What kind of wood filler should I use?

Stack of wood

What kind of wood filler should I use?

So you just finished up with your woodworking project and now it’s time to fill all the nail holes that have been left behind.  Right off the bat there are a few simple question you will have to answer before choosing the best wood filler for your project.

What will you be using for the final finish?

Start by answering these 3 simple questions

1. Paint finish?

If you’re planning on paint the piece your wood filler choices become much easier.  With painted pieces there are no concerns with trying to match the color or wood type as the final color is the paint. Fillers for painted finishes could vary from spackle, wood filler to Epoxys.

2. Stained finish?

If you’re planning on staining the piece your wood filler choices must be tested and thought out.  You will want to choose a filler that is stainable and also matches the actual wood color or species.  There are many stainable wood fillers that can be purchased at your local lumber stores. 

If you’re filling holes on a piece of pine you may want to choose a lighter colored stainable wood filler. 

If you’re filling holes on a piece of oak on the other hand you may want to add a water-based coloring agent to darken the wood filler.  There are also some tricks that you can test like mixing some color into the wood filler or making your own homemade wood filler.  We will talk about some DIY wood filler options towards the end of this article.

3. Interior or Exterior piece?

You will want to consider where the finished piece will be used after it’s complete.  If the piece will be used in doors your choices are much easier as most all fillers will be safe to use as they will not be exposed to the elements of Mother Nature. 

If the piece will be used outdoors you will want to make sure that you choose a filler that will hold up to Mother Nature.  Exposure to heat/cold, sun light and rain can drastically affect wood fillers differently.  Be sure to read the manufactures suggested uses.

If you’re filling holes on a piece of pine you may want to choose a lighter colored stainable wood filler. 

If you’re filling holes on a piece of oak on the other hand you may want to add a water-based coloring agent to darken the wood filler.  There are also some tricks that you can test like mixing some color into the wood filler or making your own homemade wood filler. 

We will talk about some DIY wood filler options towards the end of this article.

What is wood filler used for?

This seems like a pretty silly question to answer but I constantly see misuse of wood filler all the time.  Regardless what some may thing carpenters wood filler is not wood in a jar.  When it dry’s it does not magically turn into wood.

Standard wood fillers such as Elmer’s Carpenters Wood Filler is not designed to fill large gaping holes or cracks in wood.  Your standard wood fillers are designed to fill small holes such as nicks, dents and nail holes. 

Wood filler is also probably not the best choice for filling cracks that large (1/4” or larger) or seams where 2 pieces of wood meet.  Using wood filler in large cracks “may” look great at first BUT start to crack as time goes by.  It is natural for wood to expand and contract throughout the different seasons.  This movement typically doesn’t end well for the filler.

What types of wood fillers are there?

As I mentioned previously there are many different types and brands of wood fillers available today. 

Here are 5 popular wood filler brands on the market.

1. Elmer's

Elmers Wood filler

Key details:

  • 12-24 hr. dry time
  • Stainable & Paintable
  • Interior & Exterior
  • Various fillers for any project
  • Clean up: Water

Elmer’s has quite a few fillers on the market today.  For the purpose on this article we will mention the (2) main fillers that are recommended for use on wood surfaces. 

Elmer’s has been around since 1947 with it most famous product being the white glue we have all used as kids in every school craft project.

Elmer's Carpenters Wood Filler (Interior Use)

Interior use is ideal for repairing holes, dents, scratches, gouges and defects on any wood, wallboard, molding or painted surface.

The dry time is estimated at 12-24 hrs.  From personal experience I have noticed that in most cases it tends to cure (enough to sand) much faster. 

Although it appears dry and you are able to sand it I would recommend waiting the full 24 hrs. until applying any stain or paint as I have ran into issues.

Elmer’s Carpenters Wood Filler is listed as both stainable & paintable.

Elmer's ProBond Stainable Wood Filler (Interior-Exterior)

Ideal for repairing a variety of imperfections on wood, wallboard, molding or painted surfaces. Works for both interior and exterior projects.  ProBond contains ceramic microspheres, making it easy to sand and eliminate shrinkage.

The dry time is estimated at 12-24 hrs.  Again from personal experience I have noticed that in most cases it tends to cure (enough to sand) much faster. 

Although it appears dry and you are able to sand it I would recommend waiting the full 24 hrs until applying any stain or paint as I have ran into issues.

Elmer’s ProBond Wood Filler is listed as both stainable & paintable.

2. Durham's Rock Hard Water Putty

Durhams Rock Hard Wood putty

Key details:

  • 12-24 hr. dry time
  • Paintable
  • Interior
  • Cast Molding crafts
  • Clean up: Water

Durham’s Rock Hard Water Putty may not ring a bell as the main stream know brand to the average home owner.  Needless to say Durham’s Rock Hard Water Putty has been in production since 1932.  If you have ever saw the can in comes in you won’t forget it.

