n.— «Part of our loot included a a short wrecking bar known to carpenters as a cat-claw. It’s pretty rusted after lying out in the weather all those months.» —“Curious trash along the highway” by Carl Welser Daily Press & Argus (Livingston, Michigan) May 5, 2008. (source: Double-Tongued Dictionary)

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  1. Thomas says:

    The cat’s paw or cat’s claw is used by carpenters and construction workers chiefly for pulling out nails. It is heavier than a hammer with a curved, cloven head ideal for hacking into wood to reach headless nails buried under the surface. The smaller, more compact head is more suited to the violent removal of stubborn nails than the longer, wider reverse end of a hammer, which leaves no marks when used to extract nails, but is less useful in extracting headless nails or nails in awkward positions. Some designs resemble miniature crowbars with a ‘claw’ on one end and a wedge on the other. Another type is more like a hammer, with rubber sheathing around the handle. Their small size makes them perfect for the typical tool belt. They are standard items – hardly obscure.

  2. Thomas says:

    Link to image of cat’s paw.

  3. They may be a standard item—indeed I recognize it from the photo—but no dictionary I checked has that name for the tool. That’s why the term is recorded here.

  4. it’s not heavier than a hammer. how would one see a headless nail buried under the surface? the best kind has a nether end that is cloven but straight.–The Old Framer

  5. Thomas says:

    There are many shapes and sizes of cat’s paw. The one’s I’ve used were all heavier than my hammer. In light demolition, a carpenter doesn’t always see the nail that is holding twisted timber together, hence the whacking and gouging and prying to remove the hidden nail. The tool can also be hammered to penetrate the surface of wood to ‘dig out’ the stubs of nails or to gain more leverage for dislodging small timber work, pulling nails through the wood. I’ve seen cat’s paws of the type you describe and others that were flat and thin, cloven on both ends. Its a great little tool, simple and very flexible in its application on the construction site.

  6. is there a site where I could see these various cat’s paws? trivia: on the job it was sometimes referred to as a “pussyfoot.”

  7. Thomas says:

    Mr Walker – here is a link to a hardware website where you can see ‘nail pullers’. I guess Mr Grant is right that the term is unofficial. Everyone I know building houses calls them ‘cat’s paws’ but the gods of retail call them by another name.

  8. “party wall”–framing multi-units on the same deck, a wall that partitions one unit from another–usually there are two of these, 1″ apart, often insulated for sound–in architect lingo called a “demising wall”

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