December 29, 2022
You might already be familiar with wood fillers. When the wood surface suffers from cracks, gaps, blemishes, and holes, we rely on wood filler to cover them back up.
We consider wood putty as a type of wood filler, though they are distinct from one another. This article will treat them as such.
So, while both wood filler and wood putty are effective, reliable materials to fix wood damage, you can’t exactly buy both. You want to find out which one has the best advantages for you.
We’re here to distinguish wood filler and putty’s features, drawbacks, and how to choose the one for your situation. Let’s get started!
Wood Putty VS Wood Filler: Pros and Cons
What exactly are the advantages and disadvantages of wood putties and fillers? Let’s examine them.
What Is Wood Putty?
Wood putty is a good option to fill in any damage on your wood surface. You may also know wood putty as plastic wood. To an extent, it does live up to that name.
Wood putty is a mixture of wood dust, binders, thinners, and pigments. However, some may not have pigments. They may also need certain finishes to match the tone of the damaged wood.
Aside from paint, you may need to sand the wood putty after.
Wood Putty Pros:
● Resists shrinking
● Resists sun and rain damage
Wood putty is one of the most durable materials you can get. Even if you have to invest a lot of money, you can get it back with how long the putty lasts in its place.
Wood putty is oil-based, too. It’s perfect for exterior projects as it can resist moisture, including rain damage. It can resist sun damage, too.
As its mixture has solvents, it can also resist shrinkage. If the wood expands or contracts, the putty can stay put!
Plus, the wood putty can act as a sealant as well. You can keep the wood putty fresh even after it dries with a few drops of acetone.
Wood Putty Cons:
● Long drying time
● Susceptible to damage
● It may still be visible after drying
After applying wood putty, you can expect it to take up to several days to dry up. If you’re under time constraints with your wood projects, the drying time may be a drag.
During the drying time, the shade of the wood can darken. This darkening is a complication when matching wood tones.
Wood putty is also susceptible to a lot of damage. For example, sanding can ruin the wood quickly.
What Can You Do With Wood Putty?
Take extra care when dealing with raw wood. Apply wood putty only after staining and varnishing it. Smooth the putty after applying it, and try to make the finish as invisible as possible.
If you want something that dries faster, you can use solvent-based putty. Water-based putty can shrink more and take a longer time to dry. However, it is environmentally friendly and easy to clean!
Solvent-based putty is more heavy-duty and has actual wood, so it’s more reliable for whatever damage there is on the surface.
What Is Wood Filler?
As we mentioned above, wood putty is simply a wood filler. Their purpose is the same: to fix up damage on wood surfaces. You can patch up anything from small holes to large gaps.
Wood fillers come in latex, epoxy, polyester, powder, and pastes.
Wood Filler Pros:
● Varied drying time
Wood filler can dry as quickly as 10 to 15 minutes, while some can take as long as 8 hours. Unlike wood putty, however, it’s much quicker. So, if there’s an urgent need, you can go for wood fillers.
The best thing about wood fillers is that it comes in a lot of varieties. You can get the one wood filler for your unique needs.
For example, if you need something that dries up quickly, you can use polyester paste. If you need something just for small holes and surface damage, you can go for latex.
If you want something stainable, or if you need a filler you can paint, you can choose one, too. Some fillers are more durable and can withstand heavy impact.
Wood Filler Cons:
● Some are only for interior use
● Needs different adhesive
However, unlike wood putty, you can only use some wood fillers for interior use. They can shrink easily and won’t resist moisture.
When you leave the filler, it might damage when placed outside. Plus, the wood can expand and contract, and if your filler shrinks, it will break easily.
Unlike wood putty, wood fillers might need adhesives as they’re not sealants on their own.
On the flip side, you can apply the putty before any finishes or stains. You can get paint that matches the wood tones much better and control the finish.
When To Use Wood Putty?
Wood putty doesn’t harden. Yet, it expands and contracts together with the wood. Thus, it is perfect for outdoor projects. Wood tends to expand and contract due to the vicissitudes of weather and humidity levels, especially if it gets placed outdoors. So, it is reasonable to use wood putty instead of wood fillers for outdoor wood projects. The reason is wood filler will likely break due to the expansion and contraction of wood. Wood putty, on the other hand, will only contract or expand along with the wood, even if the wood warps or twists.
If you want to make minor wood repairs, you can use wood putty. Using wood putty, you can cover minor wood imperfections like small blemishes, nail holes, and slight joint mismatches.
You can fill cracks, dents, and small holes in flooring, interior woodwork, and finished furniture. You can also fill gaps and gouges in exterior wood projects, though you need to repaint the wood. Besides, you can repair decking boards’ cracks. You can use two-part wood fillers (hardening putty type) because they bond well with wood and help prevent the spread of cracks.
When To Use Wood Filler?
You can use wood filler if you want to make major repairs on sizeable or significant damage to indoor wood structures. It is ideal for making major repairs on indoor wood structures. Wood fillers don’t contract and expand with the wood. Besides, they dry faster compared to wood putty.
Moreover, wood fillers contain organic components. Hence, you can apply it liberally on wood without damaging the wood.
As mentioned above, wood putty is designed for minor repairs to cover nail holes and repair tiny cracks, nicks, and gouges on any finished wood surface. Wood fillers, on the other hand, are designed for repairing significant damage to wood. Wood fillers, however, are challenging to match with the wood type. Hence, try a small portion of wood using a wood filler. Afterward, you can apply wood stain on the repaired surface to match the wood color.
