I’ve found all kinds of evidence of cost cutting here at the Estate, perpetrated by contractors, handymen, journeymen and bums who may have been “going through rough patches”, trading services, or simply drunk on the job. Scavenged, straightened nails, scrap lumber joined to form studs, leftover wire joined by junction boxes doubling back and forth through walls where it could reach the farthest. THis kind of thing is so common now that I’ve factored in the added cost of redoing everything I touch, and my SOP is to gut everything to the bones so that I can fix everything possible.
With that in mind, I had to pull a section of floor underlayment out in order to install a wall between the bathroom and the office last week. As I started levering out the fibrous board, I realized the floor tile installers were probably the only professionals ever to enter the house, because they used approximately three metric tons of ring shank nails to hold everything down. Now for a little tool edumocation: Ring shank nails are specially designed with threads along the body to go into wood and stay there, offering twice as much withdrawal resistance than an average nail of the same size. This makes them specially suited for jobs like floor underlayment, where thousands of pounding feet over the course of years on the corner of a board will eventually work the average nail loose, leaving a maddening squeak in its place.
I’ve had experience, too much experience, with ring shank nails. They were used elsewhere in this house but applied with a fraction of the brio evidenced here: one nail every two inches, and on sixteens (every foot and a half, following the floor joists). Using a hammer to pull them is a joke, because they’re designed to go in but not to come out. The heads shrivel and wilt like flowers in August drought, leaving their sharp stems sticking defiantly out of the wood. Of course, they can be driven below the surface with a hammer and a punch, but they have little or no shear (side to side) strength, so more often than not they’ll bend or twist with one good hit. And if the floor has a date with the sander, the law of averages says they’re going to shred a few belts.
My Dad had an old, blackened tool in his collection I always assumed was (and used) for snipping wire, but it was only recently that I learned of its purpose. End cutting pliers have a misleading name, because their primary design is not for cutting, it’s for pulling. It’s a blunt, wicked-looking tool with a shallow bite and a wide, curved jaw, designed with the same efficiency as a pitbull: It grabs the shank of a nail right below the head, and does not let go.
The curved edge is a lever very close to the fulcrum, which provides more focused power than a hammer and doubles to hold the jaw closed as that little SOB comes out. If, by some chance, the nail gives way before it comes out, a squeeze on the handle will snip the head as close the floor as you can get it. A tap with a punch will drive the remainder into the wood below sander depth.
I had to do some sleuthing to find a new one, because your average Home SuperStore doesn’t carry them (or, at least, their websites don’t) and I’ve got better things to do than wander the aisle of a Tool Corral trying to find where a stoned 17-year-old hid them last year.
I found mine at the local Ace hardware in under two minutes, and after I got it home I was pulling ring shank nails like daisies. I bought the 8″ Ace store brand for $13. Buy something large enough to fit comfortably in your palm, because if your job is anything like mine, you’ll be pulling nails for a long afternoon.