Imagine working with some beautiful pieces of cherry or mahogany, and the project underway is almost done, and in hopes of finishing early for the day, you hammer a little faster than necessary, and ping, the wood splits. A project is now delayed and/or potentially ruined.
With the advent of modern tools, such as compressors and nail guns, splitting is less of a problem, but if those tools are not part of your repertoire, and just a hammer and nails are available, there are a few tips that will prevent wood from splitting.
1. The most commonly used trick is to dull the tip of the nail by striking it on a hard surface. I call upon that technique for every nail I use, because even if it is superfluous, it is a good habit to have. I keep a piece of brick or stone handy, on which I can tap the nail with the hammer. Concrete floor are great for this as well.
2. Nails can also be lubricated with petroleum jelly or wax.
3. The larger the nail, the more likely it is to split the wood, so, electrically or by hand, use a drill bit to make a hole slightly smaller than the nail.
4. Remember that the harder the wood–like oak, cherry, walnut, and birch–the easier it splits.