There's no two ways about it, denailing reclaimed wood is not fun. The wood's usually filthy, sometime's it's loaded with nails, and those nails are almost always mangled - due to deconstruction/demolition/loading/hauling - or borderline impossible to get out easily. If the object was simply to remove the nails, it wouldn't be such an ordeal; trying to preserve the wood around the nail, and remove the nail without marring the lumber, that's what makes it a little challenging at times.
The upside to having to denail the wood is that it's an opportunity to painstakingly run one's eyes and hands across just about every square inch of the material, which sometimes leads to interesting discoveries or observations that would otherwise be missed or overlooked. In the past, during denailing, I've come across initials and dates carved into the wood, I've noticed branding marks stamped into the wood, and I've definitely learned a lot about various construction means and methods. Granted, you have to be halfway interested in good craftsmanship and/or history to really appreciate these things, but still, an unexpected find is an unexpected find, and on some level, just about everybody can find something to enjoy about those.
Today I started denailing some of the lumber I recently hauled into the shop; we tried to take care of the bulk of the denailing while still on site, but the truth is, it generally takes two or three once-overs to really find all the nails. In the July heat here in Missouri, sometimes it's pretty easy to half-ass the on-site denailing just for the sake of getting the lumber loaded and on the road. As such...there's still quite a bit of denailing to be done.
The chunk of lumber shown in the above pic, that was something I wanted to denail and get cleaned up just to show my partner in this little venture what we had on our hands in terms of the lumber's look. But it's also a good example of what one runs into when dealing: giant nails, bent nails, headless nails, and in this case, two different types of nails (common steel nails and old-school cast iron square cut nails). While some tools are better than others when it comes to denailing, no tool is off limits; anything that'll get the job done isn't inappropriate.
One of the boards I started fooling around with was one of the roof rafters, which had a bunch of cast iron hooks nailed into it on both sides as a means of hanging meat. The joinery notches on either end of the rafter were still pretty much intact, as were the hooks, so I figured I'd pop the hooks off of one side of the board so that it would sit flat against a wall, get the thing cleaned up and see if I can't market the thing as a coat (or whatever) hanger of sorts. The removed hooks will get sold separately, or used in some other fashion. Maybe the rafter and hook combination is more valuable as separate parts and pieces, but it's always difficult to disassemble a complete, original item; things can always be disassembled if need be, no sense in doing it until or unless it's necessary.
One of the things I noticed when removing hooks from one side of the rafter was that the nails used to fasten the hooks, they went through the rafter and poked out the other side. The protruding portion had been bent over and banged back into the wood, probably so hands didn't get shredded when hanging meat. The divots in the wood caused by those hammer blows...they're massive. Whoever bent those nails over was swinging something huge.
See those two slightly curved indentations in the wood just north of the head of my hammer? Those were made when somebody bent the ends of those nails over; a modern, conventional hammer, like the one in the pic, that'd leave a mark 1/3 that size.
The thing that fascinates me about noticing something that relatively mundane is simply imagining the construction of the barn, and how many times a hammer that large must have been swung to drive (or bend over) all the square cut nails that were used. Square cut nails are no joke, and to drive the hundreds that were used, with a hammer big enough to leave marks like the one in the above pic...no power tools, no air-conditioning or heater to escape to, probably no breaks in the first place...this thing was built by some hard-workin' people, and those giant scars in the wood...that's the proof.