Wood putty and wood filler are both used to repair wood but are not the same. I’ll break down the differences so you can pick the right one for the job.
Wood putty and wood filler sound like the same thing, but there are key differences between these two products. Understanding those differences will save you time, money, and frustration.
Which is better for exterior repairs? Which one can be stained? Which is better for unfinished projects?
I’ll compare and contrast wood putty and wood filler, the advantages of each, and their primary uses. Then you’ll know which is the best one for your project.
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Table of Contents
- What is the Difference Between Wood Filler vs Wood Putty?
- What is Wood Putty?
- When to Use Wood Putty
- How to Use Wood Putty
- What is Wood Filler?
- Types of Wood Filler
- When to Use Wood Filler
- How to Use Wood Filler
What is the Difference Between Wood Putty and Wood Filler?
Wood putty and wood filler are both useful for filling holes, repairing damage, and hiding defects in wood, but they are not interchangeable. Knowing the differences between putty and filler will help you do the job right the first time.
Wood putty is oil-based. It’s made from a mixture of plastic and oil-based solvents like boiled linseed oil. It may also include calcium carbonate.
Wood filler is usually water-based. It’s made from a mixture of wood fibers or sawdust and a binding agent.
Wood filler has a paste-like consistency similar to mashed potatoes, which makes it easy to spread.
Wood putty has a thick, clay-like texture. Because of this thick consistency, it’s difficult to apply without using a putty knife.
Wood putty does not absorb wood stains. Instead, putty is available in a variety of colors. You’ll match the color of the putty to the stain on your project when making a repair.
Wood filler is generally available in one neutral color, although some brands, like Goodfilla, offer fillers in a variety of wood tones.
Some wood fillers are intended to be finished with a coat of paint, while others are labeled as stainable. However, not all stainable wood fillers are good at absorbing stain. I tested seven stainable wood fillers in this side-by-side comparison to see which ones perform the best.
Related: Does Stainable Wood Filler Work? (Here’s the Answer)
Hard vs Pliable
Wood filler dries quickly, usually in an hour or two, and hardens as it dries. Wood putty, on the other hand, dries slowly and does not harden. Instead, when wood putty remains pliable when it’s completely dry.
The long drying times of wood putty can be a problem because it allows dust and dirt to accumulate while it dries.
Interior vs Exterior
Wood putty can be used indoors or outdoors, but it’s excellent for exterior projects because it remains pliable. Wood shrinks and swells in response to changes in temperature and humidity. Wood putty remains flexible, so it expands and contracts along with the wood. Plus, wood putty acts as a sealer and is weatherproof. It’s resistant to the effects of the sun and rain.
Related: Mistakes with Wood Can Cause Your DIY Furniture to Crack
Wood filler is not a good choice for outdoor projects because it dries hard, so it won’t expand and contract along with the movement of the wood. Instead, it could crack or break. Plus, wood filler isn’t weatherproof. Sunlight can cause it to shrink and fall out.
Wood filler works better in controlled settings, such as repairs on indoor projects.
Finished vs Unfinished
Wood putty contains chemicals that can damage raw wood, so it’s best suited for repairing imperfections that occur after your project has been stained and a finish like polyurethane has been applied.
Related: Polycrylic vs Polyurethane: Are They The Same?
Wood filler is best for repairs on unfinished wood before you’ve applied a stain or finish. The filler is applied, sanded, and then stained along with the wood.
Related: Best Sanders for Furniture: Which to Buy and Why
What is Wood Putty?
Wood putty, sometimes called “plastic wood” is a clay-like substance used to repair holes and gaps in wood. It contains chemicals that can damage raw wood, so it’s best suited for finished projects. It doesn’t harden as it dries. Instead, it remains soft and pliable.
Putty can be used for repairs on indoor and outdoor projects. It’s an excellent choice for exterior projects because it remains pliable and can flex when the wood moves due to seasonal changes.
Wood putty usually comes in a stick which is good for use on small holes. Other putties require mixing with a hardener. Most putties are available in different colors, like mahogany, walnut, maple, and oak which you can match to the stain color of your project to create a flawless look.Back to Table of Contents
When to Use Wood Putty
Wood putty is a versatile product that can be used in both indoor and outdoor projects. One of the most common uses for wood putty is to hide imperfections after the finish has been applied to furniture, molding, and even flooring.
The putty can be used to fill in minor blemishes like nicks, scratches, gouges, and gaps between joints. It’s fantastic for touch-ups like hiding nail holes that you missed during your prep work or even where wood filler has fallen out.
Wood putty is also used for major repairs like cracks in deck boards. For larger repairs like this, you may need to use a two-part hardening putty. These types of putties bond with the wood and prevent the crack from spreading.Back to Table of Contents
How to Use Wood Putty
This quick video shows how easy it is to use wood putty.Back to Table of Contents
What is Wood Filler?
Wood filler is a paste-like material that bonds with wood fibers to fill holes and cracks in wood. It usually dries in less than an hour, and it hardens as it dries.
Wood filler is applied so that it is slightly raised and then sanded to create a smooth surface. Because it requires sanding, wood filler is best suited for repairs on raw wood and unfinished projects.Back to Table of Contents
Types of Wood Filler
The two most common types of filler are water-based and solvent-based. Water-based fillers are best suited for indoor uses. Solvent-based fillers like polyurethane and epoxy are more durable and can be used outdoors.
Latex Wood Filler
Latex or water-based fillers work best for interior repairs. Wood filler is not recommended for exterior projects because it dries hard. Wood movement due to seasonal changes could cause the hardened filler to crack.
Fillers can be painted or stained. Stainable wood fillers are porous, which means wood stains can penetrate the filler, and the repair will blend in with the surrounding wood. Wood fillers can also be mixed with sawdust to better match the color of your project.
DIY Wood Filler
If you plan to stain your project, DIY wood filler is an excellent choice. You’ll use sanding dust to make the filler, which will be a good match since the dust is also from the same species of wood as your project.
To make this wood filler, I collect wood dust from my random orbital sander and mix it with enough dewaxed shellac to make a paste-like consistency.
Related: How to Make a DIY Wood Filler
Wood Grain Filler
Open grain woods, such as oak, have large pores. Wood grain filler is made specifically for filling the pores of open-grained woods to produce a smooth finish.
Epoxy Wood Filler
Epoxy is used to repair rotted wood and restore its original strength and structure. It’s typically used in the renovation and restoration of older homes. Epoxy bonds to the existing wood and prevents further rot and decay.
Epoxy wood filler is either a liquid or paste-like filler. However, you may find that many projects will require the use of both types.
Minwax High-Performance Wood Filler is a well-known two-part filler.Back to Table of Contents
When to Use Wood Filler
Wood filler is frequently used to conceal flaws in raw or unfinished interior projects, like do-it-yourself furniture before applying paint or stain. Epoxy fillers, on the other hand, are durable enough to withstand outdoor use.
Filler will hide nail holes, small scratches, nicks, and gouges. It also works well for filling large damage like cracks.Back to Table of Contents
How to Use Wood Filler
This video shows how to use a variety of wood fillers.Back to Table of Contents
When you’re ready to tackle a home improvement project, it’s important to know the difference between wood putty and wood filler. The two materials are similar in some ways but distinctly different in others.
By understanding how each of them works, when you should use them, and what their limitations are, your next DIY project will go smoothly without any surprises along the way!
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