How To Find Nails in Reclaimed Wood (Easy Guide)

An old piece of reclaimed timber with many rusty or bent nails protruding. A magnifying glass hovers over one of the nails with a green tick next to it. Across the top are the words "How To Find Nails in Reclaimed Wood (Easy Guide)."

Repurposed materials like reclaimed wood, though sustainable, often come with the added challenge of having to be screened for potential safety hazards.

For example, since this type of lumber is sourced from old buildings, bridges, and other structures, it often contains hidden nails and other pieces of metal, which can be hazardous for many indoor uses.

Luckily, there’s a way to find nails in reclaimed wood and efficiently remove them.

To find nails in reclaimed wood, you can do a visual inspection, deconstruct the material to get a better look at its components or use a magnet or metal detector.

Suppose you’ve invested in a piece of reclaimed lumber. In that case, it’s essential to screen it for any potential hazards before incorporating it into your home, so finding nails and other hidden pieces of metal is a must.

Luckily, the process shouldn’t take long if you have the proper knowledge and equipment. Read on to learn how you can go about it.

1. Do a Visual Inspection

A closeup of a piece of reclaimed wood with a large nail head sticking out. Overlain is a cartoon person with no face holding a magnifying glass in search of metalwork.
Sometimes a visual inspection reveals most of the nails in a piece of wood.

The first step to finding nails in reclaimed wood is visual inspection. So, start by removing any piece of metal you can see, checking even those hard-to-reach areas, even if it wouldn’t make sense for a nail to be placed there.

Don’t waste too much of your time with this step, though, as it’s just the first line of defense, and you’ll move on to more thorough approaches in a minute. But, ultimately, the eye test is simply not good enough for what you’re trying to achieve.

2. Use a Magnet

A horseshoe magnet balanced upside down on a piece of wood.
Magnets are a great way to find metal embedded in wood. Simply run the magnet across the surface of the wood, and you’ll feel a pull whenever a nail or other metal is just below the surface.

This is arguably the most efficient method you can use to find nails in reclaimed wood, and if there’s only one thing you take away from this article, let it be this.

Here’s how you can use a magnet to find nails in reclaimed wood:

  1. Hold the magnet near the surface, making sure to move it slowly across the entire surface.
  2. Stay observant and see if there are any areas the magnet seems most attracted to.
  3. Mark the spot with a pen (or a piece of tape if you don’t want to stain the material) and move on to another area.
  4. Repeat the process until you feel confident you’ve found all the hidden pieces of metal.
  5. Use an extraction tool to find and remove the metal.
  6. Repeat the process until the magnet can go over the entire surface without obstructions.

As you can see, the process is pretty straightforward. However, there are some considerations to keep in mind when trying out this approach:

  • Spherical magnets work better. Though all magnets will do, spherical ones can simply roll over the wood’s surface, making the process move along far more quickly.
  • Bigger magnets work better. Since they tend to be more powerful, you’ll want to opt for bigger magnets (if possible). For example, if opting for a spherical shape, you’ll want one that’s at least ⅝ inches (1.6 cm) in diameter.
  • Never forgo a second run-through. No matter how confident you are that you’ve gotten all the nails on the first try, it’s still important to repeat the detection process until there’s no pull in any direction.

However, what if you don’t have a magnet to hand or are looking for an even more foolproof solution?

3. Use a Metal Detector

A black metal detector resting on a wooden surface. The head of the sensor is circular and has a cable attached that leads up the arm of the detector.
A metal detector can help you to find metal objects embedded in wood that even a powerful magnet would miss.

Though the chances of someone not having a magnet but having a metal detector are slim, I still wanted to include this approach as it’s even more reliable, especially if the device in question is of high quality.

However, I want to note that the success rate of using a metal detector to find nails in reclaimed wood will depend on the size and power of the equipment, so make sure to do your research before relying on this method.

I specifically want to stress the importance of using the right metal-detecting technique, which includes the following steps:

  1. Start in a comfortable position. You’ll want to be slow and steady in your movements, which isn’t possible if you’re achy or shaky.
  2. Adjust the stem. You want the receiver and transmitter coil to hover just above the wood’s surface.
  3. Slowly move the device across the reclaimed wood’s surface. You’ll want to give the device ample time to get feedback from the material below.
  4. Once you get a beep, start moving the device in a circular motion. Your aim is to locate the nail as accurately as possible.
  5. Mark the spot with a pen or piece of tape. Then, go in with an extraction tool to remove the hidden nail. Repeat as necessary.

You don’t need a high-end metal detector to do the job. There’s no shortage of affordable (think $50 and below) portable detectors that’ll do the job just fine. However, make sure to always read reviews and testimonies beforehand.

4. Deconstruct the Material

A person removes a metal angle bracket from the corner of a wooden frame by removing the screws holding it in place.
Taking apart the wood you are reclaiming helps tremendously with identifying any metal pieces. In addition, the simple process of disassembling the wood will often remove most of the metalwork.

Lastly, suppose you want to make any of the above approaches a bit more accurate. In that case, I highly recommend deconstructing the material to the best of your abilities (as long as doing so doesn’t interfere with the construction process later on).

That way, you not only get a better visual of any possible obstructions right off the bat, but you also help improve the accuracy of any devices you might be using.

If you go this route, you also won’t have to rely as much on extraction tools, as chances are that all metal pieces will be revealed.

With that said, there’s still a chance of a pesky nail or two being hidden out of sight, so only use this approach in conjunction with one of the abovementioned methods.


Reclaimed wood, just like any other repurposed material, is bound to contain some traces of its previous life upon entering a new project. That’s why you always want to screen it for any nails or other metal pieces before working with it.

Using a magnet is the quickest, easiest way to find nails in reclaimed wood. However, remember that this is just a detection approach, and you’ll likely have to use a separate extraction tool to remove the nails.

Still, the approaches explained above help to make using reclaimed wood a far easier (and safer) process.

For ideas on how to make use of reclaimed wood in your next project, please read our article about the types of wood to use for a reclaimed wood ceiling.

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *