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7 Simple Tools to Remove Nails From Wood

Updated: August 20, 2022
Nail Removal Tools From Wood
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7 Simple Tools to Remove Nails From Wood

Removing nails from wood without damage to the wood is a trick that takes carpenters and other professionals years to master. And the right tools.

While some nail removing tasks require limiting damage to the wood, other extractions in rough lumber are simply about quickly and efficiently removing the nail. 

In this guide learn about nail removing tools that:

  • Disassemble pallets in no time
  • Pull large nails from softwoods
  • Extract small nails
  • And, lastly, help remove the wood to let you extract the nail from the back of the board

Common Tools to Remove Nails

Here’s our collection of the best tools for the job (Amazon).






How Nail Removers Work

Crowbar Removing Nails

Before looking at the tools, understanding how a nail remover works is best. So, for a traditional nail puller, there are three things that are needed:

  1. Cutting surface to dig into the wood
  2. An angled surface to grab two sides of the nail head
  3. Leverage to allow the nail to be pulled up

Unfortunately, removing the nail typically damages the wood.

Alternatives to Standard Nail Pullers

For projects where you want to save the piece of wood there are a couple of options that can minimize damage. 

Option #1: if you are planning to remove the piece of wood altogether and can get behind the wood itself try using a trim puller. Once the trim is off, simply cut the nails using a Dremel or wire cutters.

Option #2: instead of pulling the nail back through the wood you can evaluate driving the nail all the way through using a very small diameter punch. This option is tricky, but can avoid any damage to the wood.

Option #3: using a power nail puller for larger projects that are specially designed to pull large diameter nails.

Power Nail Removers For Large Nails

With the price of wood a lot of woodworkers are getting creative in using recycled wood. And one of the best sources of free wood is, you guessed it, pallets.

The problem with pallet lumber?

Nails. And lots of them. 

While using a crowbar will quickly help you separate the pallet beams and braces it leaves a huge sum of nails still embedded in the wood. Which means hours trying to tamp them back through the wood to salvage the “free” wood.

The solution? A power nail remover that fits over the exposed nail shank and using compressed air “pops” the nail back of the wood.

Best Tools To Remove Nails

Getting started, there are a variety of tools for the job and which one often comes down to the size of the nail and the type of wood you’re working with. In general, if your project involves construction lumber like 2×4’s you’ll want at least a crowbar for leverage and cats paw to dig into the wood and expose the nails head.

1. Wrecking Bar For Construction Projects

Estwing Wrecking Bar for Nails

When it comes to dismantling a wall, siding, or anything held together with larger nails you’ll want leverage.

And a lot of it.

The solution? A wrecking bar with a unique goose-head design that allows you to:

  1. Hammer the pointed head into the wood to grab the nail
  2. A curved surface for pulling long nails upward from the wood
  3. And a long handle for leverage 



2. Nail and Staple Pulling Pliers

Estwing Wrecking Bar for Nails

Shown: Bates Nail Pulling Pliers (Amazon)

For removing both smaller nails, brads and staples a simple plier with a rounded fulcrum works best. 

To use this style of puller there are a few basics:

  • The nail head or staple must be above the surface of the wood
  • Firmly grab the nail head and press downward on the handles
  • If the nail slips, re-adjust and grab as much of the nail with the jaws as possible

The downside to this style of nail extractor? It is limited to shorter nails under 2-inches. Longer nails require more leverage.



3. Trim Removal Pry Bar

Zenith Trim Removal Pry Bar

Shown: Zenith Trim Removal Pry Bar (Amazon)

When removing nails in finished hardwood or trim that you want to keep the most common problem is how to remove the nail without damaging the wood?

Rather than try to remove the nail from the wood on the FRONT of the board, simply extract the wood from its position and take the nail out from BEHIND. This method doesn’t require damaging the woods surface.



4. Nail Extracting Nipper Pliers For Brads

Bates Nail Puller Nippers

Shown: Bates Nail Puller (Amazon)

For smaller nails with or without heads (aka trim nails) a simple pair of nipper pliers work well. With a simple design, a firm grip and a curved face these pliers will quickly pull nails.

And, for longer nails, simply pull the nail out and add a wood block to gain more leverage.



5. Nail Puller Cats Paw For Carpenters

Spec Ops Nail Puller Cats Paw

Shown: Spec Ops Nail Puller (Amazon)

Professional alternative: Stiletto Titanium (Amazon)

While looking part weapon and part wood destroyer, for dimensional lumber nail removal this rugged cats paw will quickly get at nail heads.  

With an aggressive design that allows for quick hits with a framing hammer the cats paw and molding removal ends are great for any carpenter.



6. DIY Combo Set of Nail Pullers

MaxPower 4-piece set

Shown: MAXPOWER Nail Puller Set (Amazon)

What’s better than one tool? Four tools. 

If your not sure what will be best of the job, a great option is to get the top three tools (one in compact size) for the job. Which means a set like this with nippers, cats paw, molding and standard pry bar will let you choose which tool for the job.



7. Crescent Nail Puller

Crescent Nail Puller

Shown: Crescent Nail Puller (Amazon)

For remodeling or new construction jogs this uniquely designed extractor works great on flush nails. 

Featuring drop forged steel, the Crescent brand name, and a long lever for pulling large nails this is a tool any contractor or carpenter wants for their job site toolbox. Or, for DIY’ers tackling a demo a great alternative to a harder-to-use crow bar.



Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best tool to remove nails?

The best tool to remove nails might be two tools. First, you’ll need a curved surface to “dig” the head of the nail from the woods surface, which commonly requires a cats paw. Second, a hammer is needed to drive the cats paw into the wood to extract the head and allow it to be levered from the wood.

What's a nail remover tool called?

There are many names for a nail remover tool, but the most common is a cats paw. To access the nail head the wood around it must be depressed or removed, and a cats paw is the best tool to remove the wood and nail.

How do you remove a nail without a head?

To remove nails without a head, a pair of nipper pliers is typically best. By combining a curved extraction head and strong gripping pliers, a nipper will remove any nail, including headless brads.

  • About the Author
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( Woodworker )

Eric has been a professional woodworker for over thirty years and has worked in small cabinet shops making everything from kitchen cabinets to hand-made furniture. Now working from a home woodworking shop Eric is sharing his passion for woodworking, tool advice and how-to knowledge from his Minnesota-based woodshop.

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Disclaimer: DIY projects can be dangerous, hire a professional (link to Home Advisor) if unsure.