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Something I’ve learned during my time on this planet is that people make mistakes. Fortunately, there is usually a way to fix the problem, which is why pencils come with erasers, right? The same is true when it comes to home improvement and woodworking projects.
Doing projects at home requires a lot of patience and some skill, but what happens when you make a mistake? What if you make a hole bigger than it’s supposed to be? Unfortunately, that means you might have to scrap the whole thing, right?
However, there are ways to correct these mistakes that won’t cost you an arm and a leg. Wood filler and wood putty are a couple of common items you can use to fix defects or repair mistakes. It’s important to know the differences between the two so you know which one to use.
Let’s take a closer look at wood filler and wood putty, along with how they can be used to address mistakes or imperfections in your project. Before we get too far along though, let’s take a second and consider the differences between the two.
Main Differences Between Wood Filler vs Wood Putty:
The main differences between Wood Filler vs Wood Putty are:
- Wood filler is usually water-based, whereas wood putties are most often oil-based.
- Wood filler can be sanded and is typically used for unfinished wood, whereas wood putty cannot be sanded and is ideal for finished wood.
- Wood putty can be used with projects for any type of environment, whereas wood fillers should only be used for woodworking items that will remain indoors.
So, what is wood filler? Simply put, wood filler is a substance that can be used to fix wooden objects. However, you should be aware that it’s primarily used to repair small defects like holes, cracks, scratches, or scrapes you find in the wood.
This is the ideal solution for wood since some wood is more porous than other types of wood. Wood like ash, oak, or walnut tend to be some of the most porous. This is why it helps to have wood filler.
The primary purpose of wood filler is to camouflage imperfections in the wood but to do so without impacting the way the surface itself looks. Most wood fillers are water-based, so if you need to thing it out a little, you can do so by adding water.
For bigger projects, you might want to go with a solvent-based filler, since they are typically more heavy-duty and offer thicker consistency than water-based options.
No matter which type of wood filler you select, it will help you repair cracks, smooth surfaces, and fill holes for all your woodworking projects. Once you’ve filled the area, wait for the filler to dry. Then you can sand it down and repaint the object for a better-looking finish.
Types of Wood Filler
Choosing the right type of wood filler is dependent on the type of surface on which you’re working. Keep in mind that you might need to mix in a little sawdust to give the product a natural look to the finish of your project.
Epoxy wood fillers are designed to work on unfinished products. Typically, you’ll need to sand down areas where you use epoxy for best results. If you decide to go with this type of wood filler, be sure to use a sealant to prevent it from getting crumbly or brittle.
One of the mode widely used wood fillers are latex fillers. They’re used in a wide variety of products since they’re water-based and clean up easily. Epoxy is used a lot with raw timber to seal in the pores or cracks before they become problem areas.
This type of wood filler is often used on furniture. Polyurethane aids in sealing the outermost surface, which protects the piece from humidity, moisture, or other environmental detriments.
Why Use Wood Filler?
There are plenty of benefits to using wood filler, so let’s review a few of them here.
While it’s important to create good, quality work no matter what the project, sometimes it’s nice to have something that works quickly. Wood fillers are perfect for a scenario where you need to get something done in a hurry.
Once you apply wood filler, it dries quickly. Of course, drying time will depend on the type of wood filler and the product you select, however, many options on the market can dry in 10 to 20 minutes.
Ideal for Porous Surfaces
Fillers are ideally suited for work on porous surfaces. If you discover that the surface you’re using isn’t working very well, try sanding it down before you apply wood filler.
Also, keep in mind that wood filler is great if you’re working with unfinished lumber. If you apply wood filler to a finished project, you’ll discover that the surface is uneven and bumpy. The challenge here is that you’re going to have a hard time smoothing it down.
On the other hand, if you use an unfinished surface that already has holes, you can use the wood filler and then sand it down later.
Great for Filling Big Holes
The great thing about wood filler is that no matter how big or deep the hole is, it’s there to save your project. It can be difficult to find anything better when it comes to repairing cracks or holes in the surface of the wood.
If you do need to use wood filler to repair a big hole, remember to smooth out the surface beforehand with some sandpaper. After you’ve used the wood filler, allow it to dry, then paint it to get a nice, smooth finish.
When Not to Use Wood Filler
Something to keep in mind before you apply wood filler to your project is that wood tends to shrink or expand depending on weather or other environmental factors.
The problem here is that wood filler doesn’t offer the flexibility need to adapt to this type of shrinking and expanding. As a result, it tends to easily break, which means it’s best to use wood filler on furniture or wood projects that will remain indoors and away from environmental changes.
Now that we’ve covered what wood filler is and when it’s best to use it, let’s switch gears for a bit and talk about wood putty.
Where wood filler is usually used on unfinished wood, wood putty is typically applied already varnished and stained surfaces. You may also hear it called “plastic wood.”
