How to Use Wood Filler (a Simple 7-Step Guide)

Restore your old lumber to its former glory in under three hours

Ben Kissam
Written by Ben Kissam
Reviewed by Robert Tschudi
Updated September 21, 2022
A woman repairs a wooden chair
Photo: sturti / E+ / Getty Images


You've got this!

Time to complete

3 hours

Including dry time.



Keep it wallet-friendly.

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What you'll need:


  • Putty knife
  • Towels or rags
  • Paintbrush


  • Wood filler
  • Wood stain
  • Fine sandpaper or electric sander with fine sanding pads

If you like tackling home improvement projects, you've probably seen all sorts of imperfections on wood. Nail holes, cracks, chips, you name it—and it can be a little disheartening to find any of these marks on expensive furniture or even wood you'd like to repurpose.

Fortunately, using wood filler is a very simple and effective strategy to salvage or restore imperfect lumber. Learn how to use wood filler properly in this short, seven-step guide.

Prepping to Use Wood Filler

You can purchase a tub of wood filler for under $15, although you might need to pay a little extra if you need a certain color or finish.

Wood filling products are often designed to match popular stains and paint colors to make any repairs simple. If you kept the stain you used initially, look for a product that matches that color.

Take time to assess the wood you're trying to fix. Does it seem like wood filler will be enough to salvage it? If you're unsure, ask a local carpenter, especially if you're planning to use it on something like your floors. Depending on the job, a handyperson near you or a local furniture refinishing company might also be great resources.

5 tips for using wood filler, including matching the color, sanding the area, and letting it dry
  1. Choose the Right Wood Filler

    Solvent-based and water-based wood fillers are both stainable. However, keep in mind that there are other types of wood fillers that you can choose from, such as indoor wood and outdoor wood fillers. 

    Be sure to match the wood filler you need to the item or section of your home you're fixing.

    “One time, we ordered a truckload of oak flooring, but the product we received was a low ‘utility grade’ product with large cracks and knot holes,” says Bob Tschudi, Expert Review Board Member and general contractor in Raleigh, NC. “We were about to sell it for salvage when our interior designer suggested that we install it, fill all the holes and cracks with wood filler, and then sand, stain and coat. The result was amazing and actually added value to the house.”

  2. Sand Down the Parts You'll Be Repairing

    If the wood you'll be working with is rough, splintered, or just not in the best shape, take some sandpaper to smooth out the areas that need wood filler.

    This step will help make the second half of the job easier, and sanding down rough edges is the best way to prepare the wood before you stain it.

  3. Apply Wood Filler to the Holes or Cracks

    A view of wood filler being applied
    Photo: ImagESine / Adobe Stock

    Using a putty knife, apply wood filler to each crack or hole you intend to fill. Add more wood filler to each hole than it appears can reasonably be added; you will brush away much of it later.

    Really work the wood filler in with a putty knife. Your goal is to jam as much wood filler into the crack or hole as possible to fill it up.

  4. Rub the Wood Down Lightly With a Rag

    Rub any excess wood filler away from the edges or surface with a cloth. It's okay if you don't get it all—it's just easier to remove while it’s wet.

  5. Let the Wood Filler Dry

    Always read labels, but wait at least two hours for your wood filler to bind and dry.

    Deeper holes or cracks (more than 2 inches) may need additional time or several applications. You may need to use wood filler in sections on holes larger than an inch—for example, half an inch at a time.

  6. Sand Down the Edges

    A man sands wood
    Photo: Guido Mieth / Stone / Getty Images

    Use sandpaper to clear off any excess wood filler around the edges of the crack or hole.

    Having both regular and extra fine sandpaper may be a good idea here. You can really smooth out the edges and help your wood look brand new again.

  7. Stain or Mix and Match Wood Filler, If Needed

    Once it's dry and sanded, use stain or paint to make everything one uniform color.

    If you accidentally use the wrong wood filler or plan to stain it once it's done, you might buy a wood filler crayon ($5 to $7 at hardware stores) that's slightly darker or lighter to help bring the colors together.

    Note: When painting furniture, it's important to always do so in a well-ventilated area.

Using Wood Filler: DIY Vs. Hiring a Pro

Using wood filler for most basic home improvement projects is simple and generally something many homeowners can tackle without a problem. 

However, there are a few instances where hiring a furniture specialist might make sense:

  • Wood is cracked or chipped significantly

  • You can't find a stain or paint to match the wood

  • You're afraid you might damage expensive furniture further 

Consulting a handyperson or someone with wood repair knowledge can also help you avoid any costly mistakes.

“If you are trying to repair or match wood colors, it’s important to hire a pro who is passionate about finishes,” Tschudi says. “You want to find someone who has a passion for colors and textures and making the final result look as perfect as possible.”

Frequently Asked Questions

Wood filler is used to fix imperfections or damaged interior sections of wood on items like cabinets, door frames, and even laminate floors or countertops. It contains wood byproducts like sawdust mixed with water or solvent, which helps bind to wood and dry pretty quickly.

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