Wood filler is perfect for filling scratches, gouges, and nicks of unfinished furniture. You can fill holes and gouges in wood flooring using wood fillers. You can even fill gaps between those shiplapped flooring boards using wood fillers before refinishing the floor. Lastly, you can shape and mold damaged edges of your countertops, shelves, and tabletops.
Major Differences Between Wood Filler & Wood Putty
Wood Putty Applications: We recommend wood putty for exterior wood projects. Wood putty doesn’t harden that easily. So, whenever wood contracts and expands, it does, too.
If you live in an area where temperature and humidity changes are constant, get wood putty. Constant climate fluctuations are what make wood expand and contract! Having exterior wood just makes them more susceptible to breakage.
If you have excess wood putty and need to cover up minor imperfections, it’s also perfect for small blemishes. Use it for nail holes and trimming mismatches.
Wood Filler Applications: For large gaps and holes in your indoor wood, use wood fillers. Indoor wood isn’t exposed to temperature and humidity fluctuations, so it won’t expand and contract. It’s for a good reason, too – wood filler can break and shrink!
Some wood fillers can dry faster, so if you’re under a time constraint, you can also use them. Organic wood fillers won’t cause damage, while wood putty can damage raw wood once sanded.
If you don’t mind mixing and matching stains, so your filler is invisible, go for it. It can be a bit harder to match wood tones with fillers. Experiment with the filler-stain proportion, so you know your best fit.
Wood Putty Formula: Wood putty can either be solvent-based or water-based. Whichever your buy, putty will usually come in a can. Once you get it onto your woodworking equipment, you might find that its texture feels like stiff dough.
Depending on the brand, it can dry quickly or slowly. Many brands recommend hardeners to mix with the putty for a more durable result.
The solvents in putty enable it to resist shrinkage. Plus, it has natural wood fibers you can choose to match your wood species at home.
It can tolerate some stains and is okay to paint.
However, its visibility depends on your application. Make sure to do it carefully!
Water-based fillers are much easier to clean up. If you’re looking to save time, consider that variant. They’re great for exterior use. Depending on your choice of work, you can use some inside, too.
Wood Filler Formula: Unlike putty, fillers come in tubes. Though not much like dough, fillers are still pliable to the point of feeling like rubber.
It’s one crucial advantage and disadvantage is its variety. The formula usually has different colors to complement all kinds of wood. If you don’t want to buy pre-colored, you can look for stains to camouflage the filler.
They can dry harder, and you want to go for those formulas if you have particularly large gaps.
You can also go for wood grain fillers. If you’re working with open grains, you use those kinds of fillers and prepare to finish. The thickness can remind you of heavy syrup! It’s enough to go into pores and grain lines, then dry hard.
One advantage is that you can sand it and make it as smooth as possible. After, you can give it shine with a topcoat and varnish.
To penetrate deep pores, go for ones that have solvents in the mixture. If you want an easier clean-up, go for water-based ones.
If you can “reserve” some days just for your woodworking project, use wood putty. It takes a long time to dry, so you’re looking at hours to several days. If you have a lot of wood to cover, consider how long the entire space will need to dry.
Some brands can stiffen on their own. However, some may need hardeners. It can help to dry your putty up quicker.
Due to the long drying time, consider the shade you picked out. Lighter putties may end up looking darker as they can accumulate dust over time. It might not be noticeable for larger woodworking projects, but it largely depends on the original wood color.
Filler, however, can be quick. Ten to fifteen minutes can be enough, especially if you apply it shallowly. Deep applications can take hours, but it should be enough drying time.
Wood fillers are great options if you can’t wait out your woodworking project. Plus, it’s great for minor damage. If there are only a few blemishes, there’s no need to wait a long time just because you want to use putty.
You might have been looking at the prices already. Have you noticed anything? Yes, the prices are quite close. However, we shouldn’t just look at the amount we have to pay.
We have to look at the effectiveness as well. It might be cheap, but if you keep buying more and more filler or putty to repair the same woodworking project, it’s expensive.
We recommend wood putty if you want something more durable. We know we keep saying this, but it can withstand outdoor elements. It sounds like another feature now, but it’s a big thing! Even if you use it for indoor projects, it can last longer and withstand more outside factors.
It can resist humidity and water, plus it won’t shrink. If you accidentally spill something inside or if it’s more humid than usual, your project won’t be affected.
If the putty dries in the can, you can refresh it. You don’t need to buy a new one! Add a few drops of acetone and mix it around. It’s as good as new.
In contrast, the wood filler doesn’t have any of this. Once it dries, it dries. You can’t refresh it. It can shrink, and it’ll break if the wood expands.
So, consider wood putty first. If you prefer wood fillers, use them on your indoor projects.
While they are similar, there are several differences between wood putty and filler. From the formula, drying time, and suitable conditions, one choice can make a difference for your woodworking projects.
Beyond giving you a product recommendation, we recommend you do your own analysis. Where is the woodworking needed? Do you need it to dry up quickly, or can you make time for the putty or filler to dry on its own? Do you have enough of a budget?
Consider this article as a menu for what you should look for. Putty and filler have different properties, unique advantages, and specific drawbacks. Consider what will bring your woodworking project to the next level.
Did you enjoy this article? We hope you did! Tell us about your woodworking project, any mishaps, and your experiences. We hope you buy the best putty or filler for your needs!
Jason is a 40-year-old woodworker, carpenter and author who have been involved in the woodworking and woodcraft industry with 17 years of experience. He is expertise in technical aspects, woodcraft and furniture building projects.