Friday, October 4, 2013

What Is It? Where Is It? (September): Doornails on the Keith House Door

We finished up September with another architectural feature of the Keith House for our monthly "What Is It? Where Is It?" post. Did you guess that the photo below

was a close-up of the doornails on the inside of the Keith House office door?

Have you ever heard the expression "dead as a doornail?" Early plank style doors generally had "battens" (horizontal boards) on the reverse side to help strengthen and stabilize them. Nails were hammered through the planks and battens to hold them together and the pointed end of the nail that stuck out through the other side would be bent over, or "cinched" or "clenched," thus rendering the nail "dead" or unable to be pulled out and recycled.

Hand-wrought square nails were both valuable (a lot of work went into forging them by hand) and more difficult to pull out then our modern round wire nails. For this reason, it was not uncommon for the colonists to burn down a building and sift through the ashes to recover the nails for reuse as it was easier than pulling them out and cheaper then making new. 

The machines to make cut nails, which allowed nails to be produced faster and cheaper, were invented in the mid-1700s but were not very efficient or common until after the Revolution when America needed and wanted to break it's dependence on English nails. 

The featured Keith House door is a reproduction based on what we believe was the original door. It is a paneled door with planks nailed to the interior. The nails on the inside are functional in that they serve to hold the two sides of the door together but they are also spaced out and arranged in a pleasing pattern which follows the lines of the rails and stiles (the horizontal and vertical pieces that surround the panels) on the exterior of the door. They do not protrude through the door, therefore they are only visible on the interior plank side and do not need to be cinched. There are those who believe decorative nails were used as a show of wealth, but experts at Williamsburg dispute this.


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