Toenailing Basics

Our staff expert walks you through the basics of this essential carpentry skill

The art of toenailing is easy to learn. With a little practice you can drive an angled nail perfectly every time.

By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine

Toenailing—the key to success

Toenailing—driving a nail at an angle through the end of a board to anchor it—can be frustrating to learn. But it's an essential carpentry skill, and once you master a few tricks for positioning and driving the nails and get some practice under your belt, it'll be as easy as regular nailing. Toenailing not only makes a strong joint but also is a great way to coax stubborn boards into position.

Photos 1 - 3 walk you through the basic steps of toenailing. The key to success is starting the nail in the right spot and angling it a little steeper than 45 degrees. Visualize the path of the nail by holding it against the boards you're joining (photo) to determine the right starting spot.

Toenailing basics

Starting a nail at an angle can be tricky because it'll tend to slide down the board and penetrate too low. It's easier if you begin by tapping the nail point straight in (Photo 1). Then tip the nail at the correct angle and pound it in (Photo 2). As you pound, you'll discover that toenailing pushes the board off position. Reduce this problem by pressing against the board with your toe to hold it in place while you nail (Photos 2 and 3). Also, position the board about 1/4 in. from your mark so the nail will drive it to the right spot.

Driving a toenail requires greater hammer control and precision than regular nailing. Hold the hammer at the end of the handle with a firm but relaxed grip. Swing from your elbow with a little wrist snap at the end of the stroke for extra oomph. Luckily, you don't have to worry about leaving hammer marks when you're rough framing walls and floors. As the nail gets close to fully driven, adjust your swing ever so slightly away from you so the face of the hammer will contact the nailhead off center. Catching the head of the nail with the edge of the hammer face allows you to drive the toenail completely.

Here are a few more toenailing tips:

  • Drive the nails until the points barely protrude through the end of the first board before you position it, then position the board and drive the nails home.
  • Drill pilot holes for the nails with a bit about the size of the nail shank. This works great for toenailing in tight spots.
  • Cut a block (14-1/2 in. long for 16-in. on-center studs) to fit between studs when you're toenailing walls. The block acts as a spacer and backer to support the stud while you toenail it.

Put toenailing to work

Toenails have an amazing power to move lumber. This power is especially handy when you're working with framing lumber or decking that's not as straight as you'd like (Photos 4 - 6). Use big nails with big heads like 16d sinkers for these jobs. In fact, if one nail doesn't do the job, drive another alongside to move the board even farther. One carpenter I know pounds in two 16d nails at once for extra holding power.

So remember, the next time your floor joists or studs stray from the line, coax them into place with toenails.

Required Tools for this Project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.

  • Hammer
  • Safety glasses

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