Removing Nails from Wood [Quick and Easy]

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removing nails from wood

With reclaimed and recycled wood becoming more popular, learning to remove nails is important. 

With older wood, you will often find that there are a lot of rusted fasteners and other impurities. Learning how to properly remove them is crucial to saving the materials. 

One of the challenges with removing nails from wood is saving the wood itself. Many of the methods for removing fasteners also have the potential to damage the surface.

In this article, we have laid out several methods for removing old nails. By understanding these different techniques, you can find the right one for your particular situation. 

Restoring materials is a great way to save money and get a unique look. Knowing how to do it properly can help you end up with a beautiful result. 

How to Remove Nails from Wood: Basic Idea

There are a lot of different ways to remove nails from a piece of wood. Picking the right one will depend on what type of nail it is and how it is situated in the wood. 

Some of the best ways to remove nails include: 

  • Using a claw hammer
  • Using channel lock pliers
  • Drilling them out with a core drill
  • Pulling them through the back

Common Problems with Removing Nails

common problems with removing nails

Not all situations are going to be the same when it comes to removing nails from a piece of wood. 

Over time, nails can become rusty or broken and this often makes them more difficult to remove. This is why it is so important that you choose the right method for each situation. 

One of the most common problems you will encounter is a nail that no longer has a head. 

The nail head will usually allow you to get a grip on it and pry it out. If it is no longer there, you will have to either drill it out or pull it through the back. 

Another common issue is that a nail is too small to get a grip on with a hammer or pry bar. In this case, using pliers is a good solution. 

The severity of the situation and the condition you need the wood in will dictate your method. By knowing some of the best nail removal techniques, you can make the right decision. 

Use a Claw Hammer

claw hammer

The most common method for removing nails is using the claw end of a hammer. 

This claw is designed for exactly this job and will usually be the most effective way to do it. However, this is dependent on the position the nail is in as well as its condition. 

If you are able to, get the claw underneath the head of the nail and pull it forward. This will start to bring the nail up, but it will be at an angle. 

Once you get it up an inch or so, hammer it to a 90 degree angle. Then, you can get the claw under that bent portion and pull the nail up straight without damaging the wood. 

Use Channel Lock Pliers

If a small portion of the nail is already sticking out of the wood, you are in luck. 

You should be able to use a pair of channel lock pliers to pull the nail up completely straight. If the nail is not sticking out, you may be able to dig into the wood a bit to get a purchase on it. 

Once you are able to get a grip on the nail with the pliers, you can pull it up and out. 

Use a twisting motion as you pull up to make it as easy for yourself as possible. This twisting motion will widen the hole slightly and give the nail more room to come up. 

Use a Core Drill

A core drill is a great way to remove a nail that you just can’t get a hold on. 

Core drills are bits that attach to your electric drill that look a bit like small hole saws. They allow you to essentially drill completely around the nail and remove the surrounding wood. 

One of the issues with this method is that it will damage the wood and leave a hole. 

However, if you use a small enough core drill, this hole will not be very large. You can simply fill it using wood filler or spackle depending on your preference. 

This is also a quick method that is ideal for areas that will not be very visible in their final form. 

Pull it Through the Back

If the nail you are trying to remove is quite small, you can pull it through the back. This is a good method if the nail has a small head that won’t leave a conspicuous hole. 

Using needle nose pliers, simply pull the nail out by the sharp end at the back. Just like with the channel lock pliers, twist the nail as you pull to make more room in the wood. 

Depending on the nail, this may leave a small hole that will need to be filled if it will be visible. 


faq remove nails from wood

  • How do you loosen a rusted nail?

If a nail is rusted, you can loosen it with WD-40. WD-40 will lubricate the edges and give you some leeway as you try to pull it out. 

Use the small red tube that comes with the can to get the lubricant down into the nail hole. 

  • Can a magnet pull a nail out of wood?

While being able to pull a nail out with a magnet is a nice idea, it won’t work. 

Most magnets aren’t strong enough to exert the kind of pressure needed. It would have to be an incredibly strong electro-magnet that wouldn’t be very practical. 

  • How do you find hidden nails in wood?

In this case, a magnet will be a helpful tool. 

Simply use a relatively strong magnet and run it along the piece of wood. Wherever you feel some of the force pulling the magnet, mark it as having a hidden nail. 


Removing nails from reclaimed wood is a great way to save money on materials. 

By knowing all the best methods for removing nails, you can do the least amount of damage. This will give you a nice clean slate for your project and a beautiful end result. 

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Michael J. O’Connor is a writer and marketing specialist from the Bay Area of California. A graduate of Sonoma State’s Creative Writing program, he spent many years as a contractor and carpet layer, learning the ins and outs of flooring and general contracting. When he’s not typing away at his desk, he enjoys hiking with his dogs, woodworking and collecting rare books. See full biography here.

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