Whether you’re a professional or a DIYer, there are times when you’ll want to pull a nail safely and efficiently from the wood it’s anchored to. The best nail puller tools help right the wrongs made during construction projects, ease deconstruction, and make wooden boards yours to reclaim.
There are six types of nail pullers:
- Traditional nail puller: With one of the oldest and most time-tested designs around, the jaws on these nail pullers grab nail heads that have been driven into wood with the force of a hammer strike and pull them out with the leverage created by the sliding handle. They remove large and small nails with minimal damage to the wood. It’s important to note though that this type of nail puller is bulky and less portable than some of the other styles.
- Pincer plier: These pliers are specifically for nail removal. The nail is grabbed in the rounded jaw and then pried out by rolling the rounded head of the pliers sideways towards the wood. A pincer is compact and portable and grabs nails that a hammer’s claw can’t, like the heads of finish nails. Use them in confined spaces where a claw hammer can’t reach or maneuver. They also cause minimal damage to the underlying wood.
- Cat’s paw: The cat’s paw is a pry bar designed specifically for pulling nails. It has two claws: one aligned with the tool’s shaft on one end; the other set at a 90-degree angle on the other end. As opposed to pincers, cat’s paws usually damage the wood the nail is anchored to in the process of removal. For that reason, cat’s paws are best for rough framing and demolition jobs where aesthetics aren’t the primary concern.
- Puller plier: These are essentially a standard pair of pliers with the addition of a top rounded “roll bar” for prying a nail out after the plier’s jaws have grabbed the nail head. These are useful for large nails with partially exposed heads that you want to remove with minimal damage to the underlying wood. But, they do tend to damage the wood more than pincer pliers.
- Gooseneck: These are essentially large versions of a cat’s paw that also incorporates elements of a standard pry bar. They have a large 90-degree claw on the top end, with a flat pry bar—usually with a nail puller slot—on the bottom. Goosenecks are great for removing large nails quickly and easily, owing to their large shafts that provide maximum leverage.
- Air Punch: Air punches are essentially pneumatic nail guns in reverse. Powered by compressed air, they eject a small metal rod from the nose of the gun to “punch” the head of the nail all the way through the board. Instead of using manual force as you would with a handheld nail puller, all you have to do to operate an air punch is slip the nose of the punch over the nail and pull the trigger. These save a lot of time and effort when you’re trying to denail a large number of wooden boards to be reclaimed, but they aren’t as useful for removing fastened boards that require pulling the nail head out—not through— the wood.
Our Top Picks
Now that you know something about the different types of nail pullers, you can make an informed decision about which type is the best nail puller for your project. To help make your decision even easier, consider the following top-rated choices for each type of nail puller.
Crescent’s nail puller removes the largest framing nails and tiny trim nails with small heads that other tools may have a hard time grabbing. The durable alloy steel handle extends and slides both to drive the jaws into the wood to grab the nail and to provide leverage for pulling the nail out. The long steel roll bar offers additional leverage, and it’s round enough not to damage the wooden surface. The hardened steel grabbing jaws stand up to tough conditions at home or on the job.
At 18 inches long, it’s larger than most other nail pullers, so it may not fit in a pocket or in most tool bags. Although it might take a little time to learn how to use this puller compared to other pullers, you may find it’s well worth the effort.
For a high-quality cat’s paw nail puller at an affordable price, Estwing’s nail puller satisfies the budget constraints and quality demands of most woodworkers. Cat’s paws usually can’t grab headless nails, but the claws on this Estwing model are up to the task. At just 12 inches, they’ll fit in a toolbelt or a pocket and maneuvers around tight spaces. The tempered, forged steel stands up to tough conditions on most job sites, while the price point is suitable for DIYers on a budget.
The smaller shaft size on this puller may not provide enough leverage for removing larger nails, but the value is pretty hard to beat.
Powerful, durable, and portable, Stiletto’s 12-inch cat’s paw nail puller is good enough for the pros. At 8.5 ounces, it’s lighter and stronger than steel. It’s also considerably more shock-absorbent than other cat’s paws, which translates into reduced recoil when it’s struck with a hammer and less fatigue as you work. The “dimpler” feature creates a recession around the nail head to help you avoid chipping the wood.
This puller is pricier than most other nail pullers so it’s best suited to pros and avid DIYers who can justify the expense with regular use.
For many people, pincers are the nail puller of choice for removing headless nails without damaging the underlying wood. Gunpla’s pincer pliers have rounded jaws with just the right dimensions to provide maximum prying leverage for small nails without digging into the wood. The sharp jaws made of high-carbon steel grab and pull nails out. For exposed nails that don’t need to be completely removed, these jaws snip off the ends.
The vinyl-coated ergonomic handles make comfortable work of pulling nails. The handles are long enough to provide good leverage for pulling small nails, but not so long that they hinder working in tight spaces.
At a mere 8 inches, these pincers fit in a toolbelt or a pocket. These pliers’ small size may not offer enough leverage for pulling larger nails and may require more manual effort than a larger puller does.
Sometimes pincers just won’t cut it. If you need something for larger, tougher nails, Crescent’s 11-inch puller pliers may do the trick. Their plier teeth grab onto the head of the nail, and the large roller bar finishes the job of prying it out. These sturdy forged steel pliers with an aesthetic black oxide finish are rust-resistant. The ergonomic rubber handles allow for a comfortable grip. At 11 inches, they’ll give you plenty of leverage and still fit in a toolbelt or pocket when you’re finished.
These pullers do more damage to wood than pincers do. So, they’re best suited to demolition projects. But, they have a more delicate touch than other pullers, such as a cat’s paw, so you may still be able to reclaim the wood.
Gooseneck bars are the pros’ go-to tool for heavy-duty nail pulling. Estwing’s 36-inch gooseneck has all the features for your next deconstruction project. This pry bar has large, cupped, nail-pulling claws, a forged steel bar, and a nail-pulling slot on the bottom.
The incredible leverage the 36-inch bar length grants beats most any other pulling hand tool. It’s a great choice for removing large and tough framing nails quickly and with minimal manual force. The primary disadvantage of this bar is that it’s too large to carry on your person. If that’s a deal breaker, look at the other available sizes from 12 to 30 inches.
If you need to quickly de-nail a piece of wood that’s meant to be reclaimed, consider the Air Locker AP700. This pneumatic power tool uses compressed air to pop nails out of wood. You simply slip the nose of the punch over the nail you want to remove and pull the trigger. A small metal rod powerfully punches the nail through the board.
Air Locker claims that you can denail a large pallet in under a minute, which is considerably faster than you could do it by hand. It works on both hard and soft wood, so use it to reclaim items such as floorboards, barn lumber, and decking boards to name a few. Equipped with a rubber handle and weighing just 2 pounds, it’s comfortable to use over an extended period of time. Keep in mind, this tool does require a separate compressor and an air hose to operate.