The Amish are famous for their capabilities as carpenters, especially in areas where they work as contractors.
But the Amish are also famous for doing things the “old-fashioned way.”
So how old-fashioned do they get? And how does that apply to the way they work as carpenters?
Most importantly, do the Amish use nails?
In this blog, we’ll answer that question with a short and long response.
First, the short answer.
Do the Amish Build with Nails? Yes
It’s true that the Amish use nails when they work in carpentry.
This is because nails are affordable, available, and easy to work.
In carpentry terms, they’re the best thing since sliced bread.
This is especially true for the Amish, who often don’t or can’t use power tools because of their religious convictions (though this can vary depending on the person).
So if it’s such a straight answer as to whether the Amish use nails, why do so many people ask the question?
Why Do People Ask if the Amish Use Nails?
There are a few possible reasons that people ask about the Amish using nails. We’ll cover some of the most common reasons below.
1. The Amish Don’t Use Technology
While today’s definition of technology tends to hover around products that are digital in nature, that hasn’t always been the case.
In fact, the invention of the screw is considered a technological advancement over the nail.
But because the Amish forbid technology on such a universal level, it’s easy for many to wonder if that extends to the work materials they can use as well.
This is compounded by the fact that the Amish are reputed carpenters, especially when it comes to events like a community barn-raising.
So if someone knows that the Amish can work as carpenters and that they don’t use technology, it’s only natural to wonder where the cutoff for “technology” exists when it comes to their livelihood.
2. The Amish Use Old Carpentry Techniques
With the previous section in mind, it’s also important to note that Amish carpentry doesn’t involve a lot of modern machinery or electrical tools.
Often, the work is done with hand- or human-powered tools for everything from sawing to hammering.
This means that the building techniques of the Amish are considered very old by today’s standards.
It also means that, for bigger structures like a barn, they may not be able to use the heavy-duty rivets that help keep such a big structure secure.
Instead, the Amish may use large, round, wooden dowels to take the place of rivets and other hardware.
Dowels are almost never used anymore in construction because of readily-available steel alternatives (like rivets). But when you don’t have modern machinery to drive rivets, then you can’t easily use them.
For this reason, the Amish will connect immense wooden beams to form the structure of a barn or home with wooden dowels. They do the same job as a rivet (more or less), and because it’s only used in the framing, the strength of wood is almost always enough to keep the structure together.
This is in contrast to other modern structures, like bridges, that may experience constant stress and fluctuations in weight.
But because the Amish don’t have to worry about that kind of thing on, say, the roof of a barn, wooden dowels can easily hold together large wooden beams through friction and tension alone.
These dowels are often driven by a sledgehammer because they’re made to be such a precise and tight fit.
And if someone were to see an Amish person connecting two large wooden beams with dowels, then they could also be forgiven for thinking that the Amish use dowels for everything.
3. Other Old Carpentry Techniques Don’t Use Nails
The third reason that some people may ask whether the Amish use nails is the sheer age of the Amish culture.
Because they insist on living in a secluded and isolated worldview, someone could easily understand that to mean that they also practice older carpentry techniques (like we just discussed).
However, the trick here is that some old carpentry techniques don’t use nails at all.
The Japanese are perhaps the most famous example of carpentry without nails. They were (and still are) capable of building wood-only structures through the art of joinery that kept some structures standing for hundreds of years.
Other examples of old-school joinery include Norse methods, Portuguese methods, and many more.
There are also a wide variety of specific joinery techniques that someone could perform by hand, though using a machine makes them significantly easier.
Bearing this in mind, it’s only natural to wonder if the Amish somehow use a technique that’s similar to these ancient methods.
And because of the way they build the framing of barns, there’s some truth to this thought as well.
4. “Amish” Is Also a Marketing Term
Finally, someone may wonder if the Amish use nails because they saw an ad somewhere for an “Amish” product.
These can include a huge variety of items these days, whether the item is truly made by Amish hands or mildly inspired by the Amish in some way. There’s no authentication or certification board that oversees the use of the word “Amish” in marketing in the same way that, say, produce may have to be proven to be “organic.”
So any company that’s trying to sell a product, especially one that’s made of wood, could claim some kind of relation to the Amish just by throwing the name around.
That alone can lead to a lot of confusion, especially if an ad attempts to stake claims or relationships between the Amish and the techniques used in the creation of their products.
Want to Learn More about the Amish?
We wrote an enormous book of answers to 53 of the most common questions we’ve heard about the Amish.
Now, you can get it on Amazon!
(It’s also a great gift for history buffs and Amish aficionados!)
Click the button below to pick up our book in paperback, hardback, or digital format.