We started this blog because we have always been curious about things, and the Blogosphere seemed to offer untold opportunities to discover new ideas, places, people and things. It has seldom disappointed. Information and discovery come to us with increasing velocity, occasionally overwhelming our ability to process and retain those things that have value. Bloggers help us uncover those bits of data that can have relevance to us as individuals, and a provide a larger impact on our society. That’s the big idea of this post.
Here’s the small idea of this post. A better nail means better, stronger houses that can resist the destructive force of hurricanes and tornadoes. The story begins with Ed Sutt, a PhD graduate of Clemson University:
Hurricane Marilyn had just torn through St. Thomas, and Sutt was part
of a team examining how and why 80 percent of the island’s homes and
businesses had collapsed in the storm’s 95mph winds.
“The destruction was so complete in places that it was almost
surreal,” Sutt recalls. “There were troops in the streets and military
helicopters hovering overhead.” As Sutt moved through the wreckage of
roofless and toppled-over houses, he was struck by the sense that much
of the destruction could have been avoided. “In house after house,” he
says, “I noticed that it wasn’t the wood that had failed—it was the
nails that held the wood together.”
Sutt understood what Man has long known, that wood is a terrific material for a building. What apparently had been lost was the integrity of assembly. In the search for faster, less expensive means of connecting the raw material of the structure, we have unwittingly sacrificed structural integrity for speed and the bottom line. Post and beam construction had given way to pre-made trusses and nail guns. Municipal building codes have tried to force secure fastenings on the construction industry, but no one realized that what was needed was a better fastener.
For more than two centuries, nails have been the fastener of choice for
wood-frame structures. But for all that is riding on nails, they have
been the focus of precious little R&D. Nails have evolved into a
grab-whatever’s-cheapest commodity, taken for granted by contractors
When he integrated the results of the fieldwork with his laboratory
experiments, Sutt discovered that the most effective way to strengthen
a house was to improve its fasteners, especially the nails that hold
the roof and wall sheathing to the frame. “I began to see that the
engineers and building-code writers had been missing the point.
Everyone had always just accepted that a nail is a nail. No one was
focusing on what we could do to make the connection better.”
…Although there are no precise statistics, Sutt’s research indicated
that nail failure accounted for a substantial percentage of the
destruction in these catastrophes. And when nails fail, it’s for one of
three reasons. Either the nail rips its head through the sheathing, its
shank pulls out of the frame, or its midsection snaps under the lateral
loads that rock a house during high winds and earthquakes. Sutt’s job
was to design a nail that resisted all three.
And he has succeeded. A vastly improved nail is now available to builders, one that will dramatically reduce the destruction of wood houses in hurricanes and tornadoes.
Sutt’s bosses at Bostitch must be happy too. The company is selling
every HurriQuake nail it produces and has been doubling production
capacity every month. 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), the company is adding new production lines to
meet nationwide demand. Meanwhile, the nail is getting rave reviews
from building-technology experts.
“This is a major innovation,” says Tim Reinhold, director of
engineering for the Institute for Business and Home Safety, an
insurance-industry research group. “And in places that are affected by
high winds and earthquakes, it looks like it’s going to make a big
Before I leave Clemson, I ask Schiff if he sees any downside
to his protege’s invention. “Homeowners and insurance companies are
going to love these nails,” he says. “But contractors are going to hate
them, because when they make mistakes, it’s not a trivial thing to
remove them. Once you nail something together, it’s going to stay
“To us, that’s a good thing.”
That’s a good thing for everybody. Now it is up to our local governments to codify the new nail, it’s up to our local builders to use the nail even without code requirements, and it’s up to individuals to insist that their builder use the nail now.