Wood Putty vs Wood Filler: What the Heck is the Difference?

Tell all ya friends and neighbors!

If you’ve ever wondered if you need wood putty or wood filler for a project, this post is for you!

woman's hand holding DAP plastic wood filler


We have filled what feels like BILLIONS of nail holes in our projects around here.

From everything to DIY closet shelves to full blown farmhouse style tables built from scratch.

And if you’re anything like me, sometimes heading to the hardware store and seeing wood putty vs wood filler right next to each other on the shelves can get confusing so if that’s you, hopefully this post will answer all the questions you never wanted to know about these 2 products.

Wood Filler vs. Wood Putty – Side by Side


Wood Filler is a mixture of fibers, typically made from wood byproducts, and hardening resins.

Once applied, it hardens and bonds with the surrounding wood fibers to repair imperfections or cracks in unfinished wood surfaces.

Wood Putty, on the other hand, is a more pliable material, resembling modeling clay in consistency. It is designed for use on finished wood and most times does not require sanding or staining.


When working with unfinished wood, you should opt for wood filler. It penetrates the wood fibers and provides a solid, sandable surface once dry. (That’s what she said)

It is an ideal solution for fixing holes, cracks, and other imperfections found on raw wood surfaces and is what you’ll need 95% of the time.

woman's hand using sanding block

We also use it all of our trim molding, the beadboard on Josiah’s feature wall and anytime we use MDF.

In contrast, wood putty is best suited for use on finished wood. It is commonly available in a range of wood tones, allowing you to match the putty color to your project. Wood putty is typically used to fill small imperfections, such as nail holes or minor scratches, on finished wood surfaces.


To apply wood filler, follow these steps:

  1. Clean the area to be repaired, removing any dirt or debris. I like to use a good microfiber cloth because you can use them wet or dry.
  2. Apply the wood filler, filling the imperfection completely.
  3. Allow the filler to dry according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
  4. Once dry, sand the surface until it is flush with the surrounding wood.
  5. Apply stain, paint, or a clear finish as desired.

Applying wood putty is essentially the same:

  1. Ensure the finished wood surface is clean and free of dust.
  2. Choose a wood putty that closely matches the color of your project.
  3. Using a putty knife or your fingers, press the putty into the imperfection.
  4. Smooth the surface, wiping away any excess putty.
  5. Allow the putty to dry according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Wood Filler

Types of Wood Fillers

Wood fillers come in various formulations to suit different purposes. The two primary types are water-based and solvent-based wood fillers.

  • Water-based wood fillers are easy to clean up and ideal for indoor use. They tend to dry quickly and are suitable for use on painted or stained surfaces. Examples include products from manufacturers like Minwax or Dap which is what you would use in 95% of regular DIY projects.
  • Solvent-based wood fillers are more resilient to temperature changes and humidity, making them suitable for outdoor and exterior applications. These fillers have a longer drying time and might require specific chemicals for cleanup.

Wood fillers can be purchased in different colors to match your wood, or you can mix them with stains and pigments to customize the color.


Utilizing wood fillers offers several advantages in your woodworking projects:

  • Hides imperfections: Wood filler efficiently fills holes, cracks, scratches, gaps, and dents to restore the wood’s appearance.
  • Versatility: You can use wood filler on various wood surfaces, like furniture, wood flooring, and unfinished wood.
  • Paintable and stainable: Once sanded and dried, you can paint or stain wood filler to blend seamlessly with the surrounding wood.
  • Adhesion: Wood filler effectively bonds with wood fibers, providing a strong and durable connection.


Despite the benefits, there are certain drawbacks to using wood filler:

inside of plastic wood filler
  • Shrinkage: Some wood fillers, especially water-based ones, can shrink as they dry, leading to a need for multiple applications. However, in full transparency, we have used wood filler in HUNDREDS of places in our home and I’ve yet to have this issue. I would think this would be the case more often in a non-climate controlled environment.
  • Limited application: Wood filler is typically not suitable for finished wood surfaces.
  • Hardening: Over time, wood filler may harden in its container, making it unusable, particularly if it is left exposed to air. This is the most annoying to me because I feel like I end up wasting so much and having to rebuy it.
  • Sanding challenges: Excessively hardened wood filler can be challenging to sand down, potentially damaging the wood surface below.

When working with wood filler, remember to follow the manufacturer’s instructions and apply it with a putty knife for the best results.

woman's hand using putty knife and wood filler

I prefer using a putty knife because I can’t stand getting wood filler under my nails. In addition, it also allows me to use way less and be more precise which in turn requires less sanding in the end which I also hate.

