Insert “hammered” or “nailed” joke here.

I’ve come to love nails in furniture. I can admit that now.

When it came time to add fasteners to the current boarded bookcase I’m building I wanted to make sure they were the right nails. After consultation with the customer we decided that these were the right nails and I placed an order with Dictum. I was not disappointed.

Driving substantial nails like this into the beautiful walnut I’ve slaved over in recent weeks is an action that gave me some pause. I wanted to make sure that I had everything laid out just right and that pilot holes were drilled adequately (and accurately) to avoid blowing out one of the shelves and inventing new levels of profanity.

I began by using masking tape to essentially define the upper and lower walls of the dado. once that was done I decided just how many nails I wanted and how I wanted them to be spaced. I settled on three per shelf side so as not to overwhelm the design visually (with nails like these, that’s plenty of strength), and I set about laying out the pilot holes with a pair of dividers and a small combination square.


I put the first nail 2″ in from the front, the second dead center and the third 2″ in from the back to give adequate space for the back and still hold the shelf securely. Of course, once I set the first leg of the dividers that was as easy as a quick walk across the carcase.

Once the spots were marked, I used my birdcage awl to make a quick pilot on each point and then drilled the pilot hole with a tapered drill bit. I made sure to place myself perpendicular to the carcase when drilling to ensure that I was in line with the shelf even if I wasn’t totally plumb front to back.


I drilled each hole out until my super fancy depth gauge told me it was time to stop.


On that matter I did want to give some advice that I’ve found elusive. The question is this: What size pilot hole and how deep?

Chris Schwarz gives about as good an answer here as I could find anywhere, but I wanted to offer another visual aid.


I’ve found that when using “wrought” nails like this, a good place to start is with a tapered bit that roughly mimics the diameter and taper of the nail. The 50mm nail from Dictum has a diameter shaft of 3.1mm. This tapered bit measures 3.5mm so that’s a good place to start. I set my precision depth stop (otherwise known as masking tape) at about 2/3 the full depth of the nail. This seems to provide enough clearance so nothing splits, but leaves enough material that the nail really grabs the way it’s supposed to.

This isn’t science. It’s gut instinct combined with trial and error. Softwood requires a little less of a pilot, and hardwood a little more. It’s a good idea to try the joint on scraps before whacking away at the real thing.



3 Comments Add yours

  1. Kristen says:

    I will right away grasp your rss feed as I can’t find your email subscription hyperlink or
    newsletter service. Do you have any? Kindly let me know
    so that I may just subscribe. Thanks.


    1. I confess that I have no idea.


  2. Brian says:

    The nails you chose do seem to add beauty to the piece. I’ve been on a quest to go without metal of any kind. This is making me think twice. Not that I will nail everything together, but there could be times where I consider it.


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