How to Remove Buried Nails from Wood Surfaces, Pallets, Walls, and More

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Achieving a flawless woodworking masterpiece demands a flawless surface – one free from pesky imperfections like scratches, uneven stains, and hidden nails. Fortunately, extracting buried nails from wood is a straightforward endeavor.

In this expertly crafted guide, I’ll share some precise know-how and safe techniques needed to accomplish this task seamlessly.

Safety Precautions to Know

The last thing you want to occur is acquiring severe body injury while doing woodwork. That said, you should always include protective gear, like heavy-duty gloves, in your labor clothes. This can protect your delicate hands while removing stubborn nails.

In addition, wearing goggles is a must, as it guards your eyes against flying nails. You may also use protective boots for your feet protection — you would not want them to get pricked by those large pins on the floor.

Most importantly, avoid including kids or pets in your workspace. These youngsters and tiny creatures are vulnerable to unforeseen injuries as they can not stay still. 

How to Prepare Wood for Nail Removal

Removing nails from wood surfaces can be daunting, but it is doable. You can start by identifying what kind of wood you are dealing with to keep you from damaging its delicate surface. This also helps you determine what approach is best.

nails sticking out of a lumber

Additionally, you can look closer at your wood to see if there are any defects, including cracks and knots. If the wood surface has imperfections, start working on them first. This avoids causing any further damage to the wood.

Removing Buried Nails from Wood: 12 Different Methods

After knowing what type of wood it is, you may start choosing your materials [1]. Note that you must be very distinct with what size or sort of tools you need so you would not compromise the wood.

Also, remember that dealing with galvanized nails requires a different procedure. To begin exploring the alternatives, take a look at the different methods available: 

Method #1: Claw Hammer

Using a claw hammer to remove stuck nails is the go-to option, especially if the nail head is shallowly visible on the wood surface. This is even better if the nails are enormous.

claw hammer

However, removing nails using claw hammers can cause permanent damage to wooden objects.

Method #2: Nail Kicker

When removing tough and stubborn nails, like buried nails, a nail kicker can be an effective tool, especially if you do not want to destroy your object’s surface.

Nail kickers employ a short, intense burst of air pressure to quickly remove a nail from the surface.

Why is it Helpful?

In the world of nail kickers, they all serve a similar purpose – safeguarding the delicate surfaces of your wood. This nifty tool comes in handy when you need to protect your wooden treasures.

Nail kickers have the potential to breathe new life into your items by making it easier to remove nails and keep your wood intact.

Method #3: Nail Jack

If you are dealing with a deeper buried nail that’s too difficult for nail kickers to handle, a nail jack can significantly help. This equipment can reach and hold nail heads more sturdy than the first two tools.

removing nail with nail jack

However, despite being a fantastic alternative, they can enlarge holes as you remove nails. A nail jack can also add damage to the nail head sides.

If you want to remove nails from wood and preserve them for recycling, a nail jack may not be the best option.

Method #4: Pry Bar

A pry bar is perhaps one of the heaviest-duty instruments used to remove nails from wood exteriors. 

However, a pry bar can impose deterioration on the surface, which means there are better choices than this if you aim to salvage the wooden object. 

Method #5: Cat’s Paw For Removing Bent and Galvanized Nail Heads

Cat’s paws sometimes get mistaken for a pry bar. The primary difference between a pry bar and a cat’s paw pry bar is that a cat’s paw pry bar is smaller and gentler on the surface compared to pry bars. But these two are both essential hand tools you should have at home.

cat's paw

Upon thorough testing on a variety of nail types, including galvanized and bent nails, cat’s paw pry bars leave no dents on softwoods and cause only minimal harm to hardwoods. So, it only reveals impressive results.

Method #6: Pair of Pliers For Removing Headless Nails

Learning to remove headless nails is essential in woodworking. Fortunately, there exists an abundance of modern tools, such as pliers.

A pair of pliers is ideal if you want to remove sunken nails from wood. You can do this even with just a moderate quantity of force. But how to remove buried nails from wood using these pliers? Take these four easy steps:

Step #1: Find Some Pliers

Knowing that you want to remove headless nails, you can not use a hammer claw or pry bar on the wooden surface. This is where pliers enter the scenario. It is a smaller tool that tolerates a firm grip.

diagonal pliers

You may choose between diagonal-cutting pliers or opt for needle-nosed pliers.

Step #2: Grab Your Needle Nose Pliers

Place them as near as possible to the nail joints by drilling out the surrounding wood. Note that you are only drilling the necessary wood to make an opening. Once you have it, grab the upper tip of the nail with your pliers, and start pulling nails. 

Step #3: Lift the Nail Over the Wooden Surface

This third step allows you to remove nails from wood. You may try moving the nail sideways slightly to loosen the grip from the wooden surface.

pulling nail with pliers

Repeat this process until the nail head surfaces above the exterior.

Step #4: Use a Diagonal-Cutting Plier to Withdraw the Nail

You can switch to diagonal-cutting pliers once the headless nail is visible. Remember not to exert too much pulling power to avoid damaging wood. 

You can successfully remove nails from the wooden surface by simply grabbing them so your pliers can move them around. 

Method #7: Reciprocating Saw

A reciprocating saw lets you engrave the wooden surface more powerfully and precisely. The blades from reciprocating saws allow you to get near the nail while its power cuts through metals.

DEWALT 20V Max Reciprocating Saw

But, I advise you to refrain from using reciprocating saw to remove nails if you are unfamiliar with them. Use pry bars or a cat’s paw instead.

