way they went in with as little damage as is possible. I was hoping there was a special tool to do this. One of those super strong magnets like they use in medical MRI machines would probably jerk the nails right out, but Home Depot doesn't sell MRI machines. (grin)

I can't pry the cabinet away from the 2x8s even a little, because the cabinet fits snuggly between the 2x8 ceiling members and the concrete floor.

If I could pry the cabinet even a little, I could attack the finishing nails with a hack saw blade. But that approach isn't available to me. Even though I can't make good use of end nippers on this project, I plan to get some. And thanks for tip about the thin-edged prybar. My current prybar has rather blunt edges. I will file it or get a new prybar. But apparently I am going to have to go after those finishing nails from the front and try to patch the damage afterward.

MM

    Bookmark   June 8, 2005 at 12:09AM
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maineman

Joe D,

"I have never seen built in place cabinets that were removable. The surrounding walls are the structure of the cabinets. When they are removed they fall apart. Actually usually they can't be removed without destroying them."

You're right. The whole back of the cabinets is merely the original panelled wall. There is even a live electrical outlet in there. I plan to add some sort of temporary bracing to hold them together while I move them.

MM

    Bookmark   June 8, 2005 at 12:24AM
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maineman

Brickeyee,

"Finish nails need to go out the back if you want to re-use the material."

I agree that would be the best way, but I am in a situation where I can't think of a feasible way to gain access to the back of the pieces that contain the finishing nails.

MM

    Bookmark   June 8, 2005 at 12:42AM
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Bill_Wilson

Use a punch to drive the nails completely through the wood into the wall.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2005 at 10:50AM
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talley_sue_nyc

aren't most punches tapered? In other words, they start getting bigger, and so you if you tried to drive the punch deep enough into the wood that its TIP could reach the wall (pushing the nail head before it), the punch itself would start to make a big honking old hole.

At least, the nail sink or nailset that *I* have is like that.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2005 at 11:03AM
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Jon1270

Nailsets and punches are different tools; the former is tapered, the latter straight-sided.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2005 at 11:43AM
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HandyMac

The proper name for the straight punch is a pin punch. The problem with pin punches is that when thay are small enough diameter to drive a small finish nail an inch or so----the punch will bend quite easily.

But, if the nails can be successfully driven deeper----what hol;ds the cabinet together----and would bracing make more holes and further damage the wood?

As previously stated, most builtin place cabinets were not designed to be taken apart---and generally only fit where built.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2005 at 11:19PM
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kudzu9

I've used the punch approach successfully. Usually I start by using a nail punch since it's less likely to slide off the nail head if the head is close to the surface of the wood. Then, when I've driven it in a quarter inch or so, I switch to a pin punch to finish the driving.

    Bookmark   June 15, 2005 at 11:03PM
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brickeyee

You can do the job woth punches. Extra long drive pin punches are often teh tool of choice.
I use them regualrly to remove door split door jambs since the molding is stapled on both sides.
kudzu9 is correct, Start with a nail punch to drive the head in until the hole is about 1/8 inch in diameter, then use a 1/8 inch drive punch, then an extra long 1/8 inch drive pin punch. Starting witht e long punch risks bending it.
A dead blow hammer also minimizes damage to you and the wood work.

    Bookmark   June 17, 2005 at 10:09AM
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chiefneil

A forstner bit wouldn't work since they aren't hollow in the center. What you need (if punching the nails through doesn't appeal to you) is either a hole saw or a dowel-cutter. You could cut a nice round hole around each nail, then after you extract the nail you fill in the hole with a dowel.

    Bookmark   June 18, 2005 at 12:32PM
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brickeyee

A hole saw will leave a rather large hole (the smallest size is about 1/2 inch or larger) and is very difficult to start without the center bit.
General sells extra long drive pin punches in a set for less than $20.
A dead blow hammer runs about $15.

    Bookmark   June 26, 2005 at 10:13AM
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