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Filling Nail Holes



I am making an oak bookcase as a builtin for our living room. What’s the best way to fill the nail holes and finish the trim pieces once they’re in place?


Don’t try to finish the trim in place. It’s best to have all of your finish work done before you install the built-in.

As you install your trim, be careful about where you nail. For example, it’s harder to see nail holes in the dark, coarse earlywood of oak than in the smoother latewood (photos above).

After the trim is installed, fill the nail holes with one of the numerous fillers designed to be applied to finished wood. Minwax makes Blend-Fil pencils (available wherever Minwax products are sold), Behlens Fill Sticks and similar products are all available from mail order catalogs that carry finish supplies.

These fillers are crayon-like in texture and come in a variety of shades to match most finishes. These fillers are easy to apply. Simply rub the stick over the hole until it’s full, then wipe off the excess with a clean rag. If you goof and the color is off, just take a wire nail, gently dig out the filler and try a different shade. You can also blend colors. For example; if the color from a stick is a little light, score the surface of the filler and rub in a darker color. The two colors will blend in the hole and produce a new shade.

Tip: A nail hole filled with a color that’s darker than the surrounding wood can pass for a pin knot but a lighter color will always call attention to itself.

This story originally appeared in American Woodworker August 1999, issue #74.

August 1999, issue #74

Purchase this back issue.

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