Some people may say the art of toe nailing is getting old or is a lost art. We argue that toe nailing will always be around simply because there are some things, like joists, that just cannot be done without a well driven toe nail.
In my experience working with home builders, I have run across some controversy on the proper toe nail technique. Mainly people will almost always disagree on the angle of the nail. There is a good reason people disagree. I think it is mainly because different people describe the angle in different ways.
For instance if they were to say a 30 degree or 40 degree angle, they would most likely be counting the angle from the board that they start the nail in and if they are talking about a 50 or 60 degree angle, they are most likely talking about the other board, the one that the nail goes into second.
We are going to count our angle from the board that we start the nail in. If you were to imagine the nail going through the first board and coming out near the center of the bottom, you will see that you are at a good deal less than a 45 degree angle. So those few that argue the 45 degree angle are just plain wrong.
If you were to toe nail a 16 penny (16d) nail at a 45 degree angle, you would have to be very close to the bottom of the starting board and that is going to result in the board cracking and splitting. You do not want to start your toe nail to close to the end of the board.
I always recommend using a 16 penny (16d) nail because of its length, but some people prefer a 8d nail which is shorter. With a 16d nail, you can come up about an inch and ¾ from the end of the board to start your nail. I recommend a solid 30 degree angle from the board you are nailing into.
A good way to figure your angle is to hold the nail to the side of the board and imagine its path through the wood and picture it coming out through the middle of the bottom of the fist board and sinking at least one inch into the second board.
Starting the Nail
When you use a toe nail, you need all the strength you can get. Starting the nail is where a lot of people go wrong. Some think they can start the nail at the required angle. This is nearly impossible. You want to start your nail by driving it straight into your first board.
After the nail is firmly started, you can then easily move it to a 30 degree angle from the board you are nailing into. Then you want to drive in in until it is nearly through the first board. Once the nail becomes close to the board, you are going to have to use some hammer control.
When the nail is getting close to the board, you will begin to strike the head of the nail with the edge of the hammer head. This way you can drive the nail all the way home. If you do not learn to hit the nail off center with the hammer head, you are going to damage the board by striking it with your hammer and you will most likely bend your nail also.
Almost everyone puts a few dents in the board. Do not worry, it will be covered anyway. Toe nailing takes practice. If you are new to the art, I recommend practicing on some scrap lumber before pounding away at your floor joists.
When to Use Toe Nails
Some people may be thinking why use toe nails at all. While it is true that you can use metal anchors for floor joists these days, there are still some advantages to a well done toe nail.
Toe nails are great for those badly twisted floor joists that just do not want to make the mark. You can easily force the twisted board in the direction it needs to go by driving in a well placed toe nail. If one toenail doesn’t do it, drive in two or even three. Any more than three and you may be pushing it, but you should be able to move the joist in place with less than 3 nails if you place them at the proper 30 degree angle from the first board.
When toe nails are done correctly, they can be just as good as a metal brace. They are essential for twisted boards and therefore will always be needed. Also if you go over your mark a little by toe nailing, do not fret, you can easily fix it by driving a toe nail in from the other side.
So learn how to do a proper toe nail and you will be able to fix those nasty twisted joists. While toe nailing has become less popular with the use of metal brackets, it will always be needed in certain situations.