Finally got to hunt an old home site yesterday evening. The elderly gentleman had given me permission to hunt all his property and he had kindly given me a little history of the different home site that were on the property. I listen intently to every word to obtain as much information as possible of each locations. One of the sites was a home assembled using wooden pegs. He proceeded to explain that he tore the home down and burned the balance then proceeded to get a dozer to grade the property and fill in with dirt. He did explain that anything there would be over a foot deep and he was correct, I couldn’t find anything that would date the property to the early 1800’s.
The second site I hit yesterday and even though I didn’t find any nice relics I had a lot of fun just hunting. Moving around in the area I noticed a section where the Equinox would give many false high tones. Knowing this usually meant iron I opened up the screen and every sweep revealed multiply low tone iron signals. After a while I decided to start digging these low tones that gave an ID of -3 and found my answer, cut nails. Wow, that means I’m on an old site, yes, excitement overwhelmed me for a few minutes.
Noticed the Ole man walking up the field to where I was I waited for his arrival. Knowing he would have more to say and the very first thing out of his mouth was, “have you dug any cut nails yet?” My answer, yes sir and handed him one and the story unfolds more detail of the site. He said when he was a child there was only a few foundation rocks left of this house, no wood but only the rock foundation. That was 80 years ago and he estimated the site may have been 200 years old. At that point I got extremely excited at what might be here until the very next statement from the gentleman. “Mark, I had the site leveled many years ago.” “But I pushed all the dirt to level the lot in one direction and I would guess your best bet of finding anything would be along the banks of the hill.” Well, yet another let down, a site dozed, that destroys the originality of where and what could have been found. But I’ll continue to hunt while I can and digging cuts nails is still fun.
"Nails provide one of the best clues to help determine the age of historic buildings, especially those constructed during the nineteenth century, when nail-making technology advanced rapidly. Until the last decade of the 1700s and the early 1800s, hand-wrought nails typically fastened the sheathing and roof boards on building frames. These nails were made one by one by a blacksmith or nailor from square iron rod. After heating the rod in a forge, the nailor would hammer all four sides of the softened end to form a point. The pointed nail rod was reheated and cut off. Then the nail maker would insert the hot nail into a hole in a nail header or anvil and form a head with several glancing blows of the hammer. The most common shape was the rosehead; however, broad "butterfly" heads and narrow L-heads also were crafted. L-head nails were popular for finish work, trim boards, and flooring.
Between the 1790s and the early 1800s, various machines were invented in the United States for making nails from bars of iron. The earliest machines sheared nails off the iron bar like a guillotine. The taper of the shank was produced by wiggling the bar from side to side with every stroke. These are known as type A cut nails. At first, the heads were typically made by hand as before, but soon separate mechanical nail heading machines were developed that pounded a head on the end of each nail. This type of nail was made until the 1820s.
By the 1810s, however, a more effective design for a nail making machine was developed; it flipped the iron bar over after each stroke. With the cutter set at an angle, every nail was sheared off to a taper. With the resulting nails thus all oriented in the same direction, it became possible for the same machine to automatically grip each nail and form a head in a continuous mechanical operation. Nails made by this method are known as type B nails.
Cutting the nails leaves a small burr along the edge as the metal is sheared. By carefully examining the edges for evidence of these burrs, it is possible to distinguish between the earlier type A nails and the later type B nails. Type A nails have burrs on the diagonally opposite edges, while the type B nails have both burrs on the same side because the metal was flipped for each stroke.
This kind of evidence can be used to establish the approximate period of construction or alteration of a building. Type B cut nails continued to be the most common through most of the greater part of the nineteenth century.
With the rapid development of the Bessemer process for producing inexpensive soft steel during the 1880s, however, the popularity of using iron for nail making quickly waned. By 1886, 10 percent of the nails produced in the United States were made of soft steel wire. Within six years, more steel-wire nails were being produced than iron-cut nails. By 1913, 90 percent were wire nails. Cut nails are still made today, however, with the type B method. These are commonly used for fastening hardwood flooring and for various other specialty uses."