“Toenailing” simply means to drive a nail diagonally through a board, as opposed to “face nailing” which means to drive it straight through. You toenail something when the distance you would need to drive the nail to “face” nail it is longer than the nail itself. I’ve driven some screws diagonally for this project, but for the roof I’m switching to nails. There will be some heavier “shear” forces on these fasteners, and nails are much stronger in such a case. Also, there is a big old box of 10d framing nails in my parents’ garage and I am actually so cheap that this sways my decision more than one might expect. To the ends of the Earth to save a dollar…
Today’s mission was to nail some ceiling joists across the 8 foot span, on top of the double top plates. The joists are 5 1/2 inches deep, so toenailing them is the way. I set to work, and promptly split the crap out of both ends of the first joist. And the joist slid around all over the place as I tried to hammer a nail in diagonally while holding it in place. I couldn’t keep it on the mark at all. My work looked like shit, so I stopped. I cussed for awhile and retreated to the big house feeling frustrated and defeated.
Toenailing isn’t exactly the kind of action that is ever discussed in detail in books. It’s a basic operation, and it’s taken for granted that everyone can do it. Further explanation of toenailing would be like a detailed description of how to put your pants on in the morning. What’s to say? Just put on your fucking pants.
After several carefully targeted keyword searches, I found an article that made me feel like less of a moron. It wasn’t an easy article to find. The author outlined several helpful suggestions to keep D.I.Y. carpenters from killing themselves. The most important suggestion was to drill pilot holes. I’d actually tried this, and it didn’t help. The article specified wider pilot holes: using an 1/8th inch bit and drilling all the way through the first piece of lumber. The author then suggested clamping a piece of scrap wood behind the joist to keep it from moving as you drive the first nail. Experienced carpenters would probably have a painful eye-roll over this, but I’ll take all the help I can get. Maybe in 25 years I can spit nails into place like Popeye, too.
The next morning, I calmly returned to the building site. I followed the suggestions I had read, and before too long I had all of the ceiling joists installed perfectly. I did not split one more piece of wood and each joist fell squarely on its mark. I will live to cuss at something else tomorrow, but the morning air today was awash in accolades.