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

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

February 22, 2018

After wreaths and framed artwork 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 housepainter around. “Covering up imperfections is all about the art of disguise,” Albert says. Here are his tips.

a diy cotton garland made by our own justine hand: see a winter white bough. 9
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.

one of our longstanding favorites for hanging light artwork and decorations: bl 10
Above: One of our longstanding favorites for hanging light artwork and decorations: black-headed Metal Pushpins from Brookfarm 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 applying a touch of filler or paint with a cotton swab. (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.” Also useful to have on hand: DAP Patch Stick Spackling Nail Hole and Crack Filler.

an arsenal of tools. photograph by matthew williams for remodelista, from diy  11
Above: An arsenal of tools. Photograph by Matthew Williams for Remodelista, from DIY Paint: Designer Michaela Scherrer Mixes Her Own Shades of White.

3. Even the surface with a damp cloth.

“You don’t want a blob,” Albert says. “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, apply a second coat.

artist&#8\2\17;s brushes come in handy for delicately painting over filled  12
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 paintbrush or a cotton swab—”use one side to dab it on and the other to soften it out,” Albert says. 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 you deck the halls again.

tacked in place, a rope of bells from kid friendly diy projects. 13
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:

N.B.: This post is a rerun; the original story ran on January 12, 2017.

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