From the book "Feats of Strength and Dexterity" (1926)
Reprinted with permission of The Iron Master
A 20-penny nail or spike is usually used in feats of hand, arm and shoulder strength. Bear in mind, though, there is a hard and soft nail, and there is a real difference between them. I have seen very strong men who were not novices at spike-bending fail to more than slightly kink one of these hard metal nails. So be careful, for many an amateur who was unlucky enough to get hold of only soft nails in the past was completely stumped by being handed a hard nail. And to be handed a hard nail by a person who thinks all nails of the same size are the same strength is more humiliating than if a professional merely tries to fool you, because the person who does not know the difference between nails readily thinks you never could or did not bend one.
The way to proceed in this feat is to wrap both head and point of the nail with cloth similar to the method used in bending spikes with the jaw. Do not wrap the center of the nails.
Usually the bender takes the nail in both hands so that the wrapped point is in the center of one palm and the wrapped head is in the center of the other palm.
The hands are now brought up in front of the chest by bending the arms at the elbows. In this position, the backs of the hands face outward and the finger tips of the closed hands face into the chest. The two little fingers are now close together and the elbows are close to the sides.
The nail is now gripped as tightly as possible and the hands brought downward in front of the chest as the elbows go outward from the sides.
This has a bending affect on the nail provided enough strength is used.
It is possible to bend the nail in this way until the knuckles touch, but it can be bent more and easier by reversing the grip so that the thumbs are together and then bending the right knee slightly, place the left hand knuckles down on the thigh and pushing down on the nail with the right hand bend the nail until the head and point meet.
Some finish bending the spike by holding the nail between the knees and using the arm and leg strength. This last method is all right for beginners, but is not considered the proper way because the hands and arms are not used alone.
If you have started the nail bending and find that you cannot finish it in the proper way on top of the right thigh, then you can resort to the knee-and-hand style in order to determine just how much strength it takes and to satisfy yourself that you can bend a nail. But you must practice to be able to do it properly.
After you can finish a large nail fairly easy on your thigh practice finishing the bend at the chest. This is a little more difficult and naturally makes a better feat.
You can start and finish the bend with the hands at the chest position as outlined in the beginning of the chapter without changing the grip. You will find that as the point and head came close together the knuckles will prevent a compete bend. In this case, open the fingers and press the point and head together with the palms of the hands as then the knuckles will not be in the way.
You can also, after the nail is started in the usual way, reverse the grip so that the slightly bent center of the nail is up instead of down. Then the point and head will be downward and the thumbs close together instead of the little fingers. The hands, however, will remain at the chest and the bending is continued with the hands alone.
A few strong friends and myself were bending nails some time back; we became so efficient at it with the soft nails that we began to try the more difficult feat of straightening them again. This can be done with the exception of a slight kink that will remain in the nail.One night we were watching a strong man, among other feats, bend nails.
When he would finish bending one, he would pull off the wrapping and toss it out to the bystanders and proceed to bend another and do likewise with it.
We then obtained the nails from those who caught them and in a few seconds straighten them and threw them back on his platform. He glanced at the first one we threw back on his platform but went on with the act, completely ignoring the several others we threw back, probably recognizing in the straightened nails strength that was at least as great as his own. But it isn't a nice trick at that to show a man up unless he invites you.
IRON GAME/PHYSICAL CULTURE HISTORY