How To Avoid Damaging Wood When Removing Nails

Home renovations are very costly, so its important to save money where you can without sacrificing quality. Reusing old trim boards and useable framing lumber is an easy way to save. Its crucial to know how to avoid damaging wood when removing nails. You'll run into two types of nails in need of removal. Framing nails have heads and require removal from the face, but finish nails are headless, and can be punched through and pulled out from the back. This method will keep you from destroying those costly boards. In order to avoid damaging wood when removing nails, you will need:

  • Claw Hammer
  • Nail Puller (Cats Paw)
  • Flat Pry Bar
  • Nail Punch
  • Pliers (Dikes)
  • Wood Putty
  • Putty Knife
  • Box cutter
  • shim or piece of scrap wood

To Remove Nails From the Front:

  1. Remove any existing glue or caulk from around the wood. You can do this by cutting it out with a knife or scraping it off with a five in one tool.
  2. Gently work the flat pry bar behind the piece of wood and pry it away from what its attached to. Start on one end and pry every foot until the wood is free. If you can make this work, take the hammer, and bang the nail out from the back side. It may not go this smoothly, so proceed to step 3 if you cant get it loose.
  3. Take the nail puller and work it in under the nail head. You will probably need to tap the nail puller with the hammer. The damage will be minimal if you do it carefully, but if you ding the wood up, most minor damage can be fixed using wood putty.
  4. Use the nail puller to pry the nail out far enough to get the claw hammer under the head. You wont need to get it out much. About a quarter inch will do.
  5. Slide the claw side of the hammer horizontally around the nail. Doing it this way provides more leverage than vertically prying the nail out, and is less likely to damage the wood.
  6. Slide the shim or scrap wood in between the hammer and the face of the board. The shim will cover the wood, and protect it from damage as you remove the nail. Start by prying down, but you may need to pry sideways and up to get the nail free.

To Remove Nails From the Back:

  1. Remove any existing caulk or glue from around the piece of wood. Same as above.
  2. Take the nail punch and punch the nails through. Put the tip of the punch on the nail or in the nail hole. Hammer the punch into the nail hole until it is all the way through. If you can't get them all the way through, don't sweat it. The wood will come off easily with a little bit of prying from the flat pry bar.
  3. Remove any existing nails with the pliers. Take the pliers and grab any nails left in the wood. Dikes are ideal for this because they have a long horizontal edge and a rounded back. Pry down in a a gentle rolling motion until the nail is removed. Unless you have a vested interest in preserving the back side of the wood, don't worry about protecting it. The punched nails will be left where the board once was, so either bang them in until they are flush, or pull them out with the dikes.
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