If you’ve ever done finish carpentry by hand, you probably have an assortment of nail sets in your toolbox. They’re essential to hand carpentry because they're how you countersink a finish nail without leaving hammer dents everywhere. The idea of a nail set may be simple, but design and materials can still make a difference. I have some sets that are perfectly round, and they roll off the workbench every time I use them. An inexpensive nail set I bought somewhere ended up with a blunt tip after way too few hammer strikes.
Stanley Tools makes three standard-size nail sets, forged from hardened steel, that I find well-designed. You can buy them in a set of three or get them individually: mine, the size with a 3/32-inch tip, is the largest of the three. This size is intended for use on larger finish nails -- about 12d to 20d – although the tip is concave to fit over the heads of smaller nails.
This one, the Stanley 58-913 Nail Set, is a bit over 5 inches long overall. The body has three sections: a square upper section 5/8 inch long to keep it from rolling; a lower section that tapers over 1½ inches to the hardened tip, and a textured 2-inch center section where you grip it. There’s a little round “button” on the top where you strike it with a hammer. The top two sections have been coated in polymer to improve “grippiness,” whether bare-handed or with gloves. The three sets are color-coded: the 3/32-inch version is red, the 2/32 is gray and the 1/32 has a yellow coating. The square section at the top is marked “MADE IN USA” and the Stanley name is printed on the middle section. I have no idea how old mine is; I found it somewhere several years ago.
The set has served well for outdoor building projects using galvanized finish nails. It’s easy to grip without slipping, and the tip has held its shape even though the striking surface has taken on a mushroom shape from long-time use. I especially like the 5-inch length, which is large enough that I can hold the set in a closed fist and still have half an inch projecting at both ends. A four-inch version would barely span the palm of my hand.
I like my Stanley nail set, and would happily buy more of them if I didn’t already have bunches of nail sets around. You should get one yourself.