Be sure to let the filler dry completely before sanding or applying any stain or paint.

Wood Putty

Types of Wood Putty

Wood putty is best for repairing small imperfections, such as holes, scratches, and dents in finished wood. It is available in various formulations based on the specific application needs and the desired finish. The main types of wood putty are:

  • Solvent-based: Solvent-based putties contain chemicals such as acetone, making them flexible and easy to sand once they harden. These are ideal for interior and exterior applications.
  • Water-based: Water-based putties are non-toxic and easy to clean, making them a suitable choice for indoor projects involving furniture, baseboards, or wood flooring. However, they are less durable than solvent-based putties and may not be suitable for high-humidity or outdoor environments.
  • Epoxy: Epoxy wood putties consist of a resin and hardener mixture, resulting in strong adhesion and temperature resistance, making them suitable for indoor and outdoor projects.
  • Putty sticks: These pre-colored pencils or sticks are used to fill small nail holes or scratches on stained or finished wood. They’re easy to use for beginner projects and to me offer the most “mess free” solution.

Benefits and Drawbacks


  • Wood putty is ideal for finished wood, such as furniture or trim, due to its ability to blend with various colors and stains.
  • It is easy to apply with a putty knife or similar tool and can be sanded or painted after hardening.
  • Depending on the formulation, wood putty can provide temperature resistance and may be suitable for both interior and exterior use.


  • Unlike wood filler, wood putty is not suitable for unfinished wood, as it will not bond well with the wood fibers.
  • Some putties, particularly solvent-based, might contain harsh chemicals or have strong odors.
  • In situations where wood will warp or expand due to temperature changes or humidity, putty may crack and lose its effectiveness.

When choosing between wood putty and wood filler, consider the nature of your project and the type of wood you are working with. For repairing imperfections on finished wood surfaces, wood putty is the better choice, as it offers a range of colors and formulations to match your specific needs.

closeup of woman's hand sanding

But for the serial DIYers out there always doing projects that require nail holes (installing trim in your home, building shelves in a closet, etc) this will require wood filler!

Choosing the Right Product

Wood filler is ideal for fixing imperfections in unfinished wood.

As a mixture of fibers (usually wood byproducts) and hardening resins, it is designed to fill holes, cracks, gouges, and scratches on wood surfaces.

Since wood filler is typically available in a variety of colors and can be sanded and painted, it’s a go-to choice for repairing indoor wood furniture and flooring.

On the other hand, wood putty is better suited for finished wood. If you’re dealing with nicks and scratches on stained or painted surfaces, this is the product for you. Wood putty is available in different shades to match the color of popular wood stains, making it easier to blend the repair seamlessly with the existing finish.

When considering the best product for outdoor repairs, factors like humidity and temperature can play a significant role. Water-based wood fillers are an affordable option but may not be as resistant to the elements as solvent-based fillers. Solvent-based wood fillers offer increased resistance to water, humidity, extreme heat, and cold, making them a better choice for exterior use.

The consistency of each product is another factor to keep in mind. Wood filler is generally thicker and easier to mold, while wood putty is more pliable and better for filling small imperfections. Think about the type of damage you are repairing and choose the product that will allow you to achieve the desired result effectively.

Popular Brands and Products

plastic wood dip

DAP Plastic Wood is a top choice when it comes to wood filler and is our go to solution. This all-purpose filler combines wood fibers with a solvent-based hardening resin to create a strong bond.

Suitable for both interior and exterior applications, it’s an excellent choice for repairing holes, cracks, and imperfections in wood surfaces.

Minwax is another leading manufacturer of wood finishing products, and their wood filler line is no exception. The Minwax Wood Filler is a high-quality, multi-use product that’s compatible with various wood types. It comes in different color options to match your desired wood stain, making it ideal for achieving a seamless repair on stained or finished wood.

ALSO! Did you know you can MAKE your own wood filler? I’ve never done it because I’m a chicken but I know it’s possible! Mix sawdust from your woodworking project with wood glue to create a custom filler. This method allows you to tailor the consistency and color of your filler, ensuring an exact match to your wood surface.

FamoWood offers latex wood fillers that are easy to use, sand, and paint. Their water-based formula is ideal for indoor projects, as it dries quickly and cleans up easily with soap and water. FamoWood fillers are also compatible with various wood types and come in several colors to help match the surrounding wood surface.

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