before and after basics: wood filler


Happy Thursday to you all! Today on Before & After Basics, I want to discuss using wood filler to repair damage and fill unwanted hardware holes. This is a super important part of painting and refurbishing furniture, and can make or break your finish! The process I’m covering today is meant for pieces that will get painted in the end, so if you’re looking to spruce up an older piece of furniture, this is your first step. Let’s get started! — Barb

CLICK HERE for the full how-to after the jump!


  • wood filler — I prefer Elmer’s
  • wood glue
  • putty spatula
  • orbital sander/sanding sponges
  • rags


1. Make sure that the area you are filling is secure and free of debris. If you have any loose veneer pieces, remove them or glue them down with wood glue.

2. Choose a wood filler that best matches the project you are working on, and make sure it is paintable/stainable.

3. Apply the wood filler to the damaged area or unwanted hardware holes and even it all out with the putty knife. Most of the wood filler should be applied to the damaged part of your piece and not on the wood outside the damage but, especially with large fixes, there may be some overlapping. I have to say that after reading a few “how-tos”on using wood filler, I agree with some and — based on lots of personal experience — disagree with others. There are times where you need to go outside the lines a bit  in order to get that perfectly seamless look. (Just make sure that it all feels smooth to the touch when finished or it will not paint smooth.) Use the putty knife to skim across the surface and remove excess filler. It is really important to use a quality wood filler, especially when filling large damaged areas so there aren’t any shrinking and cracking issues.

4. Let it dry completely. Time will vary depending on the size of the area filled, but a hardware hole is usually dry in a couple of hours. Larger damaged areas may need a good 24 hours to dry.

5. Sand the filled area either by hand or using an orbital sander. After sanding the area, make sure it is completely smooth and filled to the surface of the wood. If not, apply more putty, let dry, and sand again.

6. Once the area is completely filled and sanded smooth, prime the piece. I have found that the wood filler and sanded areas accept the paint differently, so priming the piece ensures an even surface for a nice smooth paint finish.

7. Paint away!

Hope this is helpful for you all! See you next week!

  1. Kristan says:

    Yes, thank you for this! I was definitely one of those people who asked for/needed this tutorial. I had no idea there even WAS wood filler. Now I do, AND I know how to use it! ;)

  2. Thanks so much for this. I have a tabletop I need to repair but the material is formica or some type of particle board. It’s a replica tulip table and the base is great. Would you recommend wood filler for this or is there something else that would be better? The repairs would be on the sides of the table, not the finished formica top.

  3. Petra says:

    Oh this is so perfect! I’m about ready to work on some furniture that needs lots love (warped veneer, missing veneer, holes, etc.) and this is exactly the info I need to get me started. I’ll let you know how it goes!

  4. Alessandra says:

    Sometimes using a wet potato slice helps a LOT to get that perfect smooth finish. Just peel a potato, slice it, take a thin slice and add some water. This will work as a spatula :)

  5. ASH says:

    Thanks for the tips!

  6. Nice, useful tutorial. I was a house painter for years and have used wood putty many times. You are so right about “making or breaking” a project. When used correctly, it can work magic.

    A lot of times even when things look pretty smooth, it will still show up when painted (which is heartbreaking after all that effort), so one thing I like to do is run my hands over it with my eyes closed to detect any bumps or ridges before applying paint.

    Happy filling!

    PS: this site is amazing and extremely helpful. bravo!

  7. Anna @ D16 says:

    @Andrea: I hope Barb doesn’t mind me jumping in here, but for non-wood materials (or in cases where wood is extremely rotted or damaged to the point very deep/wide areas are completely missing), I recommend using Bondo Wood Filler. It’s a 2-part epoxy (you want the kind that comes in a large can, with a small tube of part 2 stashed under the lid) that you can buy at most home stores.

    It takes some practice to get use to working with Bondo, but it dries VERY hard, very quickly, and very smooth (with no cracking!), and is very easy to sand. I wouldn’t use it for the kind of project that Barb is demonstrating here, but for particleboard, rotted wood, or other special jobs, it’s great. Just make sure you get the 2-part kind!

    1. Barb says:

      Andrea, Anna from door sixteen answered your question beautifully! She is an expert on home renovation projects! Thank you Anna! You rock!

      Chrisitine, I hollered out loud when I read your comment about ” closing your eyes and running your fingers over it” I totally do that! Nice to know there are others out there!

      Alessandra, seriously? a potato? wow….I’m going to try it next time and see what I think! Maybe if I use them for projects such as these instead of eating them it will do me some good! {wink!}

  8. mixette says:

    I prefer and use Elmer’s wood filler too but a word of warning: they have one labeled “carpenter’s professional” that has “ceramic microspheres” that I have found almost impossible to sand smooth. They tube looks very similar so double check the label when you’re shopping.

  9. Janet says:

    You may also want to try Durham’s Rock Hard Water Putty. I came across this stuff quite by accident when I had to practially remold a spindle leg that a dog had chewed up (I didn’t want to pay the $15 for the 2 part epoxy wood repair stuff). It’s a powder that you mix to the consistency that you want. You can patch, mold and cast with it. You only mix as much as you need……I love it. It’s paintable, but I doubt that it’s stainable. I picked mine up at Lowe’s and it was like $2.50 for 16 ounces! Love it!! .

  10. Chris says:

    Great tips, thanks for posting this. I have a cabinet that I’m going to try this on ASAP!