Method #8: Wood Chisel

Wood chisels are another fantastic tool to break out an external chip next to the nail head. You may hammer about an inch or 25 millimeters to the side of the nail.

Chisel more towards the nail fasteners and go once overhead, then below the nail.

Method #9: Lever

Slightly and gently lever out if you do not want to compromise the wood. You may operate this by placing a bar behind the cladding, then pulling it forward enough to straight pull the head out.

pulling nail

Once you let go of the bar, you will notice how the wood slowly returns, leaving the stuck nail out.

Method #10: Multisaws

Multisaws allow you to run a small saw blade to remove sunken nails. On the other hand, the larger blades can run across the upper edge of the last board you wish to remove.

Then, trim the tongue off that disappears under the first board you desire to keep. 

Method #11: Core Drill

Grab your thin metal type with a diameter more extensive than the nail head. After that, do some shallow cuts on the end of the pipe.

core drill

You may twist the teeth slightly using various tools, such as needle-nose pliers.

Method #12: Chain Drilling

Chain drilling somewhat follows the same method as core drilling. However, chain drilling does not involve metal pipes.

This method uses a small drill that permits you to dig spaced holes around the edge of the nail. Do this repeatedly to get as much wood fiber from the nail shank. 

Removal Technique: How to Extract Nails from Wooden Surfaces

Although there are twelve possible ways to remove buried nails from a wood surface, there are still some quick ways to do it. Below are the simple measures you can do foil removals.

Step #1: Prepare the Tools

The most obvious tool you need is a hammer — any standard hammer will suffice as long it comes with a cat’s paw or claw on one end.

Vaughan Stealth Hammer & Bear Claw Bar

Another tool is a block made out of materials that you can use as a lever. The lever also protects the wood finish.

Step #2: Get Your Hammer and Block into Their Right Positions

Grab the claw end of your hammer and squeeze it under the nail head you wish to extract. Start pulling it up a bit to secure the claw’s positioning better.

Based on your current location, proceed by sliding the block and repetitively pulling the hammer for a few rounds. 

This action is intended to be performed in order to achieve a desired outcome or effect, which might be further specified based on the context or purpose of the task.

Step #3: Start Pulling Out the Nail

Move the hammer sideways to loosen up the nail. Further, you must lean on the lever you created to pry out the sunken nails quicker.

removing nails with hammers

However, do not pull it forcefully, as it could significantly damage the surface.

Step #4: Pull Nails from the Back

If the nails are deeply attached to the surface, extracting them from the back is the best way to remove them.

A nipper tool is your best bet to do that successfully. Grab your nipper and lever it out. 

Step #5: Push Nails from the Back

Reverse the fourth step then you can do this method. First, find where the nail is and check the backside. Once you see the nail, use a hammer and carefully push it.

This time you will see the nail head in front. This makes it easier to remove it from the back.

How to Remove Nails From a Nail Gun Using a Hammer

You can use nail guns instead of hammers to drag nails. However, remember that you can not use a nailer to remove nails. Hammers are still the ideal tool to remove some nails from wood in the house.

removing nail

Set the claw side of the hammer to the nail head, then keep prying until it rises from the surface. Once it happens, hold the head tightly and make a sideway with a bit of pressure. Keep going until the nail comes out.

Why Do Nails Get Stuck on Wood? And How Do You Keep Them in Position?

Using nails is an integral aspect of woodworking. Individuals hammer the nails into wooden objects, making the hardwood floor sturdy. Sometimes, nailing directly to the plywood is ideal for laying wood floors.

On top of that, using nails bears numerous benefits and functions — one of which is to enhance the appearance of your work. At the same time, their other role is to keep things intact and not moving.

Note that using larger nails makes withdrawing from wood more difficult. In some cases, little nails with smaller heads are impossible to hold on to, even if you are using a claw hammer.

Vaughan Stealth Hammer & Bear Claw Bar

It is even harder to remove them since they do not have wider bottoms.

Can You Remove Buried Nails Without Damaging the Wood? + Damage Repair

Yes, you can remove buried nails without compromising the wood’s delicate surface. You may do this by positioning a scraped wooden block near the buried nail as the pivot for your chosen removal tool.

Furthermore, the pressure to raise the nail rests on the block instead of the surface.


What is the best Tool to use for removing nails on wood?

The best tool to use for removing nails from wood is a claw hammer. Aside from this being the only tool common in most households, it’s also easier to use. You don’t need exceptional strength to extract a nail with this. But you can also use pry bars as well. 

How can I repair the nail holes?

If trying to repair holes in wooden surfaces, consider sealing the area to fit with the surrounding wood object. Once dried, use sandpaper to smoothen the surface. Lastly, apply or coat a primer and paint it after.

Read Next: Best Tools for Removing Tiles 


Reviving your woodwork skills? No worries, I’ve got your back on mastering the art of nail extraction from wood. No need to bring in the pros for those simple woodworking projects.

So, to effortlessly remove stubbornly embedded nails from wooden surfaces, follow these tips and you’ll be well-prepared for your woodworking adventures!

robert headshot

Robert Johnson is a passionate furniture maker & carpenter, sought after for his knowledge on the craft.
You’ve probably seen his down-to-earth wisdom in USA Today, Bobvila, Family Handyman, and The Spruce, where he has shared commentary and guidance on various woodworking topics.

Robert is the brain behind Sawinery, where he aims to share tips, tricks, and a passion for all things carpentry.

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