Impossible Nail in Wooden Block by seamster in woodworking
This is my take on a classic puzzling object that woodworkers have been making for years. If you’ve never seen the impossible nail-through-block-of-wood trick, check out Steve Ramsey’s great video here.
My version and approach is very different than Steve’s, however.
The nail is solid and has not been bent, cut, glued, or modified in any way. It slides back and forth within the block of wood, and the total length of the nail is longer than 2x the diameter of each hole.
The wood has not been boiled and squished or bent, as some people may suggest.
I made this because I love little objects that seem to defy physics and logic. They intrigue people and encourage them to think and reason, and I find it very interesting to observe how people respond when confronted with things like this.
If you’re interested in making something similar, read on. Thanks for taking a look.
Step 1: Materials
I used a piece of hardwood and a large 60d nail (which is 6 inches long). A smaller piece of scrap wood (like a piece of a 2×4) and a smaller nail (like a 20d nail) could be used just as easily.
You could use a large variety of tools to reach the same result I did, depending on what you have access to.
Here are the tools I used:
- electric planer
- table saw
- drill press
- router in table
- Dremel-style rotary tool
- orbital sander
- a few common hand tools
Step 2: Flatten board
The piece of wood I was using was cupped, so I used an electric planer to get it fairly flat. This is the planer I have, and it’s been very nice.
The finished thickness was about 2 inches.
I used my table saw to trim the board to the final size of 5 inches by 10 inches.
Step 3: Mark, punch, and drill
I used a 2 1/2 inch hole saw to cut out the two large holes.
However before cutting the actual holes, I marked the center point and used a nail set to punch a hole for each one.
I then used a 1/4 inch bit in a drill press to drill through the board on these center points. These 1/4 inch holes will act as guides to help align the hole saw in the next step, so I can use it from both sides of the board to cut out the holes.
Step 4: Hole saw
I positioned the guide holes under the hole saw and clamped the board in place. I very slowly made the cuts, raising the saw occasionally to clear the dust.
Each hole was drilled halfway on one side. Then the board was flipped over to complete the holes from the other side.
Step 5: Clean up holes
I used a spindle sander to clean up the insides of the holes. I’ve had thisoscillating spindle/belt sander from Home Depot for many years. Highly recommended!
A rotary tool with a small sanding drum could be used for this step as well.
Step 6: Now what?!
Okay, now what?
Have you got an idea of what comes next?
It’s not magic, I’ll tell you that!
Step 7: Break it!
The trick here is to break the board clean in half. Then you create a channel for the nail to rest in, and glue the board back together. Pretty simple!
I clamped it into my vise, and gave the top half a hard wack with a mallet. This resulted in a nice, clean break right through the weak middle section of the board.
Step 8: Broken board
Depending on the type of wood you use, you might experience some splintering.
I used a hardwood specifically to avoid this and it worked very well.
Step 9: Create channel for nail
I used a carving burr in my rotary tool to carefully carve a channel for the nail to rest in, in the middle section of the wood.
Care was taken to make sure that both sides of the channel lined up neatly and created a clean looking hole when the board halves were placed together.
Step 10: Glue and clamp
Wood glue was spread over all the surfaces of the break on both halves of the board. You don’t want to put too much, especially near the channel where the nail is. In this area, I wiped most of the glue away so only a thin film was present.
The board halves were placed together with the nail in place, and clamped. I used a wet rag to wipe away any glue that squeezed out.
Step 11: Clean up
I wanted this to look really nice and well-finished, which to me adds to the mystery.
I used my electric planer to remove a little more material from both faces, and ran the ends through my table saw (using a sled) to trim the ends. These efforts removed any traces of the glue joint from the outside of the block.
On the insides of the holes, I used a drum sander on my rotary tool to gently sand down the glue joints.
Using a router table I rounded over all the edges of the block.
Step 12: Sand
Now I sanded the entire block with 220 grit sandpaper using an orbital sander.
The routed edges and interiors of the holes I sanded by hand with the same grit.
Step 13: Finish
To finish the block, I sprayed it with several coats of lacquer, buffing between coats with superfine steel wool.
After the final coat of lacquer was dry and buffed, I wiped on and buffed off a coating of paste wax.
Step 14: Done
It’s a great little conversation piece, and holds up perfectly to intense examination.
I hope you’ll make something similar! If you do, please share a photo in the comments; I’d love to see your take on this.
I always love feedback, so questions and comments are encouraged. Thanks again for reading.