Repurposed wood seems to get all the good press these days. Projects abound: feature walls, fine furniture, picture frames, benches, fireplace mantles, and on and on it goes. But, what about those other materials that went into building old barns and new pallets? What about the nails?

In the excitement over reclaimed wood, it seems that nails have been largely and literally tossed aside, but that could be a huge mistake. For the crafty and imaginative, that’s a lot of wasted potential sitting in the five-gallon buckets in the corner of the shop. Don’t rusty old nails (or shiny new ones) deserve a second life too?

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Of course, they do! So, what exactly, one may ask, can we do with old nails? All sorts of stuff!

Puzzles and Games

Old nails are the perfect pieces for vintage puzzles and games.

  • There is the bent nail puzzle, in which two nails are wrapped around each other and the goal is to get them apart without force or tools. Yes, a normal person can make these.
  • Triangle peg solitaire—that game on Cracker Barrel tables—is easy to make from a cool scrap of wood and some vintage nails. Wouldn’t it be much more attractive that way?
  • There is also a wonderful puzzle (video above) that can entertain and challenge guests. This kind of thing is perfect for garden seating, a coffee table, or a desk.

Hooks

One imagines that it must not have been long after nails were invited that hammering a nail in the wall and hanging something on it must have closely followed. And, of course, we still do this today, especially in spaces—like workshops and garages—where functionality often trumps decorative.

But, old, rusty nails can be beautiful as well. Square cut nails, forged nails and just plain old nails have endearing qualities that make them shine again when placed in the right setting: say a piece of repurposed wood hung as a towel rack or spot for hanging cast iron skillets. Why go conventional when old school does the job more flamboyantly!

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Iron brew

This is a project for rusty nails specifically, and its efficacy is debatable. But, gardeners have been using the idea for decades. As we have come to realize, it’s good for garden soil to have trace minerals, so that our vegetables have these minerals as well. Iron, of course, is high on this list. The rust on rusty nails is oxidized iron.

For those who have made compost tea for the garden, this will be familiar. For those who haven’t, it’ll still be simple. Stick a hand or can full of rusty nails in a bucket filled with water and let them stew for a day or four. Then, use the rust-stained, iron-rich water to water the plants.

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This is highly recommended for acid-loving plants such as azalea, rhododendrons, hydrangeas, and blueberries.

  • Don’t use galvanized nails for this.

Art: Sculpture

Just like the right piece of repurposed wood or certain found objects can be magical pieces of art, so to can a collection of old nails. They can be beautiful tokens from history that add a spark of the past. Keep a cool collection in a glass jar to admire or piece together a cool stack to “haphazardly” splay out somewhere.

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Or, they can be twisted, welded, soldered, and congregated into remarkable metal sculptures. The beautiful thing about making art like this is the material is often so notable that the craftsmanship needn’t be. Just having the motivation to put together is often enough.

Art: String Art

If the nails themselves don’t seem artsy or crafty enough, there is always a string art project. Why buy shiny new nails and new wood when repurposed wood and nails would make for a much more characterful piece.

The crux of string art is to sketch the silhouette of something then space nails along the sketch lines. Then, using a balanced sense of geometry, stretch string from one nail to the next to shade in the drawing.

Repurposed Nails

It’s worth noting that old nails can actually become new-to-use nails with a little bit of time and effort. This might be a rainy-day project or something to occupy a child wanting to “help” with a project. It’ll help them develop dexterity, too, and teach some valuable lessons about repurposing and DIY determination.

Old bent nails can be straightened by rolling them on a flat surface and hammering them flat. If they are rusty, they can be soaked in vinegar or cola for a while then, to remove the rust or most of it), just wipe them clean. It’s not a bad idea to dry them fully in sun or a breeze for a bit.

This is a great way to add a vintage look to new projects or to simply reuse something for the goodness of it.

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And, that’s just getting the old brain cogs turning! There are plenty of other cool projects—a nail bottle opener, a miniature sword made from a nail, etc.—that a rusty nail enthusiast can get into. Best of luck with them all!

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