Rusty nails are annoying. They can stop you using a perfectly good piece of lumber and they discolor the area around them. If rusty nailed are left in the wrong places, they can be downright dangerous. If you are unlucky enough to step on one, there’s the risk of tetanus if it penetrates the skin. Add those factors together and you'll realize that it’s important to pull rusty nails out and safely get rid them.
Step 1 - Nails in Boards
Imagine you are looking through those spare pieces of wood in the garage to prepare for a job and find one that’s ideal. The only problem is that there are several old nails in it and all of them turned rusty. Before you can proceed, you need to get rid of them.
If the head of the nail isn’t flush with the wood, use the claw of a hammer to pull it out. This will work as long as the head isn’t so rusted that it disintegrates. Don’t yank the nail but make sure the claw is properly set and apply firm, even pressure to pull out the nail.
Where the head of the nail is flush but the point protrudes on the other side, use pliers to straighten the nail first. With the board supported but a gap left where the nail is, tap it slowly with the hammer until the head protrudes. This works even if the head has disintegrated. You can then use the claw hammer or pliers to pull out the nail. In all cases, dispose of the rusty nail safely and don’t just let it fall on the ground. You can use wood filler on the holes then sand even with the wood. If the wood is discolored, sand down the affected area and fill.
Step 2 - Nails in the Wall
If you have a nail in the wall or floor that’s gone rusty for some reason, you need to remove it before it discolors a large area. The problem here is that the head will be flush with the wall and you won’t be able to access the nail from the other side.
In this instance, you’ll need to use a small chisel to dig around the nail head. This isn’t a bad thing since it also removes the discoloration on the wall. It’s better to use pliers or vise grips to remove the nail from the wall. A claw hammer, however gently used, would be likely to put a small indentation in the plaster or drywall.
Grab as much of the nail as you can with the nose of the pliers. As you pull slowly and firmly, also twist the nail. This should make it easier to remove. Don’t be discouraged if it takes several attempts to remove it. Dispose of the nail safely.
Step 3 - Repairing Rust Damage
You’ll need to remove the area of drywall or wood floor that shows rust discoloration. Extend slightly beyond it as the chances are it won’t be particularly large unless the house has been the subject of extensive damage and neglect.
With wood, use wood filler on the nail hole and surround then sand down even and stain to match. On a wall, fill the area with an appropriate filler or plaster before sanding down before and painting.