More in Painting

Concealing Nail Holes

Is there a good way to make them invisible?

guys on stairs

Is there any way to prevent nail holes from showing through a paint job?
I've used oil-based putty, which is labor intensive, and yet the nail
holes still show through.

— Jeff, Petoskey, Michigan


Steve Thomas replies: I don't know whether you're talking about an interior or exterior
paint job, but I'll assume outside because that's a little tougher to
As you probably know, houses expand and contract with
temperature changes. Wood, especially, is like a sponge. Shingles, for
instance, will absorb moisture and swell in the summertime, and then in
the winter when it gets really cold and dry, they contract as they give
off moisture. All that expansion and contraction works on the
fastenings, pushing and pulling on the joint between the head of the
nail and the shingle. So we recommend just priming them with oil-based
primer and letting them go.
Generally we don't recommend trying to putty
nail holes because it's virtually impossible to hide them. If
you really want to work at it, there is a two-part fiberglass-type putty
recommended for exterior use, which a couple of different companies
make. It's similar in formulation to the body putty used on automobiles
and might do a better concealing job than the oil-based putty. Follow
the directions on the package, obviously. We have used that to hide
various imperfections, blemishes, dings, and so on. If you're patching
every nail hole on the whole side of your house, it is going to take a
while, but if the results are important to you, go for it. I would
recommend counter-sinking the nails a little bit, then patching them,
sanding, priming, and painting.


TV Listings

Find TV Listing for This Old House and Ask This Old House in your area.