Dating house nails
As explained earlier, the first cut nail machines replicated the handmade nail - the square tapered nail with a rosehead.
Because the process still involves a man (or woman) presenting a strip of metal to a machine, the resulting nail is necessarily imprecise - that is each nail can look a little different to the next one.
The nails are normally made of mild steel and are often used without any further finish and can be clinched (i.e. A recent expensive project involved nails for studding on large outside doors which would be deliberately left to rust to provide greater authenticity. Glasgow Steel Nail Co has been involved in many interesting projects that have included providing nails for the Globe Theatre in London, restoration work on Stirling Castle and other castles.
The nails are generally used for doors, floors, gates, indeed anywhere a period nail has to be displayed.
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.
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).
This shape of nail had the benefit of four sharp edges on the shank which cut deep into timber and the tapered shank provided friction down its full length.
One aspect of that has been the expectation that because wire nails are cheap, the cut nail should also be cheap. Attempting to follow that line of thought, no matter how ridiculous as the processes are so different, has meant that many cut nail manufacturers have ceased business over the years because margins were so low.
Cut nails for the restoration industry can amount to just a few pence each and it only takes a moment to assess their long term value say in comparison with the can of Coca Cola or Mars Bar you might buy for lunch.
A recognition of the value cut nails offer is needed to ensure that the process is not lost for ever and encourage the handing on of the skills involved.
Hand made nails suggest the building was built before 1800.
Cut nails suggest the building was built between 1800 and the early 1900's.