Saturday, 5 May 2012

Dead as a Doornail

Our bathroom door.
Ever wondered where the expression 'dead as a doornail' comes from? I don't think I had particularly, but recently, thanks to a lunch date with the Abbé Proust at his home in Richelieu, I found out.

The back of a reproduction oak plank door in the Chateau
d'Azay-le-Rideau, showing the bent over doornails.
I have always admired the hand forged door furniture you see on traditional oak plank doors. Typically these rustic doors are in the attic spaces of old houses here. We have one, left in situ to become the door to our bathroom. The Chateau d'Azay-le-Rideau has a beautiful example, reproduced by some modern master craftsman for the newly opened wall walk in the magnificent restored roof space.

The front of the door above.
And the Abbé, when I arrived for lunch, was busy constructing a very nice one of his own, to go in a doorway in a partition wall in his capacious attic. He showed me the hand made iron nails he had purchased from an expert on such matters from l'Ile Bouchard.

Close up of the hand forged doornail heads on our bathroom door.
It is difficult to know how old these are, but probably 19th century.
The nails are hammered in to the front of the door, then bent over and the point buried back into the door from behind. On the front they look like a rivet head, on the back they look like a staple. Once hammered home they cannot be removed and reused, as you cannot straighten them out, hence, they are 'dead'. They are used to join the wooden planks and braces that make up the door structure, to attach the door hinges and latches, and can be hammered in over the entire surface of the door for defensive or decorative purposes.

Our bathroom door from the inside.
To see what unused doornails look like, see here.

Susan

1 comment:

Pearl said...

huh, always neat to learn another etymology. lovely looking doors too.