Filling Nail Holes – The Ultimate Reference Guide

Solve Nail Hole Problems Like A Pro

We rarely had issues filling nail holes in bare wood back-in-the-day, but today is an entirely different story. With mainstream building materials featuring many types of man-made composite products and paint products changing–we are constantly faced with new challenges filling nail holes. From sinking, shrinking, flashing, cracking, crumbling, dissolving…

–to down-right difficult to sand. We set out to find a solution and rounded up 14 products for filling nail holes broken down into three types. Knowing which nail hole filler to use is half the battle and knowing which fillers to steer clear of is the other half.

14 Nail Hole Fillers Reviewed

The following three lightweight fillers all perform similar. DAP Fast ‘N Final tends to provide the most working time. Each of the three fillers can be applied to nail holes without sanding although in a production environment it is best to apply, let dry, and give it a light sanding. These fillers can be applied by knifing or pressing the filler in the holes with your finger or thumb. Use fine sand paper when sanding lightweight patches and use light pressure. In our tests, each of the three fillers flashed to some degree with some finish paint products and no flashing with others. It is always best to test these fillers with your finish paint to ensure you can achieve what you want to. If you plan two coats of paint over this patch then you should be fine.

 


DAP Fast ‘N Final (shown)

Lightweight Fillers

  1. Zinsser MH Ready Patch Lite
    Ready Patch™ Lite Lightweight Spackling & Patching Compound is specially developed for interior or light duty exterior use. Shrink, sag, and crack resistant, this easy to use formula dries quickly and sands easily.
  2. Sherwin Williams Shrink Free
    Lightweight Patching Compound, Paintable, Interior/exterior use, Use to fill drywall joints, nail indentations, cracks and openings around windows, doors, and moulding. Will not shrink or crack.
  3. DAP Fast ‘N Final
    One-step, lightweight spackling for repairing walls, ceilings, and woodwork in one fill. Delivers superior durability and performance. No sanding required. Dries quickly. Interior/exterior use.
    Fast ‘N Final tends to be more durable of the lightweights allowing minor profile repairs with some level of durability. If you need to do profile repairs in traffic areas then take a look at the next category, Patch Compounds.

Application TIPS for lightweight fillers

Use a flexible putty knife for flat surfaces and press the compound in the nail hole firmly allowing the filler to crown over the surface, then sand the crown off when it dries. Filling nail holes on profiles can be achieved by firmly pressing the filler in the hole with your thumb or finger allowing the filler to crown over the hole. Sand the crown smooth when dry. On baseboard, fill the nail holes with a 1-inch to 1 1/2-inch flex blade and for production sanding use an orbital sander with 220 grit. On door casings, knife the flat inside jambs and use your finger or thumb on the casing profiles.

Elmers Wood Filler (shown)

 

Patch Compounds

  1. MH Ready Patch
    READY PATCH™ Professional Formula Spackling & Patching Compound combines the workability of spackling paste with the strength of plaster for long-lasting, professional-looking results. It is smooth, easy to apply and sand – yet rock-hard when cured.
  2. DAP Drydex
    DryDex® spackling, America’s #1 seller, contains a patented Dry Time Indicator causing the product to change color when optimum dry time is achieved. It goes on pink and turns white! This unique feature is the signal that it is ready to sand and paint. Easy to use indoors and out on drywall, plaster, wood, and more.
  3. DAP Crackshot
    Professional Knife Grade Spackling Paste for easy application and superior paintability. Its creamy texture applies smoothly, dries hard and sands effortlessly, delivering quality results every time. This professional formula will not shrink and will not ‘flash’ paint. Interior/exterior use.
  4. Crawford’s Vinyl Spackling Paste
    Crawford’s light bodied vinyl spackling paste is easy to sand, almost too easy. Excellent for faint impressions. Used as a spot filler as a final coat. Use very fine sandpaper and light pressure when sanding.
  5. Elmers Wood Filler (light tan color)
    Elmer’s Carpenter’s Wood Filler for interior and exterior use is ideal for repairing holes, dents, scratches, gouges and defects on any wood, wallboard, molding or painted surface. Elmers dries hard, be clean about how you fill to prevent excessive sanding. Very durable. The light tan color helps prevent missing patches to sand on white MDF trim, a huge plus! Elmers Wood Filler tends to dry out the fastest of the patch compounds, adding water helps. This product is the most difficult to use in this group but it’s not bad.

We use patch compounds on flat surfaces and apply them with a flexible putty knife. We also use an orbital sander with 220 grit sandpaper for production sanding. All 5 of these patch compounds are excellent products. Elmers is the most difficult to sand but not bad, Crawfords is the easiest to sand, too easy, use caution not to over-sand.

DAP Finishing Putty (shown)

 

Nail Putty

PRECAUTION

It is important to state that IF you choose to use a nail putty listed below applied directly to factory primed MDF, you may or may not run into problems. Before proceeding with nail putty, have a look here. It has always been my recommendation to re-prime MDF when using putty, but again, you may want to sample your primer with the putty you choose before filling an entire house.

