Hiding Nail Holes

Finishers share info on products and techniques. August 30, 2005

I am in a cabinet shop with builders who love their pin nailers. Wood fillers are shrinking or falling out of the filled seams and nail holes. When I go to finish these pieces nail holes show up more obvious because they have fallen out or shrunk in the hole. The seams are just as bad for falling out I guess because the wood filler is hard and when the wood moves it just breaks and falls out.

I have used fill sticks and made my own putty to fill in after sealer but these wax sticks that everyone uses are not completely compatible to spray over like we all think they should be. I have had finishes peel right off where I have used these wax sticks. I called the rep and the chemist who makes them and he agreed that it is not totally compatible and I should scotchbrite over anywhere I use the sticks.

If you do this it will pull some of the stick right back out of the hole not giving me the flat finish over the hole that I am looking for. Does anyone know of the perfect wood filler that doesn’t shrink, fall out, stains the exact color of the wood, and once you fill it you never have to fill it again?

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor C:
There is no perfect once size fits all filler. But there are several kinds for different situations. Color putty is good for small nail holes after the wood has been stained and sealed and is compatible with topcoats, they offer water based and oil based putty that can be blended to get the color you need. It doesn't dry to a sandable finish, it stays somewhat soft so it shouldn't be used on outside corners or big holes where it might get knocked out. Behlen Burn in Sticks is another non-shrinking filling method, but has a definite learning curve to you don't damage the finish.

A trick I was once taught is to use sawdust from the same wood mixed in with a bit of wood glue to bind it together. It will take the stain better but because of the glue, it will still be a bit lighter.

If you're filling miter joints, try gently rolling a screwdriver over it to close up the gap. There are many products and many methods to fill nail holes, defects and gaps and each one is better at some uses than others.

From contributor M:
If its just nail holes, I use Old Masters painters putty. It is excellent stuff and you can spray lacquer right over it. You can get it in over twenty different colors and you can mix it with other colors. It’s designed to use only over a finished product. Check it out. You will wonder how you ever got by without it.

From contributor R:
I have recently started using Famowood's Natural water based wood filler. I am currently filling nail holes and cracks on cherry and applying ML Campbell's Woodsong stain and the results are fine.

From contributor B:
I use round toothpicks (ones without color). I stick them in the hole, and break them off so that about 1/16" is above the surface. I then hold a piece of 1/4" dowel over the top of the broken toothpick and strike the end of the dowel a couple times with a hammer. This forces the toothpick further into the hole, and mashes the wood fibers so that they don't absorb color like end grain. Then I level sand and apply filler, and when it’s dry I level sand again.

This really doesn't take any longer than just filler, uses less filler, and I never have to worry about dimples or filler falling out, since the toothpick fibers give the filler something to grab onto and expand/contract just as wood does. Any exposed wood fibers will take color differently than just the filler, making the hole far less obvious.