Removing a Nail from Wood

How To Remove Large Nails From Wood

A large nail that is firmly stuck in a piece of wood can be a nightmare that drives you over the edge!

Ok, maybe that’s a little over dramatic but if you’ve ever been stuck in this situation before, you know just how frustrating it can be trying to pull out a nail that will not budge.

Old furniture and housing planks are common suspects when it comes to long, rusty nails that are particularly hard to remove. So, if you are planning on restoring some old furniture or are planning some home renovations, this article might save you a lot of time and headaches.

The good news is, there are methods you can use to make this task a lot easier and help you avoid an Arthur and Excalibur type of situation.

In this article, I’m going to explain which tools you should use to remove large nails and the best methods to remove large nails from wood without damaging the wood. As you know, most of the time, nails are driven all the way into the material to achieve a smooth finish. This makes removing them in a neat way, without causing damage to the wood, a lot more painful than if the nail head was left exposed.

But don’t worry, I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve that will get those stubborn nails out and leave the face of the wood undamaged from dents and scratches.

One of the reasons nails can be so hard to remove is that, with age and exposure to the elements, the wood around the nail can swell, causing it to grip the nail much tighter than just after it was driven in. Therefore, it’s usually easier to remove nails that have recently been nailed-in but these can also prove tricky, as a lot of the time, if we want to remove a fresh nail, it’s because it was incorrectly nailed-in in the first place.

So, let’s get to it. First up, we’re going to run through the tools you’ll need to extract large and stuck nails from wood.

Basic Tools To Use To Remove Nails From Wood


This is the go-to choice and usually the first tool you’ll have handy when attempting to rip a nail back out of a piece of wood. Most hammers that you use around the house or on building sites have a claw positioned behind the head that is used for extracting nails. That’s why we call them claw hammers after all.

A claw hammer will work great if the head of the nail is exposed and you are able to get a good grip on it with the claw. To do this, simply slide the claw onto the nail, so that the nail passes between the two arms of the claw until the nail reaches a narrow enough point of the claw that if becomes wedged or at least until the head of the nail extrudes out over both arms of the claw. Once in position, pry the nail out by using the curve of the hammerhead to leverage the nail out. This will give you much more pulling strength than if you tried to pull it directly up and out. You might need to reposition the hammer after each pry until the nail is completely out.


If the head has been driven too far into the wood to get a grip on it with a claw hammer but it is still slightly extruding from the surface, your best tool to grab might be a pair of pliers. Work your pliers under the nail head by placing slight pressure on the wood with the head of the pliers, allowing the thin cutting edge of the pliers to slide underneath the head. Once you’ve got a grip on it, place a solid object like a spanner or tool handle underneath the pliers to act as a pivot point and lever the nail out of the wood. When the head is exposed enough, grab your claw hammer to finish the job.


Pincers are like a pair of pliers but instead of flat jaws, they have curved points at the end of each arm that are used to pinch objects to get a good grip on them. These work great to remove nails with exposed heads but also work well to remove nails that have the heads flush with the surface, particularly in softer timbers. If you exert enough force down onto the wood, you should be able to expose enough of the nail head, without damaging the wood, to get a grip on it and pull the nail out. Once you have the nail gripped firmly between the pincer’s teeth, use the curve of the jaws to pry the nail up and out of the wood.

Nail Puller

Also known as a cat’s paw, this is a crowbar type tool that is specialized for removing nails. They are generally made with one end that resembles the claw of a claw hammer and the other more like the head of a pair of wire cutters that are now fused into a solid shape. The nail pullers I like best have a flattened claw at one end to allow them to slide underneath nail heads that are close to the surface. Once you’ve got a grip on the nail, use the curve of the tool to pry it out, just like a claw hammer.

Scissors and Flat Wedge

There are other things you can find around the house that will do the job if you can’t find any of the above tools. First, grab something flat from the kitchen, like a knife or spatula and drive it under the nail head. This should force the nail head up and cause it to protrude enough so that you can use a pair of scissors like a pair of pliers to lever the nail out. Make sure the nail is as close to the middle of the scissors as possible to lower the chances of breaking them. Also, bear in mind that this technique isn’t as clean as using proper tools and may leave marks, scratches or gouges in the wooden surface.

Professional Nail Removers

If you want to get serious, there is always the option of using something like the Air Locker AP700 Nail Remover. Using a tool like this pretty much guarantees that you’ll get the nail out cleanly without causing any damage to the wood at all. They use compressed air to pull out the nails with little to no effort on your part. Sounds great, doesn’t it! Many of these nail removers also have the ability to punch the nails straight through the wood and out the other side. If you’ve got a lot of nails to remove, these are definitely worth a look.

Removing Nails From Walls And Plaster

It gets a little trickier if you are trying to remove a nail from a wall that is covered with plaster, as the plaster is a lot softer and easier to damage than wood. It’s not impossible though and there is a technique you can employ to try to lower the risk of damaging the wall.

What you’ll need is a wide putty knife and a pair of pincers. It’s quite simple actually. Place the putty knife flat against the wall and press it hard up against the nail. Then use the pincers to pry to nail out while making sure to keep the jaws of the pincers on the putty knife and not the wall itself. This will protect the plasterboard from any damage caused by the force of levering the nail out.

It’s best to regrip the nail often with the pincers as you pull it out, so that the nail doesn’t come out at an angle and leave a large hole in the wall. Pulling the nail out as straight as possible will leave you with the smallest hole in the wall. For very long nails, you may need to replace the putty knife with something larger like a piece of timber. Just make sure it is flat and will spread the force out across the wall to avoid any damage to the plaster.

Tips For A Removing A Nail That Won’t Budge

Here are a few things you can try if you’re dealing with a really stubborn nail that does not want to come out. Try loosening the nail with one of these methods, then remove the nail as per usual.

Carbonated Drink

This might sound strange but it works. Grab a can of soda and with a cloth or sponge, soak the area around the nail. Wait a few minutes for it to do its magic and then you should find that it comes out easier than before.

Hydrogen Peroxide

Another liquid you can use instead of fizzy drinks is hydrogen peroxide (commonly just called bleach). Use the same soaking method as with soda, wait a few minutes for it to work and then remove the nail with one of the techniques discussed earlier.

Applying Heat

A good way to loosen up a nail is to apply heat to the nail. You need to be careful not to burn or damage the wood but if you do it correctly, it should come out much more easily than before. Trying carefully heating the area with a lighter or use a soldering iron to apply heat.


So there it is. Our guide to removing those stubborn nails from wood surfaces without causing unnecessary damage. I hope you found this guide helpful, as mastering your nail removal technique will save you a lot of time and a ton of frustration too! If you’ve got any other great ideas or techniques for removing large nails from wood, let us know in the comments below.


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