How To Patch Nail Holes, Tips from a Master Painter

Remodeling 101: How To Patch Nail Holes, Tips from a Master Painter

After the wreaths, the mistletoe, and the boughs of holly come down, what are you left with? Walls and doors with random holes from nails and tacks, the bane of many a real estate broker. How to get back to pristine walls? For advice, I turned to Albert Ridge of Ridge Painting in NYC. Albert, who grew up in County Galway, Ireland, and is known in my northern neck of the city as the most meticulous house painter around. “Covering up imperfections is all about the art of disguise,” says Albert. Here are his tips.

Above: A DIY cotton garland made by our own Justine Hand: See A Winter White Bough.

1. Remove nails gently.

Try first with your hands before getting out a hammer or pliers.

pushpin-brook-farm-general-store
Above: One of our longstanding favorites for hanging light artwork and decorations: black-headed metal pushpins from Brook Farm General Store are easy to remove without leaving much of a trace.

2. Assess the damage.

If it’s a pin-size hole on a white wall, you can likely get away with simply covering it up with a touch of filler or paint applied with a Q-tip. (For paint tips, see below.) But if the hole is noticeable, you have to plug it. Albert recommends spackling or caulk or Elmer’s Wood Glue, and you can use your finger to work it in and then level it. Some people use white toothpaste; Albert says, “Don’t go there. You need a material that adheres and doesn’t crack.”

dap-spackle-stick
Above: Useful to have on hand: DAP Patch Stick Spackling Nail Hole and Crack Filler.

3. Even the surface with a damp cloth.

“You don’t want a blob,” notes Albert. “The key is to just cover up the hole, not the area around it or you’ll end up with a splotchy patch.”

4. Let completely dry and then gently smooth with a fine grit sandpaper.

If your compound has shrunk, you may need to apply a second coat.

Helen-Lucas-Architects-Alison-Watts-Studio-paint-brushes-Angus-Bremner-Remodelista
Above: Artist’s brushes come in handy for delicately painting over filled nail holes. Photograph by Angus Bremner from A Georgian Townhouse Remodeled for an Artist.

5. Match the paint.

A tiny patch can be covered up with paint that’s the same color and finish as the wall. Apply it with an artist’s paint brush or a Q-tip€””use one side to dab it on and the other to soften it out,” says Albert. A larger patch often requires a bit more finessing because wall colors weather and age over time: Consider adding a bit of colored tint, such as burnt umber or dark beige blended into the original (bring a sample, if possible, or a photo and your paint store will help). Tip: When painting walls, put aside a small labeled can or bottle to keep on hand as touch up paint.

6. Tackle nail holes on wooden doors and paneled walls much the same way.

Plug the hole and then camouflage it. Albert uses Minwax Stain Markers: They touch up patches and nicks’ €”until next year, when you deck the halls again.

Holiday-Decor-For-Kids-DIY-Brass-Bells-Remodelista-05

Above: Tacked in place, a rope of bells from Kid-Friendly DIY Projects.

What are your own nail hole solutions? Fill us in in the Comments section below.

Go to Palette & Paints for more ideas and advice, including:

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