Cut tacks are stamped out of square steel. The result is a square shank and head. This quality alone makes it both a stronger fastener in and of itself than a round nail, as well as able to grab more pitch on both the wood into which it is driven as well as the cloth/leather/reed that it is trying to hold. The process of cutting a product from stock can produce an extremely sharp point. Traditionally finished with a barbed end, when coupled with its sharpness (think of how sharp a sliver of steel is), these characteristics allowed for easier insertion of the tack by hand. This mostly was done in order to allow precise alignment of the tack, which was necessary for both strength in its given application as well as for having an aesthetically pleasing, precisely aligned row of fasteners. The barbed end also allowed for more easily clinching the end in tasks such as leatherwork or basketry. A tack which stood upright by itself was also a real finger-saver, something you know if you have ever tried to start a small nail by hand when using a hammer, even though tack hammers were traditionally smaller in size and weight. The traditional blue colour of cut tacks is produced by heat treating them, which is done after cutting and cleaning. This heating both allows them to blend more easily with coloured upholstery, as well as to produce a ‘stickier’ product by opening the pours of the steel, allowing them to grab better. For anyone who has ever tried to removed them, they are the devil to get out! They will rust if exposed to moisture.
Cut tacks are measured by the 1/16” and sold by weight. A tiny two ounce package of #8 x 9/16” tacks numbered approximately 150 and cost me $2.50 CDN…which is a royal rip-off.
Cut tacks should be used to fasten loom canvases to loom reels for all of the reasons listed above. While staples are common today, they are really inappropriate for a job under such pressure, in spite of the fact that canvases bind around themselves numerous times before having the warp attached. In upholstery applications, tacks are attached every inch.