  11. gayle australia says:

    this series of tutorials on making over furniture is wonderful – thank you. i have a fantastic old kitchen cupboard which i am planning to turn into the ultimate sewing centre …….. however i can’t seem get to it – something always gets in the way. BUT good news is my finished piece will be truly fab thanks to all these great tips. are there many more to come or should i just get out the dripcloth and tools?

  12. Michelle says:

    This is synchronicity! I was actually working on a beautiful salvaged piece today that I plan on eventually whitewashing. Today’s step was filling in the seams with Zar Wood Patch, which also works really well. I was going to post the before and after on my blog. Can I link to your post for the filler instructions?

  13. Holly says:

    Wow! This post came at the perfect time. It’s so useful and all of the tips are wonderful! Thanks!

  14. Wow. That is a gorgeous chest! I love it.

  15. Amy says:

    Excellent post! I was just trying to tell someone how to do this the other day. Now I just have to send him this link and he is on his way. Great job! Thanks!

  16. Cindi aka oldblackcatboo says:

    LOL! This is wild! I too was going to Lowes today to pick up “something” to patch the holes on a piece I’m working on!
    Thanks so much for this!!!

  17. stephanie says:

    thank you barb for the great info! wood filler is definitely a miracle, and can be the thing that keeps a piece from ending up at the curb.

    i think it’s also helpful to put painter’s tape on the other side of a hardware hole you’re filling to prevent the filler from going all the way through and leaving you a mess or a big bump to sand down.

  18. Thanks so much! Bondo it is!

  19. sarah says:

    hi Barb- Thanks for the info! I was also reading one of your other posts about painting furniture; the one where you say you dont prime it and paint over the lightly sanded pieces and then apply the stain. I’m working on a piece that required a lot of veener and scratch fixing but i want the look you were going for with the paint and stain combo. If i prime this piece because of the wood filler, will i still get the same effect with the stain? would love to work on it tomorrow (saturday) if you have an suggestions!

  20. Barb says:

    sarah, you can totally get the same effect with the stain over the paint….even if you prime the piece. I don’t know what color you are painting your piece, but the best case scenario would be to have your primer tinted to the color you are using, or at the very least gray.

  21. sweetmelissa says:

    LOVE that you have been doing all these tutorials!

  22. Ashley says:

    This is kind of a late comment, but I’m curious how good it could look if I patch a hunk of missing wood on a chair arm with this and then stain it…wouldn’t it look really obvious because there would be no wood grain in that part?

  23. denise york says:

    I have sanded and sanded fills smooth to the touch …but when paint you can see where I repaired…HELP I have done 6 cabs ..dont know how to fix it…they do not look good with the bumps in the middle of the cab….

  24. Gladys says:

    I’ve been looking for a tutorial like this for days!! Recently picked up a free table from craigslist and at first I thought I would just paint it white – but once I started sanding I realized I really like the idea of staining the wood instead. Some edges have chipped veneer and I wasn’t sure how to fix it. The missing pieces are not as large as this but it’s good to know that it can be patched and stained!! I was really worried that the filler wouldn’t take the stain, which would be especially obvious on a table top. Do you have any pictures of the finished product? After you applied the stain? Thanks so much for this post!!

  25. GalactiCannibal says:

    Will wood filler work on dried pine that has long deep cracks.? The pine wood is used for deck – rails and in hot summer weather temp gets up to 100 deg F.

  26. Milind says:

    This was lovely information shared with effective pitures. I just followed the steps & made my furniture beautiful….Glossy!!!

  27. I’ve also poked filler into hardware holes with a tooth pick. I also leave it a tiny bit raised over the hole I’m filling, so when I sand it it’s not concave.

    Just a note for those who stain: Mixwax filler DOES NOT ACCEPT STAIN!
    Learned that the hard way on a 16′ butcher block countertop I built. DON’T use MIXWAX FILLER if staining. If painting? Doesn’t matter.

    1. Penny says:

      Yes, and I have just discovered this while installing wooden countertops I hoped to stain a deep reddish-brown. It was an Elmer’s carpetenter’s “sandable, paintable” filler, which I had mistaken for the sandable, STAINABLE wood putty. What newbie would guess there is a difference? I am horrified and beyond disappointed….having taken 2 days off work just to FINALLY stain and finish these…sitting here with one ruined section and no hope of staining the others. I will have to concrete over them or something like that. I once liked the idea of semi-rustic concrete countertops, but for months now have been SO sold on the warmth and appeal of wood.

  28. Cai Simpson says:

    This looks great, I know its a older post but still fantastic. Cant wait to try this out :D!

  29. Kerry says:

    How can I fix, wood filler dried a different colour?


Design*Sponge reserves the right to restrict comments that do not contribute constructively to the conversation at hand, contain profanity, personal attacks, hate speech or seek to promote a personal or unrelated business. Our goal is to create a safe space where everyone (commenters, subjects of posts and moderators) feels comfortable to speak. Please treat others the way you would like to be treated and be willing to take responsibility for the impact your words may have on others. Disagreement, differences of opinion and heated discussion are welcome, but comments that do not seek to have a mature and constructive dialogue will not be published. We moderate all comments with great care and do not delete any lightly. Please note that our team (writers, moderators and guests) deserve the same right to speak and respond as you do, and your comments may be responded to or disagreed with. These guidelines help us maintain a safe space and work toward our goal of connecting with and learning from each other.