Wood Putty Vs Wood Filler: When To Use For Maximum Results

*My posts may contain affiliate links, which means I may receive a small commission, at no cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link! Thank you for supporting my website!*

Last updated on February 20th, 2023 at 05:14 pm

Which Is Better, Wood Putty Or Wood Filler? (Results Below!)

Trying to decide whether wood putty or wood filler is better to use and when to use each? Well, look no further because I’ve got your answer! 

To properly repair wood projects and furniture, use wood filler for major wood repairs on unfinished wood projects, and use wood putty on already finished wood projects that have minor scratches or knicks. Color match the wood as close as possible to help the repair blend in with the rest of the project seamlessly.

That being said, let’s break the differences down further so you can be a pro at wood repair.

Let’s dive in!

Quick Navigation: Wood Putty Vs. Wood Filler

  1. What Are The Differences Between Wood Putty And Wood Filler?
  2. What Projects Work Best For Wood Putty?
  3. Can You Use Wood Putty On Small Projects?
  4. What Projects Work Best For Wood Filler?
  5. What Are Wood Fillers Like On Projects?
  6. Can You Use Both Wood Filler And Wood Putty On The Same Project?
  7. Final Thoughts
  8. Related Stain & Woodworking Articles

What Are the Differences Between Wood Putty And Wood Filler?

First, let’s discuss the differences between the two wood repair products. These differences include:

  • Composition
  • Ways to use them
  • Types of projects

Wood Filler Vs Wood Putty Composition

The primary difference between wood putty and wood filler is what composes each. Wood putty is made of oil-based compounds and plastic chemicals. Wood filler is made up of wood fibers and particles that are combined with a binding agent. 

The composition of each is why wood putty doesn’t harden and wood filler hardens quickly. 

The confusion comes in because modern wood fillers can also use synthetic materials in their composition. For example, epoxy wood fillers combine the best parts of filler and putty.

Wood Filler Vs Wood Putty Use

The recommended uses of wood filler and wood putty vary greatly as well.

You should use wood filler to do significant repairs because it hardens like real wood. It can be sanded, stained, and painted just like real wood.

On the other hand, you should use wood putty only after all finishings (i.e. topcoats) are done and there are minor repairs that need to be made. Wood putty does not harden like wood filler, so topcoats won’t be able to adhere to it properly and the area in the wood that needs repairing won’t have any structural integrity.

Which is better wood putty or wood filler
I used wood filler to fill in the holes of the old knobs because I needed it to be hard as the rest of the drawer. Then I drilled new holes to put new pulls in instead of knobs. Two-part epoxy wood filler would have worked here as well since I painted this wood project.

Wood Filler Vs Wood Putty Types Of Project

The types of projects each product is used on are also part of the major differences between wood putty vs wood filler. 

For maximum benefits, use wood putty on projects that already have a finish, like a countertop, dining room table, or bed headboard. 

Use wood filler on unfinished wood projects. These can be projects that will be finished after repairs are made or could be pieces that will remain unfinished.

Now that we’ve covered the differences, let’s further break down when to use each wood repair product for maximum results.

Related Stain & Woodworking Articles

What Projects Work Best for Wood Putty?

It’s important to understand that wood putty expands as the wood expands. That’s because it doesn’t harden. This distinction makes it a great choice for outside wood projects. 

Temperatures change throughout the year and that, along with humidity, makes the wood contract and expand. Because of this, outdoor wood projects benefit from the use of wood putty that does the same. A wood filler would break with varying weather conditions because it doesn’t contract but hardens.

Also, any wood project that is already finished and needs a minor repair done would benefit from the use of wood putty.

These minor repairs can include small holes and minor imperfections in already-finished wood projects. Luckily, most stain products provide numerous wood putty colors that match to make these minor repairs easy and unnoticeable.

Can You Use Wood Putty on Small Projects?

Wood putty can be used to cover small imperfections or minor repairs like joint mismatches, nail holes, and other blemishes. Wood putty would be the first choice to cover nail holes or fix gouges on finished surfaces, like a dining room table.

Putty sticks can make quick work of a simple repair. This is a cheap answer to woodworking problems. It takes only minutes to repair an item with a putty stick. I love to use this wood putty stick kit found at Amazon because it comes in several different colors to help you find the perfect color match for your wood project.

