Tonight, I've been sorting old, rusty square nails that came from the house where I was raised. 3's, 4's, 6's, 8's, plus a few 10's and 12's and an occasional 20d square spike. There are so many 3's and 4's that it will be a long task, since each one must looked at on its own and placed in the correct container. I've got about a gallon bucket that needs gone through at the moment, with maybe another 1-1/2 to 2 gallons still in the basement. They were ALL down there until a couple days ago, but I was making zero headway on them. Now the smaller batch is sitting at the foot of my bed and the plastic containers that I'm sorting them into are lined up atop a large plastic storage box at arm's length. I pull it closer when I'm sorting, plus sit the bucket on my bedroom cement block. (Every bedroom should have one.)
It seems they must have bought their nails a little at a time for the lath, as sometimes they used 3's and sometimes 4's, probably whatever the guy at the hardware store had on hand in 1865. If I remember, the 8's were used on the floor and the 6's on the tapered lap siding. The spikes are mostly 20's, the same size used for building oil derricks in my granddad's time, 35 years later. Over the years, some round nails and roofing nails were used for patching and repairs, so I've got a container to put them in, too, along with broken square nails.
My eventual plan is to straighten them all out and use them on sundry projects. Square nails give a project an old look and salvaged round nails hold just as well as new ones, probably better. We salvaged nails when I was a kid, then I started making more money and it seemed cheaper to always buy new. Now that I'm retired, the financial aspect has reversed. I can't afford too many nails at today's prices, but my time is free.
Back when these nails were used there was a huge cut nail plant upriver in Wheeling. Dollars to doughnuts these came from there, but there's no way to prove it. I notice the broken nails square have a grainy look in the break, and I wonder if most won't break on straightening if I don't heat them red first. That will take considerably more time, and unless I use a wood fire and an old hair dryer, it would require a blowtorch, thus making the task more expensive. I guess only time will tell. Regardless, I'm not throwing them away; those little square devils are 150 years old! Copyright 2018