There have been a couple of similar questions but none for my exact usage or that provides a good answer. I consider myself average to weak on finishing wood work so would like to hear some good input.

Let's assume that the floor or door trim is either poplar or pine (wood I usually use). And let's also assume that it will be painted white.

I usually use a wood putty to fill the finishing nail/staple hole. However I run across two minor issues.

  • the wood putty dries smaller leaving an indention. Sometimes this is not noticeable for months
  • even when being careful and wiping the surround area, there seems to be some noticeable putty remnants near the filled holes

So just looking for any tips/secrets in getting a perfect finish on white wood.

Update: Over the next couple of days I will go wood putty (using ecnerwal's advice) vs. spackle to see what turns out the best. Any other fillers to try?

  • Are you using a powdered wood filler that you mix yourself or a pre-mix? I've only had fillers shrink when I put too much water in them, and never with a pre-mix. Do you sand after you use the filler?
    – Comintern
    Commented Apr 7, 2014 at 17:36
  • I usually use premix. I fill, wipe area down (spillage), wait a few hours, sand, and paint the next day.
    – DMoore
    Commented Apr 7, 2014 at 17:38
  • 3
    Only other thing I can think of is the fill and "wipe down" process. If you go over uncured filler with your finger with a cloth it can deform the filler into the hole a little bit. I make a habit of only using a putty knife. I also leave a little excess filler and sand them down flush with a 220 sponge. It's possible you might be removing too much filler while it's wet and not enough when it's dry.
    – Comintern
    Commented Apr 7, 2014 at 17:47
  • I always thought I was a sloppy wiper, in that I left too much excess, not that I was wiping too much.
    – DMoore
    Commented Apr 7, 2014 at 19:25

9 Answers 9


Less wiping.

More time before sanding.

Unless you go to something extreme like epoxy putty, it all shrinks. If you leave the filler proud of (sticking above) the hole, let it cure fully, and then sand it down, it should work. In extreme cases you may need to refill and let that cure, but that's adding more time to the program which is probably not good for you. If you scrape it flat to the hole, it will shrink below the hole. Without adding any overall time to your program, I'd save sanding for the next day just before painting, at least. Excess putty near the hole will come off with a sanding block (and if you don't use a block, that can also promote divots) - since you specified that you are painting over, filler beyond the hole should make no appearance difference if it's allowed to cure and sanded flat.

If the building is not fully heated when applying the filler, or is heated but is dumping a huge amount of water from fresh drywall work (or unvented construction heaters), that may affect the curing time of the filler product negatively.

I have personally had better luck with "modern" "lightweight" filler compounds than with "wood putty containing actual wood fibers" (which, inherently, shrink quite a bit, because they are wet wood fibers...) - the fact that the nailholes are glaring white .vs. the wood surface does not matter if you are painting over them. Given that you are (I gather) in a production/professional capacity, probably best to run some experiments with different fillers and schedules and see what works best for you.

  • I am open to use other fillers. Have even though about using caulk.
    – DMoore
    Commented Apr 7, 2014 at 18:14

enter image description here

You want spackle. It sticks, it doesn't shrink, and it can be sanded flush. For more detail, see this awesome article that turned me on to the technique: http://www.thejoyofmoldings.com/when-to-use-spackling-and-when-to-use-caulk-moldings/

Spackle is probably one of my favorite compounds; it just has so many uses!

  • 1
    Quick tip: avoid the pink stuff in wet areas (e.g. bathrooms). If the spackle gets wet, it will go back to pink. This is more of an issue when you have white paint and may miss a spot when touching up.
    – BMitch
    Commented Apr 8, 2014 at 23:51
  • @BMitch: Depends on what you're covering it with. Since my bathroom had a purplish paint job (previous owner, not my fault), I didn't especially have to worry about a bit of pink showing through.
    – keshlam
    Commented Sep 18, 2014 at 2:53

Spackle is best. It's cheap, easy, water clean up and you can completely remove it if need be any time later before you paint. And it can't hurt anything, because there's nothing you can't clean it off of or out of at any time later too.

First screw, nail and/or glue anything that has movement.

fill in all cracks and imperfections, trim to wall and trim to trim, with a putty knife, fingers or anything that'll do it. The wider the gap the more you should push in, Remove excess and let dry.

Use the flat and angled edges of sponge sanders, damp rags, sandpaper, putty knife to scrape, finger nails or whatever works until you get a smooth chiseled look.

Wide gaps will have shrinkage so fill them again.

Once satisfied, paint all trim with 2 light coats overlapping onto the wall a couple of inches to fully seal the trim and spackle. Be careful not to form a paint ridge on the wall. Feather it out on the wall farther if you have to.

You'll be surprised at how easy it is to cut the wall paint into the trim when you do it this way. Cut in twice with the wall paint then put painter's tape sticking out on top of the floor trim to catch the specks while rolling.


The only thing I use is lightweight Spackle. First fill is fast with your finger. In 20 mins clean off the excess with a damp sponge. 15 minutes later put on a second coat to fill any indents. Again, after 20 mins sponge it off very gently. After an hour sand it if needed and it will be perfect. Minor touch up if needed until you get the nack. I have painted miles of trim and you cannot find a nail.


I have always had good luck with pencil fillers such as the one below.

It takes a little practice to get it to fill the hole evenly, but works great once you get the hang of it. It will also never shrink, since nothing is drying.

These come in all sorts of colors: mostly various wood-shades, but also plain colors such as white.

enter image description here

  • I used this on my last paint job. Put up wainscoting, painted it white, THEN came back to fill the nail holes with a white crayon/pencil like this. I thought it worked really well.
    – DA01
    Commented Apr 8, 2014 at 3:00

Most people will shoot me down but ive always had shrinkage problems with puttys as well. Funnily enough ever since i started using a finishing plaster compound i have never had any issues with shrinkage or cracking etc. I first used it about 6 years ago in my house and have since redone every skirting/arcitrave in my house. I have not had a single sunken or cracked nail hole yet. I fill high and sand til its very finely proud still and it is a flawless finish


I hardly ever anser my own question and this is the first one I have accepted as the answer to something broad. But there is a clear winner.

Durham's Water Putty. I have no affiliation with the company and really used their products only a few times until this year. This spring I filled in large holes in trim using Durham's (the lock holes). I then started using it for trim nails. I wanted to wait a while to post it as an answer because seasonal highs/lows cause cracking.

Let me sum it up:

Drywall mud = Cracks on surrounding area

Caulk = reduces

Spackle = cracks, not as bad as drywall mud but it also has a lip unless perfectly sanded

wood putty = dries and cracks internally

Durham's = no issues... like using bondo on a car

Only issue with Durham's is sanding is more of a chore. But this is more about practice. Applying it right took me a few times. And then when sanding getting the area wet beforehand if there was a lot of sanding. Definite winner here. Good for this small company - no wonder they are still in business.

enter image description here


Durabond then quick sanding. It dries quick and never concaves


I use the spackle as well. put it on with your finger for the holes along the baseboard, use a putty knife for the outside corners if needed, let dry and then sand. The previous posters method sounds good as well but if you have a lot of baseboard to do that will definitely add some time to the project.

  • This doesn't offer any original solutions that previous answers haven't addressed. It belongs in the comments. Or you could just upvote the existing answers proposing this solution.
    – Doresoom
    Commented Sep 18, 2014 at 16:38

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