When nailing up a piece of wood, composite, or other miscellaneous material, often one of two things occur.
If you are nailing with some type of pressurized nail gun, there is a hole on the backside of the nail head that is formed.
If something is being nailed in by hand, there may not be a hole, but a nail head that seems as though it is resting on the surface.
In either case, the end result is not typically viewed as the most attractive from a finishing standpoint.
There is a claylike material known as “putty” that helps in “bringing home” the finished look of these surfaces.
In circumstances where a pressurized nail gun is used, many times putty can simply be forced into the hole that was created, and then “smoothed out” so that once things are prepped & painted, no one would ever be able to tell that a nail was present there.
In the same light, when a nail is nailed in by hand and its head sits on the surface of whatever was being nailed in, if one were to take a tool called a “nail set” and used it to force the nail head a bit deeper into the wood/material being nailed, from there they would be able to use the putty to fill the hole (as in the example with the pressurized nail gun), smoothed over, prepped and finished to the point where, again, one could never tell a nail had its head previously resting on the surface.
Putty is an invaluable tool in the toolbox that not only helps sew things together and make finished products look smooth and pretty, but it also is part of a system that prevents water from getting into nail holes and gradually wreaking havoc over a period of time.
Whereas the “best” traditional putties have been oil-based, these days there are latex-based putties that rival the best of the oil products (Aqua Glaze is one such product that falls into this category).
The more modern, latex-based putties have a number of advantages over their oil-based counterparts.
The latex-based putties dry faster, are “easier” to use, and are less brittle over time than their oil-based cousins.
The oil-based putties are still dominant in the industry due to what I would consider traditional beliefs of putty use.
Unfortunately, with the composite products that are used in many applications (the frequency of which is increasing significantly by the year), the oil-based putties are the incorrect thing to use in their entirety.
In these situations, one does not have a choice but to defer to the latex-based putties.
Since I came into the industry years ago, I have regularly heard people speak of puttying their windows when referring to the material that keeps, usually “older”, glass windowpanes in place.
While technically this is correct, this specific type of putty is called “glazing compound” and I tend to reference it as “glazing”.
If one were to search, there are tons of uses for this wonderful material known as putty.
Although filling nail holes is what putty is thought of to be mainly used for, there are quite a number of other useful applications throughout construction (glazing windows being another), that traditional putty and variations of it prove to be highly valuable for.
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