This week’s question comes from Anonymous, who writes:
“New to woodworking. I am using oak plywood and red oak trim for a TV stand. What can I use to fill in small gaps and chips prior to staining?”
And here was my reply:
“First, there are several methods that I like to use for filling chipout and gaps. One solution
is CA glue. This stuff is fast-drying, hard, and sandable. Only drawbacks are that the solution is clear and it doesn’t accept a stain once cured. You can deal with the color issue simply by adding some wood dust and making a paste. You can then pack this paste into the cracks and holes for a reasonable fix. It won’t look perfect, but it will definitely look much better. And another easy way to fix small holes and gaps is to simply place some CA glue on the offending area followed by a quick sanding with some old sandpaper. The sawdust you create will mix with the CA glue and make a nice paste right there on the spot. Of course this also destroys the piece of sandpaper.
Another option is to use a commercially-available filler. You can use something simple like Durhams Water Putty (available at most hardware stores), which is water-based and comes in a light cream color You will need to dye it to match the color of your oak. I have had mixed results as far as this material’s ability to absorb stain. Be sure to experiment on scrap first.
Another great filler is a product called Famowood. This stuff is actually lacquer based and comes in different wood colors that are a really close match to the natural color of the wood. They also take a stain fairly well.
One last filler you can use is epoxy. Epoxy will be similar to CA glue in that it is clear and will not accept stain. So coloring or the addition of wood dust will be necessary in order to get the right look.
Now the last method I use is usually the best in terms of color matching. No matter what filler you use, things will change once you coat the piece with stain. Its going to be very difficult to predict what the change will be so you will almost never get a perfect match by filling first and staining second. So one idea would be to stain the piece first. Once dry, you now have a very specific color that you need to match. You can use any one of the above filling methods, along with some dye and/or sawdust to fill your gaps and chip outs. Just keep in mind you should try to experiment on scrap until you get your home-made filler just right. I find this to be the best way to get a proper filler match, although it is clearly the most time-consuming.
And one last thing to keep in mind, especially when repairing oak. If the fix is fairly large, the repair will almost always be visible unless you simulate the dark grain lines that are the hallmark of oak lumber. You can do this using a soft colored pencil. You will be amazed at how much of a difference this can make in disguising your repair. Good luck!!”