Even though there are a variety of methods used to create wood putty, the vast majority of manufacturers make theirs of oil-based components and calcium carbonate. As a result, when you add water to the mixture, the wood putty behaves like a soft clay.
This clay-like consistency gives the wood putty the ability to stay wet for long periods, so if you’re working on a project that requires a quick turnaround, you may have to search for alternative methods.
When using wood putty, it’s ideal to use it on finished surfaces. This is due to the chemicals it contains, which you shouldn’t use on raw wood. After you’ve applied the wood putty to your project, be sure to wash off any extra residue and be sure to sand it down to get a smooth surface.
Why Use Wood Putty?
There are several reasons to use wood putty with your most recent woodworking project. Let’s take a look at a few of them.
Easy to Apply
One of the best things about wood putty is that it’s easy to apply to nearly any type of wood surface. You can use a putty knife to cover large areas or your finger to dab a bit on smaller areas.
If you find any extra wood putty on the surface of your project, just grab a damp rag and wipe it off, then let it dry until it sets.
Various Shade Selection
Stained and finished surface take on certain shades and textures, so it only makes sense that wood putty comes in options that match. It’s imperative that you select a wood putty with similar tone and shade so your repair doesn’t draw attention.
So as you go about working on your wood project, be sure to find a tone that matches the surface of the wood you’re repairing.
No Additional Adhesives Required
Wood putty is a great product for fixing cracks and holes, but many people don’t know that it can also behave as a sealing agent. Why does that matter? Because it means you don’t have to purchase an additional adhesive sealer for the surface of your project.
One last way that wood putty is beneficial is through the savings it provides over the course of time. That’s because wood putty is durable, which means you don’t have to fix the repair over and over.
The nice thing about wood putty is that even if you purchase one of the smaller containers it comes in, you should still have plenty to last for a few projects. If you don’t need to use all of it, be sure to store it in a cool, dry place.
Why Not Use Wood Putty
Perhaps the biggest reason not to use wood putty is due to the potential harm it can cause raw wood. Because of the ingredients used to make wood putty, using it on unfinished timber can result in damaging the surface of your project before you’re able to stain it.
How Do They Compare?
So we’ve talked a little bit about wood filler and wood putty, but how do they stack up against one another? Even though they’re similar products, they do have their own distinct areas of use.
Applying to Wood
Both wood filler and wood putty are used on timber, however, when both are applied can make a huge difference. Wood filler is used before staining or finishing, whereas wood putty is ideal for use on a finished surface.
Usually, wood filler all contain some type of solvent or bulking agent that allows it to bind and hold everything together. The type of wood filler you select will vary and contain various types of compounds. This could include clay, wood fiber, epoxy, and latex.
Putty, however, is dependent on the ingredients the manufacturer uses. This will vary by brand, but almost all wood putty has a particular subset of ingredients. While the vast majority use oil-based compounds, some might deviate a little based on color or tone.
Time to Dry
We already know that wood putty takes quite a while longer to dry than wood filler. For the most part, wood filler takes around 15-20 minutes before it is dry and ready to be sanded. However, if you’re fixing a large hole, you may have to wait a while longer.
By comparison, wood putty takes a considerable amount of time before its completely dry. You’ll need to let it dry for several hours before it’s done. There are some instances when you might need to let it dry for 24 hours.
When They’re Used
Wood fillers are used primarily on furniture that’s going to be used indoors. As a matter of fact, it’s not a good idea to use it on outdoor projects, as wood filler doesn’t have the necessary flexibility to adjust to harsh outdoor climate changes.
Wood putties, on the other hand, are great to use for either outdoor or indoor woodworking projects. The product holds its structure very well, plus it’s resistant to high temperatures and water.
FAQs About Wood Filler vs Wood Putty
If you’re looking to fill a large hole or gap, then you might consider a two-part epoxy. This is one of the most popular options when it comes to patching bigger gaps. You can use epoxy to fix doorjambs, wood trim, moldings, or baseboards.
There are several types of options available to use as substitutes for wood filler. You can use epoxy glue, hide glue, or wood glue. However, keep in mind that some of these might dry quicker than you’re used to.
If you purchase a high-quality wood filler, you can expect that it will last for years, even if it’s used on furniture or wood projects that sit outdoors. Due to the way wood filler is made, it won’t crack or shrink when the weather changes.
So, we’ve covered what wood filler and wood putty is and discussed when you should and should not use each. Now it’s up to you to determine which one makes more sense for your woodworking project. Both wood putty and wood filler are products that do what they’re designed to do and seal the surface of your project just as intended. Each also does a great job of hiding and repairing blemishes in the wood.
But keep in mind that the type of wood you’re working with may be a factor in whether you need to use wood filler or wood putty. Additionally, it’s important to remember that if you’re working on a project meant for outdoor use then you’ll want to use wood putty.
No matter what type of project you’re working on, it’s nice to know that there are options available to help hide imperfections and blemishes so the finished product looks amazing.