The Humble Nail

The humble nail is one of the key tools that we use to date historical sites. Three major types of architectural nails are found on Ontario sites, as well as the horseshoe nail.

  • Hand-wrought nails: Square, or nearly so (in cross section), usually tapered to the point; head may be “rose shaped” (domed);Hand-drawn example of nineteenth century nails.
    common to 1830.
  • Machine-cut nails: Rectangular in cross-section, most often with a flat head; common 1830-1900.
  • Wire nails: Round in cross-section with a round head (most often); may be made of ferrous metal or galvanized metal; post-date 1900.
  • Horseshoe nails: Horses wore a variety of shoes, depending upon the season and work they were being prepared to do; common throughout the nineteenth century.

Hand-drawn example of four nineteenth century nail types by Caitlin Coleman, ASI