There's more to driving a nail than just hammering it in.
To start with, you need a hammer that feels comfortable when you swing it. An ordinary 13- or 16-ounce claw hammer is fine for most jobs.
Then, you need to know how to swing it. To get full advantage of the weight of the hammer's head, hold the handle as far from the head as possible without sacrificing a firm grip. After starting a nail, swing the hammer from your elbow.
You'll also want to select the best nail for the job. If in doubt, ask your hardware store dealer for assistance.
Common nails are the best choice for most rough carpentry because their broad heads won't pull through the wood.
Finishing nails with their small heads are better for cabinetmaking and other fine work. When you need extra holding power, use coated nails or nails with spiral or ringed shanks.
It's a good idea to wear safety goggles when nailing. This is especially wise when using flooring and masonry cut nails, which are brittle and sometimes break instead of bending when hit at an odd angle. A flying nail piece can cause serious injury.
Here are some tips about driving nails:
* To start a nail, hold it upright between your index and middle fingers with your palm up. If you miss the nailhead, you'll strike the fleshy part of your fingers, which hurts a lot less than hitting your thumb or fingernail. While holding the nail, tap the head a few times to drive it in just far enough for it to stand by itself. Then take your fingers away and swing the hammer a little harder. Don't use heavy strokes until the nail is about an inch into the wood.
* If a nail is too small to hold with your fingers, push it through a thin piece of cardboard. Or use a pair of needle-nose pliers, a bobby pin, paper clip or comb to hold it. Start tint brads or tacks with a magnetized tack hammer.
* When joining two pieces of wood of different thickness, drive nails through the thin piece into the thick one. Use nails three times as long as the thickness of the inner piece so that two-thirds of their lengths will be securely anchored. For more security, drive nails at angles, slanting away from one another. For maximum holding strength, drive a longer nail through both pieces and hammer the protruding point over.
* To prevent wood from splitting, stagger nails rather than place them along the same grain line. In hardwood, drill pilot holes slightly smaller than the nails. Before driving a nail near the end of a piece, blunt the nail's point with a hammer so the point will shear through the wood instead of wedging it apart and splitting it.
* If you're driving common nails in rough work such as house framing, drive the nails in flush with the surface and don't worry about hammer marks. If you're driving finishing nails in work where appearance counts, stop when the head is just above the surface and then sink it with a nail set tool.
* When fastening moldings with finishing nails, use Pegboard scrap to shield the wood. Then drive nails through one of the holes as far as possible and set the heads with a nail set.
* To remove a bent nail, use a claw hammer or a nail-puller tool. Prevent marring the surface by placing a small piece of scrap wood or metal between the tool and the wood. Grab headless and finishing nails with end-cutting pliers and pull them straight, wiggling them a little if necessary.
* Keep the face of the hammer clean. A smudge on the face can be transferred almost indelibly.