Press matching colored putty into nail holes with the tip of your finger after staining and varnishing. Then smooth it off and polish the area with a dry rag. For added durability and to help hide the filler, apply a new coat of compatible finish over the filled woodwork. Exception: Don’t use water-based varnish over colored putty.
Most people are surprised to learn that professional painters use soft colored putty to fill nail holes in stained woodwork. This eliminates the nearly impossible job of staining wood filler to match the surrounding wood. Several colors are available. To get an exact match, you may have to blend two colors. You can even use two or three colors on the same piece of wood to match areas of light and dark wood grain exactly. Colored putty is available at paint stores, hardware stores and home centers for about $2 per container.
Don’t expect this simple tip to hide deep scratches, gouges or damaged finishes from a sharp-eyed critic. But for a quick spruce-up, colored markers are just the ticket. Stain markers like the one shown are available at home centers and paint stores, but plain old felt-tip markers work great too. You’ll be surprised how easily you can hide glaring scratches and dings from the casual observer.