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Denailing—the forcible extraction of the fingernails and/or toenails—was a favorite method of medieval torture that retains its popularity in the twenty-first century.

In its simplest form, the torture is conducted by spread-eagling the prisoner to a tabletop and using a metal forceps or pliers—often heated red-hot—to individually grasp each nail in turn and tear it from the finger or toe. A crueler variant used in medieval Spain was performed by introducing a sharp wedge of wood or metal between the flesh and each nail and slowly hammering the wedge under the nail until it was torn free.

Medieval German witch-hunters conducted this torture with rough wooden skewers dipped in boiling sulfur. A number of such skewers were slowly driven into the flesh under the prisoner's toenails. Alternately, the skewer was dipped in boiling oil, which served a dual purpose of both burning the incredibly sensitive flesh and lubricating the needle so that the torturer could freely explore a wide surface area beneath the toenail. When enough skewers had been driven home to pry each nail loose from its bed, the nail was torn out at the root with a pair of pliers.

See also

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