Eventually, in the USA, towards the late 1700's and early 1800's, a nail machine was devised which helped to automate the process. Flat metal strips of around two feet (600mm) in length and the width slightly larger than the nail length was presented to the machine.
It was not until around 1600 that the first machine for making nails appeared, but that tended really to automate much of the blacksmith's job.
The 'Oliver' - a kind of work-bench, equipped with a pair of treadle operated hammers - provided a mechanism for beating the metal into various shapes but the nails were still made one at a time.
(this page contains the substance of an article entitled 'Traditional Cut Nails - worth preserving?
' written in May 2002 at the request of, and for inclusion in, the RICS Building Conservation Journal)For nail making, iron ore was heated with carbon to form a dense spongy mass of metal which was then fashioned into the shape of square rods and left to cool. After re-heating the rod in a forge, the blacksmith would cut off a nail length and hammer all four sides of the softened end to form a point.
The strip of metal was then turned through 180 to cut the next equal and opposite nail shape off the strip. Because the nail up until then was handmade, the first machines were naturally designed to re-produce the same shape of product - a square tapered nail with a rosehead, but only tapered down two sides of the shank.
Soon nail making really took off, primarily in the USA and also the UK with its captive markets of the British Empire.
Indeed, the price is not dissimilar to that charged for hand wrought nails in medieval times.
For even more detailed information on nail chronology to help determine the age of a building; the shapes of hand made nails; the first cut nails which were then headed in a second process; the fight during the period 1790-1820 to be the first to design the best 'one process' cut nail machine; or you would like to look at the British Army's Nail Standards manual dated 1813, here are the sources for these articles particularly the ones noted below. Phillips: Mechanic Geniuses and Duckies, A Revision of New England's Cut Nail Chronology Before 1820, APT Bulletin Vol. 3-4, and Mechanic Geniuses and Duckies Redux: Nail Makers and Their Machines, APT Bulletin XXVII No.
Then the nail maker would insert the hot nail into a hole in a nail header or anvil and with four glancing blows of the hammer would form the rosehead (a shallow pyramid shape).
This shape of nail had the benefit of four sharp edges on the shank which cut deep into timber and the tapered shank provided friction down its full length.
Cut nails for the restoration industry can amount to just a few pence each and it only takes a moment to assess their long term value say in comparison with the can of Coca Cola or Mars Bar you might buy for lunch.