Using a Nail Set

How to Use a Nail Set when Installing Trim and Crown Moulding

By Mark J. Donovan

When installing baseboard trim or crown moulding, and using a hammer and finish nails, it is necessary to countersink the finish nails below the surface of the wood. To do this a hammer and nail set are used. A nail set helps to prevent the area around the finished nail from becoming bruised or damaged from the head of the hammer.

A nail set is a steel nail punch that is about 3 to 4 inches in length and has a tapered end for striking finish nail heads. The nail set shaft has a rough, cross-hatched pattern on its surface to aid in holding it when sinking nail heads. The backend of the nail set has a large flat surface for striking with a hammer.

Nail sets are available in a variety of sizes. The most common head diameters are 1/32”, 2/32”, and 3/32”. Make sure you use a nail set head diameter that is appropriate for the particular finished nail head diameter. The general concept when selecting a nail set is to use one that will not enlarge the nail hole wider than the diameter of the finished nail.

Nail Set Using a nail set

Using a Nail Set

When nailing finish trim work, hammer the finish nail into the wood until just the head of the nail is exposed above the surface of the wood.

Next, place the tapered point of the nail set on top of the finish nail head. Notice that the finished nail head has a dimple on it to help in positioning the nail set.

While holding the nail set onto the finished nail head, strike the backside of the nail set with your hammer to drive the nail below the surface of the wood. Ideally the nail head should be sunk approximately 1/8th inch below the surface of the wood.

Take care when using a nail set to hold it perfectly straight onto the nail head surface. Also make clean, swift hammer strikes so that only one or two are required to sink the nail.

If you tap the hammer on the nail set many times, the nail set may walk off the surface of the nail set and damage the nail entrance area around the wood.

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