Other projects where you can use wood putty include:

  • To fill in dents, small holes, and cracks in finished wood pieces, flooring, and woodwork
  • Fixing cracks on a deck
  • Repairing a wooden swing set

Putty looks good and is highly versatile because it comes in several colors. It doesn’t stain well so you will need to get a color to match your project or be prepared to stain your project to match the putty.

What Projects Work Best for Wood Filler?

Wood filler is the right solution to fix major damage on a wooden piece used indoors. Wood filler dries more quickly than wood putty and adds structural integrity back to the wood project. 

Some projects to use wood filler include:

  • Nicks, gouges, and scratches on unfinished wood pieces.
  • To fill holes and gouges on wood flooring. Pro Finisher (found at Amazon) is a wood filler product to fill flooring board gaps during a refinishing project. It is easy to use and gives a professional look to your project whether it is flooring or a wood piece.
  • Damaged edges on shelves, countertops, and tabletops. Wood filler is moldable even though it has a hardener. The hardener doesn’t kick in until you let it cure. To fix damaged edges that has specific form and shapes, you can mold and shape the damaged spots with wood filler to look perfect again.

Like wood putty, it comes in a variety of colors.

Why would you need different colors if you’re likely going to stain your repaired wood project? Here’s why: wood filler does not stain the same way as real wood. (Unfortunately, I found this out the hard way.)

To see what happens when you don’t use the correct colored wood filler and how to fix it if the wood filler you’ve used creates splotchy results in your stain, check out my article here.

should i use wood putty or wood filler
The splotchy parts are where the wood filler didn’t stain properly… sigh.

What Are Wood Fillers Like On Projects?

Fillers include sandable material with a hardening plastic resin. This allows the filler to bond with the wood fibers. This is what gives the wood integrity and helps it to withstand use as it did before the damage. 

A typical makeshift wood filler used by woodworkers is wood dust mixed with varnish, glue, or lacquer. This is the most basic form of wood filler. Some wood fillers mix the fibers with a hardening resin while others use things like limestone, gypsum, or attapulgite (a clay) in a water-based resin. 

All wood fillers harden as they dry, can be sanded down, and work well with stains. This is because they have real wood mixed into them so a filler acts more like wood. They are porous to allow stain penetration and harden like hardwood. 

One type of filler is wood grain filler. This is a spreadable version to use to repair flat surfaces like a tabletop. You can use a putty knife to spread it and then sand it. You can then apply the finish so no one will see the repair.

I love this wood filler kit found at Amazon because it comes with all of the colors you could possibly need to match your stain, and it comes with the tools needed to apply it properly.

What to use to fill large gaps in wood
I used wood filler to fill in the seams of this side table I built. To see the full tutorial on how you can build this cheap side table, check out my article here!

Another type of filler is a two-part filler where the hardener makes the filler rock hard, so hard it can be used in drilling and holding screws. These can be used both outdoors and indoors. They are dense and non-porous like putty. However, you can sand them but can’t stain them. (This is best for projects that will be painted.)

Deck projects and rotted wood fence projects are great projects for a two-part wood filler because it adheres to the wood and prevents cracks from lengthening. I love this two-part wood repair epoxy found at Amazon because it helps fix even the worst wood repairs.

Can You Use Both Wood Filler And Wood Putty On The Same Project?

You can use both wood putty and wood filler on the same project. If the project needs major repairs, use a wood filler before refinishing. And after the project is finished, if it needs minor repairs, use wood putty.

Final Thoughts On Wood Putty vs. Wood Filler

Using wood putty and wood filler can be a great way to repair wood projects and finished pieces. Understanding the differences in wood putty vs. wood filler and when to use them for maximum results will ensure success in your DIY wood project.

That means you will be able to use your wooden piece for years with no issues and with it maintaining its integrity and character.

Good luck with all of your wood projects and their repair needs!

when to use wood filler vs wood putty
Love this post? Share it with others so they repair their wood projects and wood furniture properly!

Wood Putty Vs Wood Filler: When To Use For Maximum Results

DIY With Christine is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.