Is Grain Filling Necessary?

Article - March 9, 2009

This viewer question comes from Chip who asks:

“In your finish video, you show how to fill the pores on an open grain wood like oak. Is this a required step, or is it an aesthetic decision? In other words, what happens if I don’t fill the pores?”

And my reply was:

Grain filling oak is both aesthetic and functional, but not necessary. If you plan on using the table as a writing surface, the pen or pencil could get caught in the grain. You probably shouldn’t write directly on the wood anyway, but its something to think about. Also, I find pores make the surface harder to clean/dust.

So filling provides you with a nice smooth surface that wont be susceptible to the above situations. It also provides aesthetics. If you plan on going with a high gloss finish, you definitely want to fill the pores. High gloss on non-filled pores just looks…..wrong. I don’t know how else to explain it. The pores interrupt the surface, and a clean, flat, blemish-free surface is required for a true gloss.

Now keep in mind that filling the pores can give the surface a very “unnatural” look. Some like it, some don’t. So my rule of thumb is if I am going gloss, I fill the pores. Otherwise, I like the more natural look. Hope this helps.