Durham’s Rock Hard Water Putty appears to be a (1) product company that has been around for a long time so it must be a winner.

Durham’s Water Putty is a plaster-based compound, however it includes other materials to increase hardness, bind better, be smoother, and increase adherence. It comes in powder form and is super easy to mix.  Just add a bit of water to get it to the consistency that you’re looking for.

Durham’s Rock Hard Water Putty is NOT stainable and must be painted.  It is suggested for Interior only unless it is painted and sealed with other finish products. 

Worth mentioning, Durham’s Water Putty listed that it can be used for Arts & craft type molds to create 3 dimensional objects which is pretty cool. 

So even though there are some finish restrictions (paint only).  It would be a good choice for larger holes or cracks.  Just be sure that you are applying in layers not thicker than ¼” and letting it dry completely before applying another layer.

There is no dry time listed on their site but I would assume that it is similar to Elmer’s at a suggested 24 hr. dry time. 

3. Timbermate Group

Timbermate wood filler

Key details:

  • 20-30 min dry time
  • Stainable & Paintable
  • Interior & Exterior
  • Different colors/tones available
  • Various fillers for any project
  • Clean up: Water

Timermate is a somewhat a newer company having begun their business in 1991 and manufactured in Australia.   Timbermate offers a variety on fillers from water-based wood filler to expandable cement fillers.

Timbermate Wood Filler, suitable for use on wood including Particle Board, M.D.F., Plaster Board, Flooring, Paneling and more. This putty claims to not shrink, Sink, Crack or Fall Out.

Available in 13 wood tones which makes this a great option when it comes to stained finishes.  It is also available it white which is a great choice for painted finishes.

Not to worry though if a one of their premixed wood tones are not the right fit as Timbermate Wood Filler can be tinted using a water-based color tints.

Timbermate Wood Filler can be stained or painted with a fast dry time of only 20-30 mins in the right environment.  They manufacture wood fillers that can be used for both interior and exterior applications so make sure to choose the wood filler that is right for your job.

4. Minwax

Minwax Wood putty

Making the list as one of the oldest companys Minwax has been around since 1904.  They offer so many different products that it would be a disservice to try and list them all in this article.  Instead we will call out just a few highlights.

I personally use Minwax finishes for all my woodworking finishes as they offer a rich long lasting tone.

Key details:

  • Various Dry times
  • Stainable & Paintable
  • Interior & Exterior
  • Different colors/tones available
  • Various fillers for any project
  • Clean up: Water & acetone (depending on which product)

Minwax Wood Filler can permanently repair damaged and rotted wood. It is used to fill gouges and holes in split, damaged or rotted exterior or interior woods.  It is weather, water, and rot resistant.

Minwax High Performance Wood Filler is also effective as a wood adhesive where you can anchor screws and secure loose joints in furniture.

It strongly bonds to wood as well as almost any rigid surface including ceramics, concrete, metal, and fiberglass.

If you are using Minwax stains on fresh wood then their fillers may be the perfect fit.  Minwax offers a variety of fillers that are already tinted to match their stain color choices.  They also make crayon like filler sticks that can be used after your project is stained to fill in small nail holes.

Again, Minwax offers so many products for any project.  Be sure to read the label and choose the right product for your project.

5. DAP Plastic Wood

DAP Plastic Wood

Key details:

  • Dry time indicator
  • Stainable & Paintable
  • Interior & Exterior
  • Different colors/tones available
  • Various fillers for any project
  • Clean up: Water (depending on product used)

DAP roots trace back clean into the 1800’s but it wasn’t unitl the 1950’s that the company grew through several acquisitions, including a merger with the Chicago-based Armstrong Company in 1957. The resulting entity was renamed Dicks-Armstrong-Pontius, which was eventually shortened to the brand name DAP.

DAP has many products available on the market today.  Their products can be found just about anywhere and range from drywall compounds, wood fillers and caulking.

DAP Plastic Wood-X All Purpose Wood Filler

DryDex has a dry time indicator which goes on Pink and dries to a natural color when it’s time to sand and paint.  No more guess work!

DAP Plastic Wood-X also claims to be shrink & crack resistant.  It can also be used for anchoring loose screws in your project. 

DAP have fillers that can be used both interior & exterior, cleans up with water and can be stained or painted.

What is the difference between Wood filler & Spackle?

If you’re confused as to what the difference is between a wood filler & spackle get in line. 

Both serve the same final goal as to fill in a dent, nail/screw hole or some type of imperfection in a surface so that it can be finished with a top coat.  That being said there are a few things to point out so that you can choose the right one.

