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nail supply
Oct 27, 2017

Imagine the limited aspirations of the first pre-bronze age constructor to join two pieces of wood with a sharp implement.

History does not record who it was, but the incredible results of that inspirational moment are all around us - in the houses we live in, the bridges we cross, the furniture we sit on.

Nails have been around for a long time. As soon as man discovered that heating iron ore could form metal, the ideas for shaping it quickly followed.

Wrought handmade nails  (Wrought = beaten into shape by hammer blows)

In the UK, early evidence of large scale nail making comes from Roman times 2000 years ago. Any sizeable Roman fortress would have its 'fabrica' or workshop where the blacksmiths would fashion the metal items needed by the army. They left behind 7 tons of nails at the fortress of Inchtuthil in Perthshire.

For nail making, iron ore was heated with carbon to form a dense spongy mass of metal which was then fashioned into the shape of square rods and left to cool.  The metal produced was wrought iron. After re-heating the rod in a forge, the blacksmith would cut off a nail length and hammer all four sides of the softened end to form a point. Then the nail maker would insert the hot nail into a hole in a nail header or anvil and with four glancing blows of the hammer would form the rosehead (a shallow pyramid shape).

Machine made nails

It was not until around 1600 that the first machine for making nails appeared, but that tended really to automate much of the blacksmith's job. The 'Oliver' - a kind of work-bench, equipped with a pair of treadle operated hammers - provided a mechanism for beating the metal into various shapes but the nails were still made one at a time.

Eventually, in the USA, towards the late 1700's and early 1800's, a nail machine was devised which helped to automate the process. This machine had essentially three parts. Flat metal strips of around two feet (600mm) in length and the width slightly larger than the nail length was presented to the machine. The first lever cut a triangular strip of metal giving the desired width of the nail, the second lever held the nail in place while the third lever formed the head. The strip of metal was then turned through 180° to cut the next equal and opposite nail shape off the strip. These nails are known as cut nails.

Because the nail up until then was handmade, the first machines were naturally designed to re-produce the same shape of product - a square tapered nail with a rosehead, but only tapered down two sides of the shank.

Soon nail making really took off, primarily in the USA and also the UK with its captive markets of the British Empire. The cut nail was produced in large numbers and various other shapes were devised to suit different purposes.

In the heartlands of the industrial revolution, many nail factories had row upon row of these nail machines and the incessant clatter from them created a deafening sound.








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