The Romance of Engineering:

I loved this Popular Science article on designing a more hurricane-resistant nail, which Orin pointed to below. And if you can't see the romance in this, then you aren't my kind of romantic.

Joe7 (mail):
That is very, very cool.
11.27.2006 4:59pm
Maniakes (mail):
How does this compare, in terms of strength and cost, to just using more or bigger conventional nails?
11.27.2006 5:33pm
Glenn W. Bowen (mail):
Several years ago, "Fine Homebuilding" magazine tested nails, and found that the twist variety held best, the ringed nails not as well due to the rings breaking the wood fiber upon being inserted or withdrawn.

The nail cited in the post would seem to be a hybrid of both.
11.27.2006 5:37pm
Silicon Valley Jim:
Very cool indeed, and, yes, quite romantic in its own way. It's quite amazing at times how the little things like this can make huge differences in our world.
11.27.2006 5:39pm
Glenn W. Bowen (mail):

just using more or bigger conventional nails?

You might run into a splitting problem (or more of a splitting problem) using larger diameter, or more, nails.
11.27.2006 5:39pm
Maniakes (mail):
You might run into a splitting problem

Makes sense. If so, I wish the article had mentioned it, as knowing that mundane alternatives aren't as good (or are completely impractical) would make the new invention all the cooler.
11.27.2006 5:54pm
lucia (mail) (www):

Not surprisingly, hurricane resistent nails are difficult to to pull out if you make a mistake. Not for the hobby remodeler.

Manaikes: Glen gave one negative associated with more or bigger nails. Other negatives of using more nails is the labor involved in driving a nail is proportional to the number of nails used. The time required to drive 100 nails using a nail gun is 10 times that required to drive 1 nail.
11.27.2006 6:00pm
lucia (mail) (www):
Opps... 10 times that required to drive 10 nails!
11.27.2006 6:00pm
GMUSL 3L (mail):
Ideas and stories like this are why I LOVE patent law, and why I've wanted to do it since I was 11.
11.27.2006 6:18pm
Jeff S. (mail):
I'm within two miles of a major earthquake fault in California. Structural engineers never specify 8d nails for fastening sheathing, aka plywood shear panel. It's always 10d. I hope they make this new kind in 10d as well.
11.27.2006 6:52pm
Glenn W. Bowen (mail):
Bostich makes staples and fasteners- items that are applied by machines, like a staple or nail gun (manufacturers don't refer to them as "guns' anymore due to liability problems).

I'm thinking they developed this product to be used in a pneumatic or electric nailer, not to be hand driven with a hammer.
11.27.2006 6:58pm
Glenn W. Bowen (mail):
a nifty video as Bostitch:



11.27.2006 7:08pm
lucia (mail) (www):
Glenn. Yes, the article says they are power driven nails. That presented a design constraint for the nails which need to fit into standard nail guns.
11.27.2006 7:10pm
Glenn W. Bowen (mail):
make that "" above, not "costitch"- I had to split the URL because it was too long.

...and bostitch fasteners, I believe, only fit in bostitch nailers:)
11.27.2006 7:14pm
srp (mail):
Here's an interesting article about Illinois Tool Works innovating a better screw:

It's always intersting when you can improve something that's been around for a long time unchanged. One would normally presume a high degree of "evolutionary" fitness of the artifact, a hard-to-top combination of cheapness, ease-of-use, predictability, etc. The long-time niche survivor presumably survived many attempts at replacement by inventors. So when you finally do it, it's quite an achievement.
11.27.2006 7:35pm
Glenn W. Bowen (mail):

and here it is:
11.27.2006 7:47pm
Daniel Holmes:
Excellent example that it doesn't take anything flashy to make an impact and sometimes the littlest things really make all the difference.
11.27.2006 7:52pm
hey (mail):
srp: the issue is local maxima/optima vs global max. Getting to another peak usually involves significant downward movement until you approach a higher max, which means lots of time and movey invested to try and improve. The article highlights this process in the negatives of the first production version creating loose, wobbly connections that would be unacceptable in common usage. C&O math is hard and mean, but explains much.

As to why more or bigger nails wouldn't help: there's the added weight of the nails, the labour, the difficulty of moving much more weight of nails (per nail and or more nails), the problem that the weight (and cost) of nails is proportional to the cube of the radius while the effectiveness goes up between 1 and 2 powers of the radius, and then the major issue that the size of a nail (or anything) doesn't help all that much in terms of strength (you get much more strength with a screw than a nail, but the time involved makes screws impractical for framing while high quality subfloors universally rely on screws). They're demonstrating a many times improvement in performance with the same size of nail, while size increases and quantity increases would only see fractional improvements (you have a fairly limited volume of wood in which to insert nails). An awesome improvement that means that the world will be beating a path to Stanleyworks'/Bostich's door.
11.27.2006 8:00pm
triticale (mail) (www):
Gaia is just going to come up with stonger hurricanes...
11.27.2006 8:22pm

Ideas and stories like this are why I LOVE patent law, and why I've wanted to do it since I was 11.

