196 Illustrated Theatre Production Guide 2 ed
FASTENERS
Fasteners are used to connect building materials. It is the
preferred modern term for the hardware group contain-
ing nails, staples, screws, and bolts. Each one of these
fastener types has different qualities that separate it from
the others. A nail is different from a staple, and a screw
is not the same as a bolt. Sometimes the differences are
a bit vague, but there are commonly understood defini-
tions. It is important to know the names and definitions
of things—not simply to be able to ask for them, but
also because knowing how something works can help a
technician to understand why it might be important to
choose one piece of hardware over another.
Nails
Nails were some of the earliest fasteners in common use,
at least in part because they require very little technol-
ogy to produce. The Industrial Revolution brought
about the ability to use machines to easily manufacture
all sorts of things in mass quantities, including metallic
hardware. Before that, all metalworking was done by
hand, one piece at a time. Early nails were made by
cutting across bars of flat stock at a slight angle, and this
type of nail is known today as a cut nail. Cut nails are
triangular in shape, and if laid head to toe and side by
side, it is easy to visualize how they were made. These
nails are still manufactured in small quantities for his-
torical restorations.
The method of categorizing nail sizes was devel-
oped over a long period of time, and it is one of those
fun, obscure things to know about. It is related to a
method that was also used to price them when they were
produced in England some centuries ago. As you can
imagine from seeing how early nails were cut, the larger
the nail, the harder it was to produce and hence more
expensive. Making cut nails was a labor-intensive under-
taking. The present system of sizing is related to the cost
of making nails back at that time. The small letter d is
used to represent the word penny in England. When this
system originated, one hundred of the larger nails cost
16 cents, which was a great deal of money at that time.
Of course, weve had quite a bit of inflation since then.
The important thing to remember is that the larger the
nail, the higher the penny number, and the smaller the
nail, the lower the penny number.
In modern times, a two-penny is the smallest size
nail available. The 16d nail is the largest commonly
used in woodworking. A 2d nail is about 1 inch long,
while a 16d nail is about
3
1
2
inches long, which should
give you some indication of the relative sizes. Smaller
nails are usually called brads, and larger ones are called
spikes.
Constructing a home requires a considerable
number of fasteners. Modern nails are made from wire
rather than bars of steel. They are quickly and easily
manufactured by large machines that can turn out thou-
sands in a minute. The prices of todays nails are mostly
related to the cost of the steel wire and distribution of
the finished product. Allowing for inflation, they are
quite inexpensive by comparison to the earlier version.
Wire nails are easily distinguishable from cut nails,
because the modern type is round in cross section rather
than squarish like the antique cut nails.
Modern machine-made nails are more precise than
a cut nail, yet even so it is not really necessary to be
terribly exacting in making them. If a 16d nail is said
to be about
3
1
2
long, it might well be 3
1
4
or 3
5
8
.
The work that they do does not require an exact toler-
ance. The diameter of the nails is related to the length
and is an arbitrary but standard gauge. The longer a nail
is, the larger its diameter is.
Even so, there are two classifications of diameter,
box and common. Box nails are thinner than common
nails. A 16d box nail is skinnier than a 16d common
nail, but a 4d common nail is smaller in diameter than
a 16d box nail, because the whole nail is smaller. Box
nails are usually best for scenery, because they are
thinner and tend to split lumber less easily. Most fas-
tener outlets stock nails in even penny sizes from 2d to
16d. Above size 16d, nails tend to come in even mul-
tiples of 10, like 20d, 30d, 40d, and so forth. These

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