• Spackle

      • Primarily used on Drywall or smooth surfaces
      • Very easy to sand
      • Super smooth finish after sanded
      • Smooth consistency, not gritty
      • Not Stainable, must be painted
      • Will required multiple coats due to shrinking
      • Wood expansion & contraction my cause cracking or fall out

• Wood filler

      • Primarily used on wood
      • Should be sanded for a smoother finish
      • Gritty consistency unless watered down
      • Sand for a smooth finish
      • Most are stainable or paintable
      • Tends not to shrink as much
      • Formulated for wood expansion & contraction

When should you use wood filler vs spackle?

The answer seems fairly clear after reading the above.  Here are a few of my thoughts from personal experience as well as online research.  In the end you will have to choose which ever product best fits your project.

What spackle should be used for:

    • Spackle should probably be used with drywall or materials that do not tend to expand and contract. The movement in the material the spackle is applied to may cause it to crack and fall out.  Spackle is very easy to sand which make it a better choice for delicate surfaces like drywall.  Spackle should also be used on pieces that you intend to paint as typically spackle is not stainable.

What wood filler should be used for:

    • Wood filler should be used with wood or other gritty type materials. It is designed to with stand the movement of the material do to expansion and contraction.  Wood filler also give you the ability to finish your piece with stain or paint.

What kind of wood filler can you stain?

After extensive research online and years of personal experience you have quite a few options.  Many of the Wood filler brands on the market today offer both stainable & paintable fillers.

Just be sure to read the labels to double check beforehand.  There are products such as the Minwax Color-Matched Wood Filler that is matched to the Minwax stain colors. 

There are also many pencils or crayons that manufactures produce that can be used for filling small hole after the piece is finished.

At the end of this article I will be sure to tell you how to make a homemade wood filler that is sure to match your stain.

Can wood filler be used as glue?

Wood filler is not intended to act as a glue but as you have read above in this article it can provide a similar use.  DAP Plastic Wood-X makes claims that it can be used to anchor loose screws or nails by providing additional adhesion. 

I can’t attest to how long this would hold but if you’re in a bind and need a quick fix this may be a viable route to take.

From personal experience I believe that the less moving parts you have involved the better. So for my opinion a wood filler should not be used as glue. 

If you need glue I would suggest picking up a bottle of Titebond as they have excellent woodworking glues that are designed for this.

What is the strongest wood filler? (Epoxy Wood Filler)

When it comes down to the strength on a wood filler there is no question which type is at the top for strength. 

Epoxy wood filler tops the charts for strength.  This should be the only go to filler when you’re trying to fill large gaping holes or cracks. 

2 Part Epoxy Filler

Epoxy wood fillers are 2 part fillers specially formulated to repair and rebuild wood quickly and easily.  Once applied, epoxy fillers add structural strength to damaged areas or rotted wood.  They can be used to fill, reinforce or bond surfaces. 

After mixing, it forms a compound that cures to the same density as wood.  Epoxy fillers can typically be used for exterior or interior projects and will not shrink, crack or fall out. 

Once the epoxy filler has cured they can sanded or machined as needed for your project.

If you are new to Epoxy and have no clue where to start West System Epoxys may be the right choice for your project.  If you’re looking to just fill some large knots in wood of make a completely awesome river table this is the product for you!

West System Epoxy

    • West System Epoxy Kit – founded in 1969. If you’re looking for a professional top quality epoxy system this is a great choice.  West Systems offers an easy to use kit complete with pumps.

https://www.westsystem.com/

How to make homemade wood filler

Our last topic we will discuss in this article on what kind of wood fillers you should use is this.  How to make your own homemade wood fillers.

Now before you get too excited about all the previous wood fillers let talk about why you would want to choose this method.

I am often work on projects using farmhouse furniture projects that involve reclaimed wood.  There is a special color that wood develops over years of exposure to the weather and elements of nature that would be very difficult to match.

There is a quick, simple yet effective method to match the unmatchable color of reclaimed wood.

You will first need to collect all the fine saw dust that has come from the wood you’re working with.  Make yourself a nice little pile and just add wood glue until you have a nice little wood paste.

I have also the same method when making reclaimed fence or pallet board tops.  Instead of premixing I add glue into the crack or holes and then throw a pile of the matching fine sawdust onto the surface.  Rub in the saw dust and wait for it to dry.

 Yes, it’s that easy!  So that is a little pro tip from my personal vault of tips and tricks.

As you can see from this article there are a vast varity of products on the market that can be used as wood fillers for your project.  Just remember to read the manufactures label & know the final finish and location of your project.  If all else fails throw a little sawdust on it and call it a day!

Thanks for Stopping by

I hope that you have found this article helpful in any way.

www.homebuiltwoodworking.com

 

Specializing in Custom Built Farmhouse Furniture

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I am a seasoned woodworker with many years’ experience creating custom furniture among other projects. In 2015 my family and I relocated from Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania to sunny Saint Johns, FL. It is here that I refined my skills into fine woodworking & home decor. I currently specialize in rustic home decor & furnishings. This has given me the opportunity to explore the creative side of woodworking to a different level.

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