Who knows? The nail may have been invented twenty years ago and abandoned by the original inventor-of-modest-means because he couldn't afford all that patent law.
11.27.2006 10:40pm
David Sucher (mail) (www):
"One would normally presume a high degree of "evolutionary" fitness of the artifact, a hard-to-top combination of cheapness, ease-of-use, predictability, etc. The long-time niche survivor presumably survived many attempts at replacement by inventors. So when you finally do it, it's quite an achievement."

An example:

Look how long (50 years at least) before "shaped skis" became prevalent.

Experts knew the importance of sidecut in ski performance for all that time.

But ski makers didn't use the phenomenon until the nineties.
11.28.2006 12:25am

Although the nail is currently available only in the Gulf region (it adds about $15 to the cost of an average 2,000-square-foot house),

Maybe I should do some retronailing.
11.28.2006 2:31am
professays (mail):
It is an interesting invention.
11.28.2006 6:32am
Tom952 (mail):
In the post hurricane Andrew (1992) studies in Florida, inadequate fasteners were discovered to be a major cause of losses. Prior to that storm, builders in Florida were using staples extensively in construction, despite cries of alarm raised by some. Staples pull out relatively easily, allowing shingles and plywood roof sheathing to be blown off of structures during a storm. Homes built or re-roofed in accordance with the revised code, which disallows staples and requires six (6) ring-shank nails per shingle, performed very well in the areas hit during the busy 2004 hurricane season. There were side-by-side examples where a new-code structure withstood the wind with only superficial damage, while the home next door built and roofed with staples was lost.

BTW, Re-nailing of stapled roof panels is often performed during re-roofing jobs.
11.28.2006 9:04am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):

But its a good thing that its tortious and illegal for adult children to play with human bodies the way they play with construction materials.
11.28.2006 10:57am
Houston Lawyer:
Back before we worried too much about hurricanes, rafters were toenailed to keep them in place. This mean that it was primarily their weight that held them down. Any significant wind under the eaves could lift the entire roof of the house. I believe that strips of metal are now nailed over the rafters to hold them in place. Simple inventions can add a lot of strength to old construction techniques.
11.28.2006 11:01am
chuckR (mail):
About time you law talking guys recognized the sensitive side of us engineers. Oh, the elegance of the spiral section, the clever entasis of the shank where it bears on the sheathing, not mention the insouciance of the oversized nailhead! I am happy that it is developed by an occasional engineering customer of mine.

To me, the biggest part of the story is that it makes a significant improvement in the quality of the quickest way to frame up a house - using a nail gun. Engineers often wrestle with the effects of what will happen as opposed to what should happen. The design provides a convergence between 'should happen' and 'will happen'. I'd like to see Bostitch multi-source the nail and then lobby to get it as a standard in codes or at least in the shaky and coastal regions where it could have the greatest benefit.

11.28.2006 11:38am
Glenn W. Bowen (mail):

About time you law talking guys recognized the sensitive side of us engineers

just send me a print I can read...:))
11.28.2006 12:20pm
Glenn W. Bowen (mail):
The fasteners have to actually be used to be effective- in the early 70's, there was a housing boom in Florida. When hurricane Andrew hit, it was found that a considerable amount of the new construction was cheated, with the roof and exterior wall sheathing being attached with staples, thereby causing a lot of damage.

Amazing, in a way- the developers were going to make a killing anyhow, and they still shorted on the codes.
11.28.2006 12:24pm
chuckR (mail):

'just send me a print I can read...:))'

If we do that, how can we continue to control our little section of turf? My personal favorite is a detail from my own timberframe house where the detailer managed to put an 8x12 joist clear through a 16" diameter column. Wish I knew how to do it.

A clarification on my previous comment - I've done work for Bostitch, but for other individuals, not Dr. Sutt.
11.28.2006 1:45pm
Glenn W. Bowen (mail):

If we do that, how can we continue to control our little section of turf?

Boils down to territory, eh? Nowwwwwwwwwwwwwwww I understand:)

On the subject of prints, I've literally received them drawn on napkins- everything worked, mind you.

True story- a friend of mine got one from a production designer (movie business), who was with him at the time. My friend picked up the drawing, said, "what's this?", and then blew his nose in it.

He found another job soon after.
11.29.2006 11:53am