How to Choose Wood Filler

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When working with wood, there is always the risk of cracks or splits, especially when driving screws or nails into the wood. That’s where wood filler comes in. It can be used to fill in any cracks or divots in a piece of wood. Wood fillers can also be used for open-grain woods, such as are used for flooring, where there is a chance that pores in the wood open up, which also need to be filled. Wood fillers tend to come in two primary forms. The first is a water wood filler, while the second is a solvent-based wood filler. We’re going to have a look at what wood filler is used for, as well as answer some of the key questions one might ask about wood fillers. Let’s get started.

What is Wood Filler Used For?

As the name suggests, wood filler is used to fill in any gaps that are found in wood. The reasons for wood fillers needing to be used tend to fall into a few main categories. The first is that the cracks or divots open in the wood during the woodworking process. If you hammer a nail into wood, then a crack could appear either side of the nail. This can also occur when boring a hole into the wood or driving a screw into the wood.

The second reason why a wood filler might be required is simply down to wear-and-tear. Whether it’s a wooden floor or a piece of furniture, then there’s a chance that damage can occur in everyday use. When holes or divots open in wood, they harm the aesthetics of the wood, which is why people turn to wood fillers.

The third main reason for using a wood filler is when an open-grain wood’s pores have opened up. This might be a flaw with the wood when you buy it. By applying some wood filler to the open pore, then it’s possible to cover up this imperfection so that you have a piece of wood that is flawless and great-looking.

What is the Best Filler for Wood?

Wood fillers tend to fall into three main categories. You have wood fillers that are water-based, solvent-based wood fillers, and oil-based wood fillers. Each of these forms of wood filler will suit different projects. A wood filler that is water-based is cheap, easy to use, and doesn’t have an unpleasant odor. Water-based wood fillers are versatile. They tend to be thin – because they are water-based – and they can be diluted even further with more water. A water-based filler will be ideal for small cracks and divots or smoothing over minor imperfections in a piece of wood.

Fillers that are water-based tend to be low-priced and can be purchased at all DIY stores. If you use a water-based filler, you can expect to wait about a quarter of an hour for it to dry. Wood fillers that are water-based tend to be the quickest-drying of all the fillers that are on the market. Another big plus for water-based wood filler solutions is that they don’t create much of a mess at all. Once you’ve used them, you just need some soap and warm water to clean up.

The second most common form of fillers for wood are solvent-based. These solvent-based fillers will usually be made with vinyl or, in some cases, epoxy. A latex wood filler is another example of a solvent-based filler. As you’d expect, these fillers are much thicker than the water-based fillers. Because they have more chemicals inside them, it’s also a lot harder to clean up, and you’ll need some turps to do so. Of course, they have a lot of advantages too. They’re much more durable and hard-wearing than those made from water. For that reason, you’d use them for wood that is exposed to the elements, such as outdoors.

To apply a filler of this type to wood, then you will usually use a putty knife. If you don’t have a putty knife but intend to apply a filler like this to wood, then it could be a good investment to purchase a putty knife when purchasing the filler. When a wood filling solution is based on oil, then it remains somewhat pliable once it has dried. This can be useful for delicate woods. But this form of filler is not as common as the two other types that we’ve just looked at.

It’s always key to check what the filler is aimed at. You’ll either have interior, exterior, or interior/exterior fillers. This means that fillers that are available are to be used indoors specifically, or to be used outdoors, or for both. Depending on what your job is, it may be an idea to purchase an interior/exterior filler as this will be the most versatile. You also need to check the color of the filler and also if it is stainable. Ideally, you’ll want to treat the wood once you’ve finished filling in the imperfections.

Firstly, you want to match up the color of the filler to the color of the wood. If you purchase a stainable wood filler, you’ll be able to treat the whole of the wood with the same varnish or stain so that the color of the filled wood grain will match the color of the natural wood grain. Before purchasing a wood filler, then it is recommended that you also consider the dry time.

Is Wood Filler as Strong as Wood?

It depends on the type that you purchase, but in some cases, the filler can be even stronger than the wood itself. This is certainly the case when you use an epoxy wood filler. It’s even possible to drive screws and nails into the filled area with this type of filler. Wood also is a catch-all term, and many kinds of timber are stronger than others. If strength is important to you, then ensure that you choose a filler that explicitly states that it offers a significant amount of strength. It’s unlikely that you’ll be looking at fillers that are based on water if strength is your key aim. But there are plenty of very strong fillers available that are equally if not stronger than most types of wood.

What’s the Difference Between Wood Putty and Wood Filler?

There is a grey area when it comes to what makes a wood putty and what makes a wood filler. Both are used for filling wood, of course, and tend to do the same job, but they also offer a different consistency. Some manufacturers call their products wood putty while others call them a wood filler, and it can all work out to be quite confusing. Generally, a wood putty will be applied with a putty knife and tends to be used outdoors. Wood putty often has some form of wood inside it, such as sawdust. However, there is very little difference between a filler made with solvents and wood putty. The terms tend to be used interchangeably.


When it comes to wood repair, then a good filler can be indispensable. Fillers can be used to fix imperfections in a piece of wood, as well as cracks or divots that occur either naturally or due to working with the material. Some fillers are better for certain projects than others. It’s important to make sure that you choose one that is suited to the location and style of timber. For example, projects that are outside the home will need fillers that are strong and capable of standing up to the elements, while those inside or for delicate timber need to be thinner so that they don’t alter the smoothness of the surface.

Regardless of the type that you choose, fillers can usually be applied within minutes and don’t require an enormous amount of expertise for application. Always remember that you want the finish of the wood to remain in good condition, so if you intend to stain or sand the timber after application, then ensure that you choose a product that allows for this.

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