What Is a Nailset and How Is It Used?

Stanley Nail Sets
via Amazon

A nailset is a small metal tool that looks much like an icepick used for driving finish nails at or below the surface of wood.

The Problem:  Hard Hammers Meet Fragile Surfaces

When you face-nail finish nails into wood, you cannot drive the nail all the way flush or below the surface of the wood by using the hammer alone.  You will damage the surface of the wood.

It's a problem that has less urgency now that electric finish nailers are ending up in the hands of DIY homeowners.  This is due to lower prices and improvements in lithium ion battery technology to make cordless nailers a viable tool.

How To Use It

  1. Drive Nail With Hammer:  Drive the nail as far toward the surface of the wood with the hammer alone, without hitting the wood.  This is usually about 1/4" from the wood.
  2. Place the Nailset:  The tip of the nailset is placed on the head of the finish nail. Finish nails usually have a small dent on their heads to allow for placement of a nail set.
  3. Continue Driving:  Gently tap the hammer on the blunt end of the nailset, driving the finish nail the rest of the way into the wood.

Why Use One?

  • Driving in finish nails without damaging surface of wood.
  • Push finish nail level to the surface of the wood, or
  • Push finish nails below the surface of the wood, to allow for wood putty to be applied.
  • Correct stubborn finish nails.


  • Old nailsets that are past their prime can be turned upside-down, and their blunt ends used for gently tapping in regular nails to the surface of the wood.
  • Avoid using for anything other than setting finish nails.  The "sharp" end of the nailset is perfectly rounded to seat in the head of finish nails.  Pounding this sharp end on other materials may blunt and flatten it, rendering it useless for setting nails.