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How to Use Wood Filler in Your Home Renovation Projects

Jun 13, 2020 by Barbara Zito

Wood filler is handy for repairing surface damage on wood, including furniture, cabinets, molding, trim, and floors. It’s easy to use for DIY projects, provided it's the right tool for the job.

What wood filler is and isn't

It’s important to understand that wood filler does just what it says -- it fills in wood. But we're talking about minor imperfections; unfortunately, if there's more severe damage than just scratches or nicks, a more suitable solution is needed. And as useful as wood filler is, don’t confuse it with other tools. For example:

Wood filler is not wood putty. Filler has bits of wood in it. Putty has epoxy, polyurethane, or other synthetic materials, which means it won’t harden up like filler. Wood putty is best used to fill tiny nail holes in already-finished wood--it comes in a wide variety of colors for this reason.

It's not wood glue. Again, wood filler fills in wood. If you need to keep two pieces of wood connected, reach for the wood glue instead.

Now that the definition of wood filler is squared away, let's get down to its actual usage.

How to use wood filler

For starters, you'll need to make sure you're using the right kind of wood filler.

Solvent-based fillers are heavier and better suited for outdoor projects. Water-based fillers have a lighter formulation that makes them better suited for indoor projects. Lastly, whether you’re working indoors or out, if you want to match the filler to the wood, make sure you choose a stainable wood filler.

We looked to the pros at for some tips on how to properly use wood filler. In addition to the wood filler, here's what you'll need:

  • Sandpaper.
  • Vacuum.
  • Tack cloth.
  • Putty knife.
  • Paint/stain.

Step 1: Prep the surface. Use sandpaper to smooth the wood, then vacuum the dust or wipe it away with the tack cloth. If you moisten the tack cloth, be sure the wood is dry before continuing.

Step 2: Use a putty knife to apply the filler. Note that as filler dries, it shrinks, so make sure you use enough to properly fill the damaged area.

Step 3: Let the filler dry. Pay attention to the manufacturer's directions, as different projects require different drying times.

Step 4: Once dry, sand the area smooth.

Step 5: Paint or stain the wood. Paint offers easier coverage, but if you’re working with wood stain, test it on another piece of wood to ensure you've got the right shade.

That’s all it takes to use wood filler in your home repairs. Again, it's not to be used for severely damaged wood or in cases where wood glue is the better option, but it does the trick with minor scratches and nicks.

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