IRONWORK REPAIRS IN TIMBER-FRAMED BUILDINGS.
7. The origins of
nails, staples, screw fixings and bolts. 1/6.
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
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.
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).
& 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.
& 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.