Just about everybody knows how to drive nails. Getting them out again is another matter entirely, and in many cases it can turn into quite a hassle.
You may break the head off the nail you're trying to pull, or break the handle off the hammer you're trying to pull it with; you might split or dent the parts you're trying so carefully to disassemble, or even split a knuckle. But you shouldn't have these problems very often if you have the right tools and techiques. Here are some of the basic tools:
TACK-PULLER: This tool looks like a screw-driver with a curved, forked tip. It's a lot less cumbersome than other tools when you want to remove tacks from upholstery, carpets, picture frames and the like. If you want to prevent marring of the tacked surface, slide a piece of cardboard or a tongue depressor under the tool before you pry.
HAMMERS: Most homeowners know how to use a hammer for pulling nails; Some hammers have a "third claw," a notch in one of the claws. This is good for pulling small nails, and for working into tight spots, but it may break if used on large nails. Hammers are fine for pulling nails that aren't fully driven, but once a nail has been driven flush or below surface it becomes hard to grip with the hammer's claw. Other tools work much better.
CAT's PAW: Here's tool that works well on nails driven in flush or even deeper. You can put its curved claw next to the nailhead, hit the claw with a hammer to drive it down under and around the head, and then pry the nail above the surface. The cat's paw can pull relatively short nails all the way out, but its draw stroke isn't long enough for big nails, and you may have to finish the job with a hammer raised on a scrap of wood.
PRY BAR: This thin tool is best for disassembling parts of your house without damage. You can slip its slim tip between pieces of siding, for example, or behind a piece of molding, and pry enough to loosen the nails; then, with the hooked end of the tool, you can draw the nails. The bar's wide surface minimizes marring the pieces of wood you're prying at.
RIPPING BAR: Like the pry bar, this tool has a thin, wide tip to prevent damaging the pieces you're taking apart. But the ripping bar is a huskier tool, not quite as gentle. It's solid enough so you can use a hammer on its butt end to drive it between two boards. It has a short stroke, so it won't pull long nails all the way out; but most ripping bars have a tapered slot behind the tip, and you can slide this over the nailhead and pry up on the tool to pull longer nails. The only pronlem is that this will dig into the wood you're working on unless you pad the tip with a piece of scrap.
WRECKING BAR: This tool makes few concessions to neatness: Its main job is wrecking, getting things apart quickly even at the cost of destroying the parts. It has a tip for prying boards apart and for loosening nails, and a husky claw at the other end. Between the two is a long shaft that will give you all the leverage you need for pulling even the biggest spikes.
SLATE-PULLER: Though designed primarily for pulling nails on slate roofs, this tool comes in handy when repairing asphalt shingles, too. Its specialty is getting at nails that are hidden under overlapping shingles. To use it, you slide it under the shingle you want to remove. Hook the tip around the nail, then pound on the handle. In most cases, it won't pull the nail - rather, it will shear it off. But that's still good enough to free the shingle you want to remove.