Nail Hole Filling and Blending

Advice on filling and hiding nail holes at the finishing step in a furniture project. March 13, 2009

I have recently begun to finish my last project - I used Elmer Stainable Wood putty. I applied filler to the raw wood, let partially dry, wiped off with a clean damp rag, sanded entire area through grit sizes, vacuumed, water popped, applied pre-conditioner, and brushed/wiped two coats of oil base Old Masters Dark Walnut Stain over white clear pine. I have plans for a polyurethane. The result is a beautiful project, with great stain color. I used as little nails in plain sight so there are very few but they are very well emphasized. I am nervous to apply something to the area such as a mineral spirits or some other product for fear of more failure of absorption. I donít think I'm ready to clearcoat.

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor R:
I think the filler will only come out darker than the surrounding area. Try dipping a Q-tip in some paint thinner, and wring it out pretty good so it doesnít run off the cotton tip all over the surface. Deftly twist the quite dry Q-tip on top of the filler and see if it doesnít lighten it up a bit.

From the original questioner:
Thank you. That might work. The stain actually didn't absorb into the wood though. It is lighter. The wood filler somehow stained the wood, even after thoroughly cleaning and sanding it. The blotches are about the size of my finger. I need to remove the wood filler in that quarter sized area so the stain penetrates. The paint thinner may help me to remove the wood filler but will I be able to re-stain and match the color?

From contributor B:
You need to re-sand the filler areas and remove all filler from around hole area. If its a grainy wood, the filler may be in the grains, so sand it out. Re-stain, touch up filler, apply sealer coat, touch up filler, and top coat.

From contributor H:
You did not sand enough. The blotches are the size of your finger because thatís where your finger was. Itís a common thing and difficult to see.

From contributor J:
I'd try hitting them with an artist with a touch of sealer then match the light background color with aniline powder and graining liquid or use Nap and utc's and touch them up with the artist brush. If you have a good eye for color they should be invisible (the nail holes that is). As you know color technicians faux paint in wood grain that can hardly be distinguished from the original finish.

From contributor K:
It's too late for this project, but I switched to not filling the nail holes until after the seal coat. If you try it you will not go back to the other way. Finish and sand, then stain, then put your first coat of sealer or poly. Next find the matching "color putty" and fill the holes, then top coat. It can be purchased at most good paint stores and some hardware stores. Colors can be mixed to get exact matches also.

From contributor R:
My advice: Mohawk 'Blendal' sticks are the answer to your problem on filling small holes. Stain and seal the wood, then proceed to fill the holes with Blendal sticks which come in a variety of colors. If you have large holes, use their epoxy based fill sticks. Mohawk has a complete line of items to handle all your finishing touches.

From contributor M:
The color putty and the Blendall sticks work well if you are not using water based top coats, otherwise any residue left on the surface will cause poor adhesion. I have yet to find the perfect solution for filling nail holes, maybe someone else here has.

From contributor T:
I had a nail hole directly across from each of the visible holes shown in this cherry. I painted them over with an artist brush using aniline powders and graining fluid. They are hardly visible. Itís a piece of cake if you have a good eye for color.

Click here for higher quality, full size image

From contributor G:
Try wetting dry neutral colored filler material with your stain. Match your color to the "After Sealcoat - Before Topcoat" stage. You can also tint neutral putty with UTCs.We often had customers ordering a match in both stain and putty. Put on plastic gloves and need it.

From contributor S:
To prevent the filler from filling the grain surrounding the nail hole I place a piece of blue painters tape on the wood and nail through the tape. Apply the filler in the hole and remove the tape than apply your finish.

From contributor R:
If you apply a cherry putty to a piece of cherry wood and then spray out a few coats of clear coat on top of it, the chances are that the putty will end up being darker than the cherry wood itself. Thatís just the nature of the beast.

The key here is to use as few nails or staples as possible. I like to mix up a few different colored putties and apply one over a sealed surface. If the cabinetmaker is somewhat aware he/she wonít treat the nail gun as if it was an AK47.

From contributor L:
What is graining fluid?

From contributor U:
Balanced clear liquid formula for applying grain or base color in spot repair work. Unlike regular "padding agents", graining liquid stays wet on the brush longer. This feature allows the user more time to complete a repair. Mix with Blendal Powder colors using the top of the jar or any other non-absorbent surface, apply grain with style 149 or 50 brush.

From the original questioner:
So, do you want to apply this before the clear coat when you notice the grain didn't stain correctly? Or, can you apply this between you clear coats? Or, can you "touch up" and walk away? I appreciate your responses and they are very good.

These are the size of quarters. They are white blotches in a dark stain. I repaired my custom cabinet the other day with the first few responses. I sanded the stain in the area of the blotches and tried to clean up the wood filler residue (I don't typically sand at all during staining). It was a mild increase in color and in one case the wood wouldn't accept stain at all. I repaired those trials and the remaining mistakes with a few permanent colored markers. I clear coated it and looked the other way.

I noticed a few blotches that were hastily repaired on the way out the door? I still have access to the piece and I was wondering now, if there is a good way to just apply something over the clear coat that would just look better than the blotch. Is this product applicable over clearcoat? Are colored markers good over clear coats? Are there different sheens to different markers or company brands?