  1. ColorPutty Brand water-base (white + 16 colors)
    Introduced in January of 1996, our waterborne putty is formulated to be compatible to water-based, latex, and waterborne sealers and stains that are offered on the market today. Use Color Putty® waterborne putty to fill imperfections in woodwork, paneling, furniture and cabinets to achieve a truly perfect blend and finishing look you can be proud of for years.
    Very easy to apply. Lid can be left off during use. Can be dried out with whiting powder or drywall mud dust.
  2. ColorPutty Brand oil-base (white + 16 colors)
    Use Color Putty® to fill imperfections in woodwork, paneling, furniture and cabinets to achieve a truly polished, finished look you will be proud of for years.
    Very easy to apply. Can be dried out over night on cardboard to remove oils. Lid can be left off during use.We wrote ColorPutty about issues we’ve experienced filling nail holes on MDF and here is their response: It is best to apply our putty to the sealed and finished product. It appears that MDF may not be a compatible product.  It is always advised that you try a test sample in an inconspicious area first for compatibility.  We continually test our product with stains, sealers and wood (type) products for compatibility, but of course application varies with each process.
  3. DAP ’53′ Painter’s Putty
    Smooth, easy-working putty designed for the special needs of professional painters. Ideal for filling nail holes, dents, and cracks in wood surfaces. May also be used to glaze wood sashes. Resists oil bleeding. Paintable. Interior/exterior use.
    Difficult to apply, its clingy and difficult to fill holes and near impossible to fill faint impressions. Putty tends to pull itself back out of the hole when trying to fill the hole.
  4. DAP Finishing Putty (white+colors)
    A smooth, easy-working putty that quickly repairs minor scratches and holes in interior surfaces. Resists oil bleeding. Recommended for filling and hiding countersunk nail holes, gouges, scratches, and mitre joints. Available in 12 tones to match most finished wood surfaces. Interior use.
    Like ‘53’, the Finishing Putty is difficult to apply, its clingy and difficult to fill holes and near impossible to fill faint impressions. Putty tends to pull itself back out of the hole when trying to fill the hole. We previously gave DAP Finishing Putty a good review but our recent purchase was difficult to apply. This putty is grey in color, not white and may cause coverage issues under white paint.
  5. Minwax (white + 9 colors)
    Minwax® Wood Putty® is a non-hardening, pre-mixed putty that repairs small holes and covers other minor imperfections in bare, painted, stained, and finished wood. Minwax® Wood Putty® is color-matched to Minwax® Wood Finish™ stains to make your wood repairs easier.
    Difficult to apply, clingy, dry even when fresh.
  6. Crawfords Putty
    Crawford’s Natural Blend Painter’s Putty is a ready-to-use, multipurpose painter’s putty for use on old and new wood – inside or out. Choice quality raw materials include blended, all refined natural linseed oils, water ground calcium carbonates and paint grade titanium. In a step taken long ago toward environmental awareness, Crawford’s Natural Blend contains no added white lead, asbestos, asbestos-like fibers, silica or harsh chemical preservatives.
    Difficult to apply, dries out quickly, can life is short. Always replace lid.

In the past we recommended ColorPutty Brand putty for filling nail holes as a (fill and paint, no sanding) solution. With so many changes in paint products and building materials over the past few years we can only suggest you test any of the putties listed with your finish paint to ensure compatibility. The ColorPutty Brand putty is the easiest of the putties to apply by far, both water-base and oil-base. Quite honestly, the other four putties are horrible for filling holes and surprisingly just as poor in performance as they were years ago.

At the time of this writing, there is no known failsafe putty to effectively fill nail holes directly over MDF trim. It is best to re-prime MDF before filling nail holes.

CONCLUSION

We avoid using nail putty on MDF trim but use putty on some exterior products, PVC for example. For finishing MDF trim, patching compounds prove to be effective on smooth flat surfaces and lightweight fillers work great on rounded profiles. For the best results, apply a primer to any glossy surfaces prior to filling such as PVC.

*DAP ’33′ Glazing is intentionally omitted from the list
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4 Responses
  • Sk Reply

    Very useful summary! I’ve had some lousy experiences recently, and now I know how to avoid them in future. Thanks.

  • pauline Reply

    Can you please tell me the best way to fill nail and screw holes in 19ml blackbutt floors whick is secondhand wood an there is about 3000 screws to do it is getting the colour correct that is the worry, not actually doing it
    ta

  • Dale Barchasch Reply

    Nice article Jack. I really appreciate the fact that you acknowledge some of the products are the cause of the difficulties I am having while prepping MDF trim for paint. I have experienced most of the problems that your article mentions. I find myself thinking that it is very difficult to get the primer into a nail hole, which means that priming before filling a nail hole may provide limited relief from the reaction between the filler product and the oil and water absorbing MDF trim. The conclusion I came to after reading your excellent article is that the best approach is to prime the pre-primed trim and then use a lightweight spackle to fill the holes. The lightweight spackles are not oil based and don’t seem to have much water. The bad news is that I have been using this method for quite some time and find it to be a tedious and time consuming. If I came to the wrong conclusion. please set me straight. My goal is to get the best results with the least man hours possible. Thanks again for covering this subject in such depth. Dale Barchasch

    • Brian Havanas Reply

      Dale, I make no effort to get primer in a hole. It’s good you mentioned that. That part is not important. The only purpose for re-priming MDF is to change the abrasiveness or smooth/hardness of the factory primer to something more manageable. We want slightly gritty. Something like what 400 grit sandpaper would feel like.

      The MDF with softer factory primer seems to finish nicely as-is. You can easily identify this type by sanding it first. If it powders like a cheap flat paint would then it is not likely necessary to re-prime.

      Filling with the light-weights is extremely fast. I spend 1 second per hole unless I miss. Sanding is also easy. 3M 180 grit Pro Advanced Purple sandpaper works great.

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