accessoriesbarb blairbefore & after basics

before and after basics: wood filler

by Barb

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!

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  • 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! ;)

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • 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 :)

  • 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!

  • @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!

    • 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!}

      • I had to fill the grooves in this hideous fake wood paneling. Ended up using a pastry has a a med tip which was perfect for my project from Hell. Filled bag w frosting spatula.
        I like a sharp metal spackle knife w some flexibility. This means almost no sanding.
        – Cara

  • 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.

  • 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!! http://www.waterputty.com/ .

    • I just used Durham’s and am extremely disappointed with the results. Filled the grooves, sanded super smooth, used zinser 123 primer (2 coats) and then Behr marquee paint (built in primer) and I can see the area Durham’s was used. I was so careful and took care in sanding it smooth and the results are horrible. Asked a few people how to fix but nobody has any ideas…. I strongly advise not using Durham’s to fill things like cabinet doors. Very upsetting….

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

  • 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?

  • 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?

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

  • 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!

  • 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!!!

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • 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.

  • 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?

  • I have sanded and sanded ..it 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….

  • 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!!

  • 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.

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

  • 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.

    • 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.

  • I am doing my exterior front door which had been bad left unheeded for several years to the point where the stain was all but gone. On the inside of the door, our dog had scratched the bottom portion so it needed to be filled in. I purchased ZAR interior/exterior wood putty and filled in the areas on the inside and outside of the door that had deep scratches and/or chips. It is a stainable putty and comes in a Neutral color. I added a little bit of stain (Dark Walnut) to the putty, mixed it up and applied it to the door. It has dried and my question to you is after I sand the filled-in areas, should I prime those spots with an oil-based primer before applying the Minwax oil-based stain or can I just put the stain onto the door as well as the filled-in wood-putty areas without priming? What would you suggest? Thank You.

  • Greetings, everyone!

    I am so glad that I found this (however late I might be), but I was wondering about the difference between putty & filler when trying to close the gap on an extendable table that I found where the the lever is broken. Since I don’t have any of the extension pieces I wanted to permanently close the gap so that it will be a solid top. Which product would work best?

    • If the stepts that has been filled with wood filler and was dry , it gets rained on , before i can paint it , will i have to refill spots again?.

  • I have an “after the fact” question and I need help! I used DAP sparkling to some spots on my kitchen cabinets and them dry over night. Then I sanded them flush… I always closes my eyes! I am actually chalk painting them and everything went great, however, in some places the paint cracked over the spackle. I would say in about 15% of the cases. And, in those cases, I cracked all the way down to the wood… through the sparkle! Why?! I don’t want to repeat the mistake when I fix these places. Is it the chalk paint? Never had this happen with chalk paint and sparkle before.