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Chris Baylor

Tips for Using Wood Fillers on Stained Projects

By November 15, 2006

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Early on in my time as a woodworker, when I began making pieces to be finished with stain, I was frustrated by a problem I experienced using wood filler to fill nail holes and blemishes in the stock. I would sand the project and then apply the filler exactly as per the instructions, by putting it on with a small putty knife (or using my finger), pressing the putty down into the nail hole and leaving it slightly raised, to be sanded later. However, I would often end up seeing a ring around the nail hole through the stain after the piece was finished, caused by the wood filler.

My initial thought was that it was a problem with the wood filler, perhaps being the wrong color. However, I later realized the real source of the problem. The wood filler was fine, in and of itself. However, what was happening was that the wood filler was seeping into the pores in the wood surrounding the nail hole, and even though I was later sanding the filler flush with the wood, the filler that seeped into the stock around the hole would not stain the same color as the stock, and it stood out like a sore thumb on the finished piece.

With that in mind, I realized I had to learn how to deal with the problem. I determined that because wood fillers contain moisture, they're going to work themselves into the surrounding wood if left on for any period of time. I could try and remove any excess immediately, but because wood filler shrinks (slightly) when it dries, I would likely need to re-apply the filler to cover up the shrinkage from drying.

I have since learned to apply the filler before beginning any sanding on the project whatsoever. When I sand the project (using progressively higher grits of sandpaper), I will end up sanding off not only the excess filler, but also a very thin layer off of the top of the surface of the stock, which is usually deep enough to remove any filler that has seeped into the pores of the stock. While the filler in the nail hole still stains a slightly different color, it is much more difficult to spot since it is only the area of the nail hole instead of about a half-inch diameter area that was initially covered by wood filler. The result is a much more evenly stained finish.


November 21, 2006 at 1:43 pm
(1) Leroy says:

I put masking tape where I make a hole and then fill it.After it dries I take off the masking tape and sand it down.

November 21, 2006 at 2:57 pm
(2) john danyi says:

try using the powder mix to fill nail holes adding the color stain you want to use,that should fix the problem area around the nail hole

November 22, 2006 at 3:38 pm
(3) Albert says:

I think that first stain the wood and then use the powder mix so that the grain is filled first.

November 26, 2006 at 1:05 pm
(4) Eli says:

I have been told it is better to fill the holes after applying the stain so that the filler matches the finished wood. I realise you wouldn’t want to sand too much after the wood is stained, but wouldn’t this eliminate the problem of the filler not taking the stain the same way as the wood?

October 26, 2008 at 8:22 am
(5) fdsdd says:

add some stain to the wood filler and then fill it in

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