Have you ever gotten really excited about a pallet upcycle project, only to realize that there are giant holes in the boards from the nails? Well that totally happened to me!
While working on my own pallet upcycle project (I turned it into a bath shelf!), I realized that some pallets are nicer than others. The pallet I used was really well constructed and made of good solid wood, but after I had taken it apart I realized that the nails had left giant holes in the slats of wood! Bummer.
But my dad came to rescue with an awesome toothpick trick he uses all the time in his woodworking business. So next time you use reclaimed wood, your project won’t be ruined by nasty nail holes before you even start!
You can see from the picture above that all three boards had holes in them from the nails. And in two of the boards, the nails were driven so far in that the heads of the nails left holes as well! Yikes.
How To Fix Holes In Pallet Wood
There are a bunch of ways to fill a hole in a piece of wood, but this way fills the hole completely with real wood instead of glue so that it can be stained later. You can use wood glue to fill a hole, except wood glue won’t hold a stain. So unless you’re planning to paint the wood rather than stain it, that won’t work.
Luckily, toothpicks will do the trick! Here’s what you need:
- wood glue
- a skinny piece of wood (toothpicks, skewers, or caramel apple sticks work great)
- a cheap pencil sharpener
- a saw
- a hammer
- a rag to wipe up extra glue
1. Find a skinny piece of wood
You want a skinny piece of wood just slightly bigger around than the hole you are filling. This will help make sure that when you wedge the wood in, it will fill the hole completely. We had a bunch of extra caramel apple sticks from making caramel apples, so those worked perfectly. A toothpick, or bundle of toothpicks will also work. So will wooden skewers. Or take-out chopsticks. Anything wooden and skinny. 🙂
2. File the wood to a point
Use a cheap pencil sharpener to file the wood to a point. Pencil sharpeners aren’t really designed for hard wood, so make sure it’s a cheap one just in case you dull the blade or something.
3. Fill the hole with wood glue, then hammer in the pointy end of the stick
Extra glue will spill out of the hole, but just keep hammering. You want to wedge the stick as far in as possible so that the hole is completely filled up to all edges.
4. Wipe away the excess glue immediately
Since wood glue doesn’t hold a stain you want to wipe up any extra glue immediately. Just use a damp rag and wipe the entire area down. You can see in the photo above the slightly yellow spot around the caramel apple stick; that is just slightly wet wood from where I wiped away the extra glue. If you miss any extra glue you can always sand it down later before you stain or paint, but it’s easiest to wipe it away at this point before it dries.
5. Once the glue is dry, cut the stick off flush
Use a saw to cut the stick off flush with the top of the piece of wood. Don’t worry about cutting it perfectly, you can always sand down any extra stick that remains.
You can see above that I cut a little too close to the board and actually nicked it with my saw blade. But after I took this photo I sanded it down and it ended up okay 🙂 UPDATE: In case you missed it in the comments, my dad says that you can prevent these saw marks by putting down two or more layers of masking tape around the plug before cutting it off. Thanks Dad!
And that’s it; you’re done! Now you have a nice hole-free piece of wood ready for painting or staining or whatever. And if you need the holes filled on both sides, just flip the board over and do the same thing from the other side!
This is also a super useful tip if you strip a hole when you’re screwing something together. If your drill keeps turning and turning but the screw isn’t tightening down, that means you’ve probably stripped the threads of your hole. Just get some wood glue and a toothpick or two and fill the hole the same way. Once the glue is dry you’ll be able to sink a screw into the same spot and the screw will grab the wood of the toothpicks with no trouble!
Do you have any quick tips for fixing up reclaimed wood? I definitely had to glue a bunch of splintered pieces back together as well as fill all these holes. I’ll show you the whole project on Monday, but for now, just know that wood glue is the best!
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