This section is from the book "The Gardener V3", by William Thomson. Also available from Amazon: The New Organic Grower: A Master's Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener.
Having regularly addressed the readers of the 'Gardener' from month to month upon the cultivation of hardy fruits for the last three years, I now lift my pen for the last time upon the subject, and would briefly address them upon the art of nailing. It must not be understood, however, that my reasons for so doing are because I consider that the nailing of trees to the wall with cloth and nails is the best method. I consider that where the gardener can get his employer to face the walls with a wire trellis he should by all means accept the offer at once, as there is no plan I know of at all to compare to this, whether we take into consideration the amount of labour necessary to keep the trees in trim, the difference of the prices between the materials employed for the work, or the cleanliness and health of the trees under cultivation.
The concluding chapter of a series such as I have given in the ' Gardener' can very properly be devoted to such a subject as the art of nailing, as I believe that, notwithstanding all that has been said and written upon the other side, at least nine-tenths of our wall-trees are at the present time trained upon the old method with shreds and nails. The only advantage in the method is that trees can be trained more neatly in this way than by the tying of the wood to trellis-work. Even in the matter of economy we believe that in the end the trellis-work would prove the cheaper, as all that is necessary for the work is a few pounds of string yearly, which will not cost more than twenty per cent of what is necessary to buy the nails and shreds used for nailing, not to speak of the extra amount of time that is necessary to perform the work on the old method. Everything considered, we believe that we are not far from the mark when we say that from 12 to 15 years is sufficient time for the trellis-work to become cheaper to the proprietor than the old plan of nailing.
As we are not however, discussing this point, we will at once come to the subject of our present paper, and treat as briefly and plainly as possible the art of nailing. Some may think that it is almost unnecessary to enter upon this subject, as nailing is a thing any one can perform. That I frankly admit: any man can nail, but every man is not a good nailer. The truth is, that very few have any very clear or definite ideas about the matter at all. Many think all that is necessary is to fix the shoot against the wall so as not to be broken by the wind, no matter whether it is artistically done or not. This is a great fallacy, as it is as easy to do the work artistically as not, while it does the tree no injury if it has been regularly attended to in the same way all along; and no one can deny that a tree artistically trained is a thing to look upon and admire, whereas, on the other hand, a tree badly trained is an eyesore the whole season through. It is nevertheless true that the mere nailing of the tree, except in one or two particular cases which we adverted to in some of our former papers, has nothing at all to do with the fruit-producing qualities of the tree. It will therefore be evident that artistic training of trees is advocated by us for appearance' sake only.
The first thing to be considered at the nailing season is to have in readiness all the necessary requirements, which include a hammer, a leather bag with straps to reach over the shoulders and round the waist, a bunch of tarred twine for tying the stronger branches, a quantity of cast-iron nails, and a quantity of shreds. If the bag is divided into two compartments, all the better, for the nails and shreds can be kept separate. The shreds ought to be neatly cut, in lengths of from 2 to 4 inches, and of not more than ½ an inch in width. These things having been procured, the work may at once commence; the workman taking a few nails and a few shreds into his left hand, and retaining them there, while his hammer is placed in the bag, in readiness to be used at any moment. Commencing at the stem of the tree, he looks along every branch, removing every tie or shred that is either hurting the tree, or from age and decay has become of no service. If necessary, these must be replaced by new material; if not, there is no use to do more than remove the old. Where a new shred is needed, the operator selects a shred from his left hand, and also a nail.
The former he takes hold of with the thumb and forefinger of the left hand, while he places the nail between the middle and fore fingers of his right hand, with the point facing outwards. This having been done, he places the shred round the branch to be nailed in the position it is to occupy, and drawing the shred so that one end is longer than the other, thereby enabling him to fold the long end far enough over the short end, so that the nail passes through three folds of cloth, in place of two. The nail having been placed in this position, and taken hold of by the left thumb and forefinger, the hammer is lifted from the bag by the right hand, and the nail driven into a seam of the wall, when the hammer is at once returned to the bag. This course is to be regularly pursued at all times, always having plenty of nails and shreds in the left hand, and the hammer always in the bag, except when in use. It is a little awkward to a man who has been trained otherwise to adopt this method, for a few hours, but I never yet met with a man who had tried it for a day or two, who would ever think of working any other way again. By pursuing this method, one man will perform twice as much work, in a given time, as he or any other one will do, no matter what plan he tries.
The plan adopted by most men is to keep the hammer in the right hand almost constantly, and to select from the bag each individual nail and shred as it is required. The first objection to this plan is, that the hammer is continually in the way, often coming in contact with the branches, spurs, or buds, and, as a consequence, injuring them to a less or greater extent; and in the second place, there is more time occupied in selecting a nail and shred from the bag than is necessary. If in the left hand is always kept a stock of nails and shreds, the moment it is opened the workman can always see at a glance the size of shred required, and therefore not a moment is lost in the selection.