Wood Putty Vs. Wood Filler: Which One For Your Project

It happens. Old wood gets holes in it, new wood looks imperfect. You want a smooth finish but don’t want to completely redo a project. That’s where both wood putty and wood filler come in. But the two are not the same. 

If you do a lot of projects with wood, or if your house isn’t brand new, you should probably keep both wood filler and wood putty around. Neither are expensive in small amounts and both can last a long time unopened. 

What Is The Difference Between Wood Putty And Wood Filler? 

Wood Putty Vs. Wood Filler

Ask anyone who works with wood regularly and they will tell you they use both wood putty and wood filler. The two are not the same so both are usually needed in the long run. But what are the differences between them?

Note: companies often label wood filler and wood putty the same. To find out which one the product you’re looking at really is, then you can check the label to see which of these you can find out on your own. 

Sandability 

You can sand wood filler but you cannot sand wood putty. This is important to remember. The wood putty needs to be flat and in place as once it dries, it’s staying. You cannot sand it down or smooth it out. 

Finished Or Unfinished Wood

This is the easiest comparison. Wood putty should be used primarily on finished wood while wood filler is generally used on unfinished wood. However, wood filler can be used on both finished and unfinished wood. 

Outdoor Application 

Wood filler won’t last as long as wood putty outside. If you’re using it outdoors, then wood putty is your best bet because it can stand the elements even though it is oil-based where wood filler is water-based. 

Painting

When it comes to painting, wood filler is better. You can’t paint wood putty so great. If it’s days old then it can be possible but you will have to make sure you have the right kind of paint whereas it’s safer to use most paints with wood filler. 

Material

Wood putty is an adhesive that is made from plastic. But wood filler is made with sawdust or wood fibers that can blend in well with unfinished wood. But it will need to be stained or finished in order for it to adhere well. 

How To Use Wood Filler

Wood filler is a very useful item for small projects. You can apply it to small holes and cracks in unfinished wood for your new projects. In this project, we applied it to imperfections in a handrail we were making.

First off, we applied the wood filler but didn’t flatten it out too much. Then, we let it dry and sanded it down. In the end, we finished it with a stain and sealer. Looking at the end project, you wouldn’t know the filler is even there. 

We did the same thing with this retro rainbow dresser. We applied the filler to imperfections and knots. In this case, we smoothed it down nicely and painted over it. This is perfect for knotty wood that you want to paint. 

How To Use Wood Putty

How To Use Wood PuttyView in gallery

Wood putty is actually easier to use than wood filler because you just use it and go. It is thicker than wood filler and can be used for home repairs. For example, say you rewire a room and there are holes in the doorframes.

If these doorframes will be covered by the door again, you can fill them with wood putty and then cover them up. Putty is sort of for leaving and forgetting about it which is not something you can do with wood filler. In short, wood putty is best for daily home repairs.

Buying Wood Filler

If you’ve never bought wood filler before, then you need to consider a few things. Don’t just buy the first one you see, follow a guide to find out what the best wood fillers you can buy are to feel secure in your purchase. 

Buying Wood FillerView in gallery

Price 

You don’t want to buy “cheap” wood filler but you also don’t want to be overcharged. Wood filler should cost between $1 to $4 an ounce unless bought in bulk. Don’t pay much more or less than that for small projects. 

Brand

Brand matters. While you can go to a local hardware store and trust the brands they sell, the most common brands for good wood filler are Minwax and DAP. When in doubt, buy one of their brand’s choices. 

Size

Don’t get more than you need. Look at the area you need to cover and the depth of the holes. You can use clay or something similar to test the amount you need or try to eye it. You can always go back and buy more. 

Smell

Some wood fillers have a very distinct odor. If you can’t handle this or worry about the chemicals used, then read reviews to find ones that don’t have a strong odor. Or, prepare and wear a mask to help you deal with it.

Uses

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Indoor, outdoor, cracks, holes. Make sure you read the uses for the filler you’re looking at to see if it applies to your project. Some are for specific types of projects which isn’t always obvious at first.

Finishing

Again, wood putty is for finished wood, but it is often labeled wood filler. Make sure the wood filler you buy can be sanded and stained if you are using it on unfinished wood. Otherwise, you’ll have to start over again. 

Drying Time

Drying time doesn’t always matter. It doesn’t even usually matter. But you need to know beforehand so you can plan your project out. Do you need to wait a day to sand it or paint it? You need to plan your workweek. 

Ingredients 

Check out the ingredients. If it says wood filler but doesn’t have any wood fibers in it, then you probably don’t want it. If it says wood putty but doesn’t have an adhesive, it’s not real wood putty. Pay attention to ingredients. 

Expiration Date

If you want to do regular touch-ups, make sure that the wood filler you choose has a good date after it’s opened. You can’t expect it to last forever, but you do want it to last long enough for you to use it twice if need be.

Drying Color

Check out the drying color of the wood filler. Wood filler comes in many different wood colors so you can easily stain it and it will look the same as your wood. Choose the same color as your wood rather than your stain. 

Wood Filler FAQs

Like with any home repair item, there are a lot of questions asked about wood filler and wood putty. After all, they were made for DIY. Here are the most frequently asked questions about wood filler. 

Can I Use Caulk Instead Of Wood Filler?

Caulk would not work for filling holes in wood because over time, it will shrink and the hole will reappear. Wood filler and caulk are not interchangeable, so if you need both, then buy both of them. It will save money in the end. 

Can I Fill Gaps With Wood Filler?

Cracks, yes. Gaps, no. Gaps should be filled with caulk, sealers, and expanding foam. Using wood filler will just not work. Not to mention, it would take forever to get just right and will cost a fortune.

Can I Make My Own Wood Filler Or Putty?

In short, yes you can. It won’t work quite as well as over-the-counter filler, but you can combine wood glue with sawdust to create a decent filler that can be used to fill small holes and cracks. It may take longer to dry but it’s worth a try. 

How Big Of A Gap Can Wood Filler Fill?

You can safely go up to 3/8th of an inch with wood filler. More than that is a hassle and may require more intense repairs if you want things to look good and last as long as they should. But 3/8 of an inch is a good cutoff. 

What Is Spackle?

Spackle is very similar to wood filler only it is used for plaster and drywall. If you plan on painting the wall or project, then spackling it will work just fine because the paint will cover the difference if done right. 

How Thick Can Wood Filler Be?

This question is hard to find an answer to, which is why it’s asked so often. But in general, try not to go thicker than 1/2 in. So yes, a 1/2 in deep and 3/8 wide is a good gauge. But you can go as long as you wish. 

Can Gorilla Glue Work As Wood Filler?

Not all Gorilla Glue as it will expand, but Gorilla Epoxy is a type of putty that can do the job fairly well. You may not be able to finish it like regular wood filler, but it can do a good job of filling small gaps that are unseen.