Who Fills the Nail Holes?

Tradesmen debate whose job it should be to fill nail holes the trim installer or the painter. May 27, 2008

In paint grade molding, is it your job or the painter's to fill the nail holes?

Forum Responses
(Cabinet and Millwork Installation Forum)
From contributor M:

From contributor A:
Usually if the painters have to paint the molding, they also fill the nail holes, but when I install finish molding like crown on top of cabinets, I fill the holes and the joints with the touchup kit that comes with the job.

From contributor D:
I agree; on the cabinets I'll do it, but on typical millwork (base, crown, etc.), I was on the fence a little bit. I'm thinking a good rule of thumb would be, if it ain't finished already or if I ain't doing the finishing, whoever is can do the filling.

From contributor G:
Are you talking about installation nail holes? Base and crown doesn't usually get nail holes until it is installed. Other millwork, microwave shelves, pony walls, range hoods, etc. should be filled by the bench guy who built it.

From contributor C:
It is sort of funny that this topic comes up now. Currently we are doing a paint grade trim installation, big trim, lots of holes. We decided to fill our own holes with a sandable filler. Painters in our area use painter's putty. That is okay for a tract house, but not a custom house. The holes never get filled flush, therefore taking peoples eyes off of the quality install. It certainly takes more time and along the way you find some other places in the trim that need to be pointed up as well. Tell your client or the builder it is custom work done right.

From contributor S:
The old rule of thumb used to be if it was pre-finished, the installer filled with a color matched stick or putty and took great care not to make too many holes or bad cuts in the first place. If it was raw or unfinished and to be painted or finished on site, the finisher or painter did the prep work to match/suit the coming finish/paint. (But the poor painters had to follow the guys that got put on the paint grade trim, usually the rookies.) Nowadays it all needs to be spelled out in the scope and contract, either included or excluded.

We would rather do it in house ourselves or have our painter do the work. There are too many out there that can make your work look like hell. We even do our own caulking - either the installer, or if the installer is not good at caulking, then we get another guy on the crew or a good painter to do it. We like our work to be a finished product.

From contributor E:
I agree if it's unfinished, it's the painter's job. On pre-finished I do it. I used to used DAP on painted crown, but now I'm using Benjamin Moore Mooreplastic. If there is something better, let me know. Me and our other installer have tried to get our sales to quit selling it, but to no avail.

From contributor X:
The ultimate goal is to have a finished product that the consumer approves of. If you made the nail hole, you should fill it. If you slip up and forget one or two, the next person working on the product should catch the miss and repair it. You should leave your work in a completed state and not expect someone else to cover your rump. When it gets to the painter/finisher, the product should be ready for them.

From contributor M:
You need to keep in mind that most trades have a contract. If my contract states that the painters will prep and finish the product that I put up, why should I be responsible for nail holes?

From contributor L:
I am a high end painter. Please, let us do it. Carpenters always use way too much spackle of a brand that is very hard to sand and/or flashes a lot. Also they don't thoroughly sand around the hole. Also there are many nail holes that have spackle that is beyond flush around the hole, but the hole itself is still not filled! It is easier to spackle and sand every single hole than it is to wonder which ones are or aren't done properly, review them all, selectively sand re-spackle, etc. And as for the caulking, that is a painter's job. Once that caulking goes in sloppy or non-uniform, I do not want to have to cut it out just so it can be caulked properly. However, nail bumps from MDF: carpenters, please figure out how to eliminate those before they are painted. Changing the shape of the wood is definitely the carpenter's job.

From contributor S:
Contributor L, you are hired! And sorry about the MDF puckers. Sometimes I find it easier to just scrape them off with a sharp chisel and refill any voids and sand.

From contributor L:
I bought a small jack plane for MDF but haven't tried it yet. I imagine if it was really sharp it would slice the bumps off quite nicely. Don't forget to remind the painter that the raw spots have to be primed with a non-waterbased paint, or else the bumps will swell up again.

From contributor B:
I've been painting for 27 years. Woodworking for most of those same years. I believe if you know your trade and made the hole, fill it. Do what your contract specifies. Don't leave a thousand holes for the next guy! If you're not sure how to, or you can't do a finish fill, make arrangements with the finisher to cover his time.