Wood Filler vs Wood Putty Comparison: Key Differences and When To Use

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As a woodworker, you’ll encounter nuanced tools and materials as you further hone your skills. Wood putty and wood filler are two commonly used supplies interchangeably used but, in reality, serve different purposes. But what’s the difference between the two? 

Read on as our pro woodworkers detail everything you need to know in this in-depth wood filler vs wood putty comparison. 

About Wood Fillers

A wood filler is generally used to fix and fill in holes and gaps. It is distinguished by its formulation of wood dust and fibers held together by a binding agent. 

A wood filler hardens in minutes, so it’s advisable to use it for interior woodwork tasks like repairing damaged fixtures and interior walls.   

person holding a wood filler

Thus, most wood fillers are not recommended for mending deck boards, exterior woodwork repairs, and outdoor furniture. Also, it tends to expand and contract depending on the ambient temperature. 

When Should You Use Wood Fillers?

A wood filler is generally untinted and can easily attach and harden on wooden pieces. Therefore, it’s advisable applying on unfinished wood that you plan to stain, paint, or apply a clear coat on. 

Here are some other applications when you use wood filler:   

Pros and Cons of Using Wood Fillers

Wood Filler Pros

Suitable for Unfinished Wood

They’re made from non-harmful materials such as wood particles that you can apply to natural wood. 

Famowood wood filler
Stainable and Sandable

It can be stained and sanded down to get a smooth finish.

Best for Large Projects

It can be used for large areas and wooden pieces.

Wood Filler Cons

For Indoor Use Only

It’s only ideal to use wood filler indoors since it tends to expand or contract depending on the temperature. 

Steeper Learning Curve

It takes a lot of patience to use a wood filler, especially for first-time users.

applying wood filler
Limited Colors or Stains Option

Wood fillers have a limited selection of wood tones, colors, and stains.

About Wood Putty

Wood putty is also known as “plastic wood,” made from plastic-based and oil-based compounds. These include boiled linseed oil, calcium carbonate, and universal colorants. 

Due to its chemical composition, it is not recommended to use wood putty on raw wood, as it can cause unwanted damage instead of repairs when directly applied. So we suggest putting a barrier, such as a stain, before the application. 

When Should You Use Wood Putty?

person applying wood putty

Pros and Cons of Using Wood Putty

Wood Putty Pros

Flexible and User-Friendly

Wood putty remains flexible, so it’s easy to use when making repairs. It also has different variations, like putty sticks, that make it easier to spread on surfaces.  

Many Color Options

When you choose to use wood putty, you’ll be surprised by the different colors available. This is much easier to blend with the wood stains of your choice. 

Not Fully Hardens

Its constitution resembles a putty-like compound adhesive, which does not fully harden. 

Wood Putty Cons

Minimal Effect on Sanding or Finishes

Sanding or finishing with the putty on create an unnoticeable effect on wood. 

sanding off excess wooden surface
Unsafe Due to Hazardous Chemicals

Its chemical constitution makes wood putty not ideal for direct application on a raw wood surface. It can only be used on finished furniture. 

Not for Large Projects

It needs more time to completely dry, making it unsuitable for large projects. 

Wood Putty and Wood Filler Comparison

Price

If you compare wood putty against wood filler, the former is more expensive. This is because it requires more chemicals and materials to create. 

Lifespan

Wood filler and wood putty have different lifespans. Most fillers dry in a matter of minutes, while wood putty takes hours to dry. 

mixing wood filler

User-Friendliness and Sandability

Wood putty is easier to sand but needs a putty knife to aid its application. On the other hand, a wood filler is pliable, but sanding and finishes have minimal effects. 

Unfinished or Finished Wood

It is recommended to apply wood filler on unfinished furniture, but you can still apply it on finished surfaces. Meanwhile, putty is only recommended for finished wood furniture. 

Material and Coating

Wood putty is made from plastic mixed with an adhesive. Wood filler, on the other hand, is made from wood fibers and particles. Furthermore, fillers require a stain or a finish to adhere to the surface or material.

How To Fill Wood Gaps & Holes

After learning about the similarities and differences between wood putty and wood filler, you need to know how to fill wood gaps and repair holes properly with these formulas.  

applying wood filler to the gap

Using Wood Filler

With the use of wood filler, filling holes and gaps are more effective. Also, it covers imperfections on lumber, which you can improve further by sanding it down and applying a sealer or stain for a complete finish.

Using Wood Putty

Putty is much easier to use since it has a shorter drying period. You can repair cracks, fill holes, and do other home repairs. Exterior wood putty is also good for some outdoor tasks. 

Factors to Consider in Buying a Wood Filler

Ingredients and Amount

Check the ingredients and how much is in the product. They should reflect wood fibers and cover your project sufficiently. Do not purchase if it indicates that the product has no adhesive. 

preparing wood filler

Smell

Due to its distinct smell, ensure to wear a mask and protective eyewear. 

Color and Finish

If you intend to use the wood filler on unfinished wood, make sure it can be sanded and stained. Also, take into consideration the wood colors and types it can blend in.

Intended Use

Review the uses of the filler to assess if the filler is appropriate for your project. 

Drying Time

Consider the drying time to plan and fully prepare your project’s execution. Note that wood filler hardens dry after a few hours. 

applying wood filler

Brand and Price

Consider brands like Minwax and DAP when purchasing a filler. In terms of price, fillers normally cost between $1 to $4 per ounce. 

Expiration Date

Make sure the filler isn’t expired yet. Check the expiration on the packaging to see if you can still use it effectively and safely. 

FAQ

Is it okay to apply wood stain on wood fillers?

Yes, you can apply wood stain on the surrounding wood filler. There are several stainable wood fillers available in your local hardware shops. 

Is using caulk better than wood filler?

It is always better to use fillers in making exterior repairs. A caulk may not work well when filling nail holes and cracks. 

Can I make my own wood putty or wood filler?

You can make your own wood putty and wood filler by combining adhesives such as wood glue and sawdust [1]. 

Is wood filler and spackle the same?

A filler and spackle are similar, but the latter is used on plaster and drywall, whereas the former is used on wooden pieces. 

Conclusion

We hope this article has shed light on the difference between wood putty vs wood filler. But before everything else, assess the severity of your project and the materials you’re going to use. 

You will choose either wood putty or a wood filler based on such factors and which of the two will be the best fit for your requirement. 

Robert Johnson is a woodworker who takes joy in sharing his passion for creating to the rest of the world. His brainchild, Sawinery, allowed him to do so as well as connect with other craftsmen. He has since built an enviable workshop for himself and an equally impressive online accomplishment: an extensive resource site serving old timers and novices alike.
Robert Johnson

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