How to Apply Wood Putty for a Strong Bond

  • 01 of 07

    Choosing the Right Type of Putty

    Apply Wood Putty - Crack to Be Filled
    Lee Wallender

    Wood putty is just what you need to fill a crack, hole, or open joint in a wood project. But it's not just about aesthetics; it's also about providing a secure bond. Ensuring a good bond involves choosing the right type of putty and applying it properly. 

    For starters, there are two basic types of wood putty: water-based and petroleum-based. Products like Elmer's Wood Filler are water-based and have a crumbly texture. These are sort of like spackle for wood. Spackle is used to cover up holes in drywall and looks great when painted over. Just don't expect it to provide any structural stability. The same is true with water-based wood fillers. They're designed for filling, not for creating a strong bond. Water-based putties clean up with water. 

    You can identify petroleum-based wood fillers, such as Ace brand Wood Filler​ because they clean up with acetone. These types of wood putty cover and fill (just like the water-based stuff), but they also bond wood parts together so that gaps and open joints are less likely to show cracks (between the filler and the wood) in the long run. 

    Note that wood putty isn't your first solution when all you need to do is bond surfaces. For that, use mechanical fasteners or wood glue. Wood putty is for situations where you need to visually fill a surface and provide structural stability.

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  • 02 of 07

    Use Wood Putty Sparingly

    Wood Putty for Strong Bond - Amount of Putty to Use
    Lee Wallender

    To apply wood putty, first, mix it up in its container with a putty knife (putty can separate after it sits for a while).

    It's tempting to load up the putty knife with tons of putty and slather it on—you can always sand it off, right? Not right. Sure, wood putty is sandable. But after drying, petroleum-based putty type hardens rock-solid. In fact, if you're filling a soft wood (like pine), the wood putty becomes stronger than the wood itself. 

    So, go easy on the amount of putty that you use. 

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  • 03 of 07

    Press in the Putty With the Knife

    Putty for Strong Bond - Apply with Putty Knife
    Lee Wallender

    Petroleum-based putty hardens quickly, so you'll need to work fast. By contrast, water-based putty is creamy and stays wet much longer.

    Press the putty into the crack and scrape off the excess, making sure not to gouge the knife into the patched area.

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  • 04 of 07

    Press in the Putty With a Finger

    Wood Putty for Strong Bond - Press In With Finger
    Lee Wallender

    Press the putty deeper into the crack with your finger, then wipe off the excess from the wood. 

    To remove the putty from your finger, quickly wipe it with a dry cloth. If any residue remains, you can remove it with acetone (nail polish remover contains acetone). 

    Scrape the putty from your putty knife onto on a scrap of wood, then remove any residue with a rag or acetone. 

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  • 05 of 07

    Sand the Putty Smooth

    Wood Putty for Strong Bond - Sand With Electric Sander
    Lee Wallender

    Give the putty a minimum of 30 minutes to harden. One hour is best.

    This putty dries so hard that you'll have a tough time hand-sanding it. It's better to use an oscillating sander, starting with a medium-grit sandpaper and following with fine 190- or 220-grit paper.

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  • 06 of 07

    Wipe With a Tack Cloth

    Wood Putty for Strong Bond - Wipe Dust with Tack Cloth
    Lee Wallender

    Wood and putty dust left on the surface can create problems during staining or finishing. The liquid will mix with the dust and produce a lumpy, grainy surface—exactly the opposite of what you want from a nicely sanded surface.

    Tack cloth is like sticky cheesecloth and is designed to remove fine dust from wood surfaces before finishing. If you have a huge amount of dust, use a towel or a shop vacuum to remove the bulk of the dust, then use a tack cloth to remove the fine dust film.

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  • 07 of 07

    Stain Will Help Blend

    Wood Putty for Strong Bond - Finished Product
    Lee Wallender

    Once the area is clean, the putty is ready for stain and/or a protective finish. Adding a stain will will help to equalize the color differences between the putty and the wood, but it will not make the putty invisible.