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A cat's paw is a standard carpenter's tool, consisting of a round or hexagonal bar that curves at one end to form a pointed, cup-shaped tip with a V-shaped cleft for gripping nailheads. To use the tool the user holds the tool's shank with one hand and drives the claw around a nailhead with a hammer. When the V is firmly seated around the nail's shank, the users pull the bar back to raise the head, then finishes pulling the nail with the hammer's claw. The cat's paw is well designed for demolition work, but because it tears up the wood around the nailhead, it should not be used for finish work.
Over one hundred years ago, nails were individually hand-made by blacksmiths, and were therefore far more valuable than the wood they were driven into. The book Nail Pullers with Patent Reference by Raymond P. Fredrich says that in the mid-19th century, wood was viewed as so plentiful in North America that if it became necessary to change one's location, "you might even burn your house down and pick up the nails in the ashes". Back then, nail pullers were designed to preserve the condition of the nail for reuse, and thus the design of most nail pullers ended up being what is known as the slide hammer type, which is still used today.
Old lumber has now become much more valuable than the nails that might hold it in place, so there has been a move toward designs that take out nails with less damage to the old growth wood. The cat's paw is still in use, but due to its design, which features an open "V" shape out at the end of a pry bar, the opening is widest right at the point where it is driven into the wood, and it causes a fair amount of damage to the wood fibers.
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