Mike Foley's inspiration came out of a 2002 remodeling project at his log cabin north of Hailey.
Midway through the task of pulling up carpeting to lay down new flooring, the self-described do-it-yourself guy was having a difficult time with the skinny nails, or brads, that were keeping the old flooring down.
Nothing Foley tried made it easier to remove the frustrating fasteners.
Searching through his extensive collection of tools for something better suited to pull the nails out, Foley discovered he didn't have one.
"I realized there was no tool, so I made it," he said Thursday.
The result was the Nail Jack.
And it works. Since then, Foley, 49, has been working to get the handy little tool patented and on the market.
Some may beg to differ after trying out the Nail Jack, but Foley claims he's really not an inventor. This, he said, was just a one-time inspiration.
"I wanted to have something that nobody else had in the world," he said in a telephone interview.
He got his wish. Now, the editors at Popular Mechanics have come to agree with him. Just last week the magazine recognized Foley's invention with its coveted Editor's Choice Award.
Popular Mechanics staff discovered the Nail Jack in the halls of the Las Vegas Convention Center for the 2009 National Hardware Show, which was held May 5-7. According to the magazine's editors, the tool was one of the "Top 15 New Tools" showcased.
Described as a hybrid between pliers and a nail-removal tool called a cat's paw, the Nail Jack can easily yank out nails, staples and brads with a firm grip and a quick rock backwards or sideways, the magazine's editors said in an online review.
"What we really like, though, is that it's tough enough to be hammered down into the wood surrounding a buried nail head," they noted. "The chisel-edged jaws sink in and snag the stubborn fastener, and the offset handles give plenty of knuckle-saving clearance when jacking the nail out of its hole."
More than 650 product manufacturers displayed their wares during the hardware and tool segment of the Las Vegas show.
Both the Nail Jack and another tool Foley came up with—he calls that one the Nail Hunter—are being marketed by his company, Nail Jack Tools.
So far, Foley has been awarded two patents. He has numerous other patents pending for his invention. He's well-suited to the chore of navigating patenting bureaucracy. The nine-year resident of the valley described the lengthy patenting process as "fun."
Looking to the future, Foley said he's looking forward to the next stage: getting the Nail Jack in stores and taking it international.
"Now," he said, "the real fun begins."
He credits much of his success to another Wood River Valley resident, computer-aided design expert Brent Vanbueren of Ketchum. VanBueren was able to transfer his idea from "the back of a napkin to a real product," Foley said.
"Because of him I was able to go to the next step," he said.
Despite being selected for the award out of a pool of numerous candidates, Foley remains modest about his success.
"It's not that big of a deal," he said.
Jason Kauffman: firstname.lastname@example.org