To fill or not fill sunken nail holes?

Q: We recently bought our house, which was built in 1932. The carpets on the stairs and 2nd floor were a mess, so we pulled them up. Pine boards beneath. Very rustic looking. They won’t be perfect, but we don’t need them to be. We like the look. There are a lot of nails though.

They are pretty big and we couldn’t get many of them out so we sunk them in (maybe too far, so the holes are even bigger). We sanded as directed and are now ready to fill nail holes then do a final sanding or NOT fill them and move right onto the polyurethane.

What will happen if we don’t fill the nail holes? Will the polyurethane fill in the holes? Will it look OK or be cloudy? We don’t care if you can see the nails. We experimented by filling some nails holes in a section you can’t see (cubby hole with door) and we can’t match the putty exactly, and besides, we don’t really like the look. Any specific concerns with not filling them?

We are also thinking about not filling in some of the smaller cracks. Please give us advice on this. We are ready to move ahead, but we can’t find anything on-line about NOT filling in nail holes. Everything says to fill them with putty, but the nail holes are so large that the putty is very noticeable. Although the nail holes are obviously noticeable as well, we like the way that looks better.

A: If you have no problem with the rustic look of counter sunk nail holes then just coat the steps. No, the poly won’t fill the holes and you should not apply it so thick in an attempt to do so. Thin coats of finish are best.