The Dirigo Nail Puller
In today's world, the phrase "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle"
is the battle cry of the concerned environmentalist, just
as "Use it up, wear it out, make it do" was the
advice during the shortages of the Second World War. However, as many know,
the idea behind these catch phrases is not necessarily a modern
one. For example, caches of used nails have been found dating
from the Bronze Age and the time of the Roman Empire. At the
Roman ruins of the fortress Inchtuthil in Scotland, archeologists
uncovered over 10 tons of iron nails found in a pile. In the
18th and early 19th centuries, a common North American practice
was to burn wooden objects or unused and abandoned buildings
and then sift through the ashes to recover the iron (later
steel) fasteners. Wood was plentiful, but nails and other
iron items were expensive and at every opportunity were saved
for further use. What workshop or home today does not have
a stash of used nails or screws to rummage through to complete
The nail extractor shown here (patent #300,766, granted June
24, 1884) is part of a group of pullers classed as slide or
hammer type. They rely on the upper handle portion to move
along a shaft to set the jaws before extracting the nail or
spike. This particular item exemplifies the Victorian's desire
to decorate; the lower handle grip is a stylized boot shape.
The model shown is not a true representation of the patent
description and drawing; it is boldly marked as "Dirigo".
It is interesting to note that most first-time users of this
type of tool pinch some skin, as they invariably place their
lower hand in the wrong place while driving the ram with much
speed and force.