Filling Nail Holes

Tips for filling nail holes in painted- or clear-finished trim.
Filling Nail Holes

Painted finish
When you're working with a painted finish, you have a good deal of leeway on the timing of the filler. You can fill holes in raw wood or even after a color coat.

There are two general categories of fillers. One is a dry powder that you mix with water: Durham's Rock Hard Water Putty is one brand. The other -- available in cans or tubes -- is premixed with solvent such as Plastic Wood. Although the solvent-base product has a slight advantage in convenience, it costs considerably more than the powdered type. Evaporation during storage can solidify the unused solvent product, further boosting its expense. If kept dry, the powder form has exceptional longevity.

Applying both filler types is virtually identical. Pack every hole full, then leave a slight mound of extra material to compensate for shrinkage. When the material is dry (the powdered type dries more rapidly), lightly sand the surface to bring the filled hole flush with the surrounding wood. Proceed with the primer and color coats.

Clear finish
Filling holes in a clear finish introduces an additional complication -- matching the color of the wood. Do not believe any advertising that claims wood filler will accept stain and finish like genuine wood.

To see the true filler colors you'll need, first stain the raw wood, if desired, then apply the initial clear coat. Take a sample of the stained and coated wood to the paint store and purchase at least two shades of colored putty -- one that approximates the deepest tone of the wood and one that's a close match for its lightest portion. When you get home, scoop out a chunk of each shade and knead them together, but leave the combination slightly streaky. Scoop out a ball of straight dark putty and one of the light putty. With these three, you now have a good palette of colors that will match nearly every tone of the wood.

Painted Finish

Slightly overfill holes to allow for the filler's shrinkage. A sanding block will remove the excess while keeping the surface flat.

Clear Finish

Buy light and dark putty, then mix the two together to create a medium tone. Rub some putty over a hole, pushing in to firmly seat the putty, then wipe off the excess with your finger (wear rubber gloves). Apply at least one more coat of finish to seal in the putty and give it a sheen that matches the surrounding wood.

Make Your Mark

Some stain manufacturers also package stain in a felt-tip pen that makes touch-ups fast and easy. Use it at miters that are slightly misaligned or to eliminate the raw look from exposed cut ends. Choose a light tone for end grain because its absorption makes stain appear darker. Draw the marker across the wood, then buff it quickly with a paper towel. Keep the marker handy to minimize the appearance of surface scratches on woodwork.

Kitchen Spatula Smoothes Putty

The usual putty-application procedure involves simply rubbing your finger over the hole. But if you've installed several rooms full of trim, you can easily rub your fingertip raw before completing the job. Also, your finger can slightly dip into the hole, creating a slight depression. Use an ordinary kitchen spatula as a solution. It's firm enough to wipe away excess putty and leave a smooth surface. It also conforms to curved surfaces, speeding your work.


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