Nailing down a pine floor.


Let me tell you how we used to nail down the floorboards of a house back when I was an apprentice carpenter. It was always the apprentice’s job to nail down the floor as it was THE WORST job in the list of second fix carpentry. The youngest apprentice got the job and when he was older and a new apprentice came on site, it was passed on to that younger one…it was the way it went.

Most houses in those days were smaller with smaller rooms, so the usual “run” of continuous nailing was about 3-4metres (in this new money)..or around 10 -15 feet..with around 7 or 8 runs per room..each board with two x 2inch nails per board per joist. You would clasp as many two inch nails as you could hold in your fist and you would start “feeding” the nails from palm to thumb/forefinger and keep up a rhythm with the nailing…First strike, lighter , to start the nail off, second to drive it in and third to finish it off flush with the surface of the floorboard so the punch can sink it below the surface in just one blow..and the foreman or carpenter boss got shitty if you over struck the last blow and left a “two-bob” dent in the floor from the head of the hammer.

Three strikes from a 24ounce claw lighter hammer, because it then may take an extra blow to do every nail and they add up, believe me! heavier (I can recall 28ounce hammers some brawny chippies had for framing or shutter work on the multi-storey constructions)  or your arm would fall off by the end. Three blows in a continuous rhythm with out break and speed…if you missed feeding the nail from the clutched handful that fed to your thumb and fore-finger, you’d keep the rhythm going by striking lightly on the floorboard next to the nail spot just to keep the rhythm going…

“Tap-bang-bang…tap-bang-bang…tap-bang-bang…tap-bang-bang… on and on and on…

Sometimes you’d not have that 2inch nail the right way up or not in quite the right position and you’d come down with that “tap”..which wasn’t a soft touch, by the way, but rather a solid starting hit to set the nail solid ready for the next heavy blow..and you’d spin the nail away and take the force of the hammer blow onto your thumb-nail edge and BY FUCKIN’ JAYSUS…did it hurt..and you would end up with a black nail that would, if you are lucky just drop off in a couple of weeks time..unlucky and it would fester under the nail and you’d be weeping in agony at night until you got your mother (you were only fifteen or so, remember) to heat up the blunt end of a paper-clip and burn it through the nail so that the pus would squirt out and you’d almost swoon with relief..

But you would keep going..”tap-bang-bang…tap-bang-bang…because it was no use stopping and weeping, no-one else was going to do the job…no-one else was going to rub your hand and say coo-cooing things to you to comfort you because they had suffered the same back when it was their turn…they may come in to check why you’ve stopped the rhythm and say : “Poor bastard”, but you’d keep on going because that was your work that was what is required to get the job done and someone had to do it…and sometimes because of the bruising of that first miss-hit, you’d do it again a few minutes later on the same nail and you’d literally WEEP with the pain..but it was no use walking away, quitting or whatever,  because the next place you went to also would have a floor needing to be nailed down and there you were ; the apprentice..

So you just got better at your concentrated on that rhythmic feeding of the nails to your thumb and fore-finger…you kept the blows coming and eventually you could hand the chore over to another apprentice and listen from another room for that rhythmic hammering and wince when you heard the cry of pain…

You got better..but by Jeesus you got a few bruised thumbs and black nails until you did!..and when you got older and went to the pub with your mates and you raised that schooner or pint of beer, you’d see the ingrained dirt and cuts and callouses on your hand and you’d know which class you and your mates belonged to and you’d know about pain and you’d know about bludgers and con-men and shirking the job and who was really a responsible grown man or woman and any decent worker would respect any other worker for that reason…and be fucking proud to be able to do so!

4 thoughts on “Nailing down a pine floor.

  1. My late father-in-law was a builder. In his twilight years he received the reward for decades of nailing down floors – two titanium knees. I reckon any job down low or up high comes with its consequences.

    I think we missed a great opportunity with the failure of inflatable houses.


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