Tips for driving nails or screws in tight quarters

  • The Carey Brothers
  • Tuesday, November 6, 2012 4:35pm
  • Life

Recently we remodeled a condo in Southern California. The work started at the studs and worked out from there. The project included new electrical, new plumbing, two new bathrooms, a new kitchen and all new wall, floor and ceiling finishes. One of the tricky tasks was modifying the showers.

The existing wall framing for both showers was to remain intact. However, the owner wanted us to frame for recessed shampoo caddies. This task presented an interesting challenge.

We were reluctant to use nails because nailing by hand or with a nail gun could cause enough vibration and/or movement to damage items attached to, or placed near, the wall of the adjacent home.

To a framing carpenter, the shortest distance between any two points is either a hefty pneumatic nailer or an enormous hammer and a handful of 16-penny sinkers (very big nails). It was all we could do to force ourselves to consider the alternative — construction screws.

We really had no choice. A project is always a greater success when the surrounding area is left unscathed our presence.

Notwithstanding nailing’s “shake, rattle and roll,” fastening with screws and nails pose very similar problems. With a nail the question might be, “How can I get the hammer into such a tight or confined space?” With a screw, “How can I get this enormous driver drill into such a completely confined space?”

Tight spaces require fancy fastening techniques. In our situation we preassembled as many components as possible and then used “toe-screwing” to complete the project. Toe-screwing and toe-nailing involve driving a fastener at an angle (about 45 percent) through the end (or edge) of one piece of wood into another.

Example: Two studs are side by side in a wall with only their 1½-inch faces accessible. You are forced to join the two by screwing into the face of one stud (at an angle) so that the screw will penetrate through the face of one stud and into the side of the adjoining stud.

By the way, there’s a trick to installing a screw (or a nail) at an angle.

The trick: Don’t start at an angle. Begin by drilling the screw straight into the face of the first stud. As soon as the screw takes a tiny bite of the wood stop the drill, turn the screw toward the second stud and begin drilling again at the desired angel. Beginning at an angle (without the pilot hole created by first drilling straight) will result in slipping and frustration.

Yep, the trick is a pilot hole. The same holds true for toe-nailing. Begin by hammering the nail straight into the wood until it takes a tiny bite, then hold the nail at the desired angle and continue to drive away.

When we want the head of a toe-nailed screw to end up below the surface of the parts being assembled, we use a countersink bit and predrill.

Actually, unless you drive screws for a living, predrilling is the perfect way to fasten anything.

When fastening without predrilling, often the screw will jar the second piece of wood out of alignment. Pre-drilling prevents this problem.

Also, keep in mind that the fastener being toe-nailed should penetrate at least one inch into the second piece of wood.

And now you know as much about toe-nailing as we do.

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