Square nails were used in construction until the late 19th century

When did they stop making square nails for building houses? I've found a few of them and am curious about their history. I know they are antiques, but my knowledge of them is a little fuzzy.

— Jim S., Grants Pass

We shall endeavor to make your fuzzy knowledge crystal clear, Jim.

Our research indicates that nails were all wrought by hand stretching back thousands of years to the beginning of the Iron Age. Yes, that was a tad bit before the advent of SYA.

Nail making basically required pounding a small piece of metal into a nail shape so it could be driven into wood. They weren't exactly square but close enough.

But that wrought-iron approach changed in the Industrial Age when it became possible to cut nails from a sheet of metal.

Let's let historian Jeff LaLande, retired archaeologist for the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, take it from here. He always hits the nail on the head, so to speak.

"Machine-cut square nails came in with industrialization by the 1880s," he said. "After that, they were predominantly mass produced from sheets of metal."

However, like their predecessor, they were not square, he said, noting they were more of a rectangle.

By the 1890s and early into the 1900s, round nails — also known as wire nails — became predominant in the tool box, he said.

"But square nails are still being made today for certain things," he said.

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to youasked@mailtribune.com. We're sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.


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