Chapter 7.

7. The origins of nails, staples, screw fixings and bolts. 1/6.

7.1 Nails.

It was understood, even in Neolithic times, how to fix one wooden item to another using pinned fixings. These were usually pegs made for an interference fit into an augered hole. When pushed home, the green wood deformed and then by its very fibrous, cellular nature swelled to completely fill the void and create an efficient friction fitting.

Those few wooden fabricated artefacts that survive from Neolithic times such as the famous Roos Carr figure group which depicts four warriors in a small boat are all pegged together in this way. Saxon and mediaeval carpentry relied heavily on this principle and the great timber-framed buildings from the C12th onwards relied on it entirely. Even into the Tudor period building repairs were being effected solely in timber with wooden pegs known as trenails (treenails) acting as we would use nails or screws today.

The word nail is Saxon in origin but nails as a way of fixing items together goes well back into pre-history, although it is safe to say that the discovery of iron brought a material strong enough to be used for structural work.

The Romans used a profuse array of nails and U-staples in iron and bronze for structural, mechanical and decorative work. They were used to make weapons, packaging, ships, wagons, harness, hob-nails and an endless variety of domestic items.

That the Romans practised mass-production is undeniable. At the Scottish fort of Inchtuthill over a million hand-made nails were found buried, hidden from the advancing enemy and too bulky to remove.

When the so-called Dark Ages came upon Britain after the Saxon Authority in the 5th century AD the skills, infra-structure and manpower to make all these items was sorely diminished and the Saxon house builders turned to carpentry and joinery to replace the previously freely available ironwork.

Boatbuilders however continued to use nails in conjunction with roves to clad their timber vessels and the most famous boat burial of Sutton Hoo gave up hundreds of nails.

Early nails are, almost without exception, square in section having been hammered at the forge. The shank will be of uneven section along its length due to the imprecision of the smith. The heads are a variety of shapes but in the main are pyramidal having four, five or six faces. The latter are commonly known as rose headed nails. The points of these early nails are long, tapering and extremely sharp. (Figs 7.1 - 7.4).

Tudor wrought nail Rose-headed nail.

Figs 7.1 & 7.2. A hand-wrought iron nail showing its square, irregularly beaten shank and six-sided, rose head. This example is early 16th century taken from the roof of the Tudor aisle of St Mary's church, Bocking, Essex.

hand wrought C19th nail.Head of C19th nail.

Figs 7.3 & 7.4. A hand-wrought nail from the 19th century with a four-sided head. The point has broken off from being clenched through a stable door.

7. Nails continued.

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