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? 

I’m here to guide you through the nuances 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. I suggest using it on unfinished wood that you plan to stain, paint, or apply a clear coat on. 

Now, let’s explore some other scenarios where wood filler comes in handy:

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

One of the things I appreciate most about wood filler is its versatility. You can stain it to match your wood’s color, and it sands down smoothly for that polished finish. Plus, if you need to drill into it, there are drillable wood fillers that are readily available.

But, here’s a question I often hear: is it advisable to stain wood fillers? Let’s discuss that matter here. 

Best for Large Projects

It can be used for large areas and wooden pieces.

Wood Filler Cons

For Indoor Use Only

One drawback to using wood filler is that it’s best suited for indoor projects. It has a tendency to expand or contract with changes in temperature, so it may not hold up well in outdoor settings.

Steeper Learning Curve

It takes a lot of patience to use a wood filler, especially for first-time users. But trust me, once you get the hang of it, the results are worth it.

applying wood filler
Limited Colors or Stains Option

Even the best wood fillers have a limited selection of wood tones, colors, and stains. You might find yourself with fewer options for matching different wood tones or achieving specific colors.

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. 

Now, here’s something important to keep in mind: I wouldn’t recommend using wood putty directly on raw wood due to its chemical composition. Doing so can lead to unintended damage rather than repairs. To ensure the best results, it’s a good practice to apply a barrier like a stain before using wood putty.

When Should You Use Wood Putty?

person applying wood putty

Pros and Cons of Using Wood Putty

Wood Putty Pros

Flexible and User-Friendly

I’ve found wood putty to be incredibly user-friendly. It 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. This flexibility can be a real asset, especially in situations where you want your wood to maintain a bit of give or if you anticipate further adjustments down the line.

Wood Putty Cons

Minimal Effect on Sanding or Finishes

One drawback I’ve noticed with wood putty is that it has minimal impact on sanding or finishing.

sanding off excess wooden surface
Unsafe Due to Hazardous Chemicals

Another important point to remember is that the chemical composition of wood putty can be a bit tricky. It’s not recommended for direct application on raw wood surfaces due to potential hazards. Instead, it’s best suited for use 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

I’ve found that applying wood filler on unfinished furniture is often the best practice. However, it’s worth noting that you can still use wood filler on finished surfaces if needed.

On the other hand, wood putty has its own set of recommendations. From my personal experience, I suggest using wood putty exclusively on finished wood furniture. It’s not typically recommended for use on raw or unfinished wood surfaces.

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 the best 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, I always recommend wearing 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 of wood fillers or wood putties 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. Wood filler is specifically formulated for repairing and filling in wood surfaces, such as holes, dents, or gaps in furniture, cabinets, or wooden structures.

It is designed to harden and blend with the surrounding wood. 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. More of wood filler and spackle comparison here! 

Conclusion

I hope this article has given you some clarity on the distinction between wood putty and wood filler. However, before you dive into your project, it’s crucial to evaluate its scope and the materials you plan to work with.

Your choice between wood putty and wood filler should align with these factors and meet your project’s specific demands. So, take a moment to consider what best suits your requirements.

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Robert Johnson is a passionate furniture maker & carpenter, sought after for his knowledge on the craft.
You’ve probably seen his down-to-earth wisdom in USA Today, Bobvila, Family Handyman, and The Spruce, where he has shared commentary and guidance on various woodworking topics.

Robert is the brain behind Sawinery, where he aims to share tips, tricks, and a passion for all things carpentry.

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