Wood Putty vs. Wood Filler: What’s the Difference?

When repairing furniture and other wooden items or building them from scratch, there are many instances where you will need to fill holes. These holes can be a result of defects or inconsistencies in the wood or where the nails go in.

And when it comes to filling holes in a workpiece, wood filer and wood putty are always the best and in most cases the only solutions.

Wood putty and wood filler are often used interchangeably by woodworkers to mean the same thing. While they serve an almost similar purpose they are still different products and suitable for different wood filling projects.

Knowing the difference between a wood filler and putty is vital for every woodworker as it makes it easy to pick the right product for a project.

Wood Putty

Wood putty is also what many seasoned woodworkers and experts like to refer to as “plastic wood”. And it is one of the most common wood filling compounds in many workshops.

Wood putty is the type of filler that you apply after staining or varnishing your workpiece, and this is because most types will contain chemicals and other ingredients that can damage the raw wood.

Although the ingredients of wood putty can vary from one manufacturer to the other, all are oil-based compounds. And the primary ingredients in most as are boiled linseed oil, some calcium carbonate and a universal colorant.

It will resemble a plastic resin and will feel like soft clay when you add some water. The stiff dough texture of wood putty means that you need a putty knife to apply it.

Once dry wood putty will harden but this takes a long time or at least longer than wood filler. Some types will harden on their own while others will require you to mix in a hardening chemical to stiffen the putty.

The long drying time if the greatest shortcoming of the wood putty as it means that lighter colors can accumulate dust and darken once the patty is dry. And this can affect the appearance of the workpiece.

You can get wood putty in a variety of colors and hence making it a versatile filling agent. The many color options make it easy to find something that matches your wood stain.

Wood putty is the best filling agent for use on outdoor furniture as it not only resists shrinkage but is also less prone to the effects of the natural elements like sun and rain.

It is also more cost-effective than wood filler because it lasts longer. Even when the putty dries in the container you only need to use a little acetone to restore it.

Lastly, wood putty also has some adhesive properties and this makes it a great masking glue but it works best with oil-based finishes.


  • More cost-effective. A small container of wood putty will last for a long time which makes it a more cost-effective filling agent. Even when it dries in the bottle, a few drops of acetone is all you need to refresh it
  • Adhesive properties. Wood putty has adhesive properties and so you will not always need to use a seal. However, this will only work on the oil-based finishes.
  • Best for outdoor furniture. Unlike wood filler, putty resists shrinkage and it is more resistant to the effect of the sun and rain which makes it the best choice for your outdoor furniture.


  • Longer drying time. Most kinds of wood putty will take more time to dry than wood fillers. And the biggest disadvantage about this is that a light colored wood putty can accumulate dust and darken.

Time of application is one of the main differences between wood putty and filler. Unlike wood putty, you should apply wood filler before doing any staining or finishing on the workpiece.

The wood filler or wood grain filler is a putty-like compound made from a combination of materials such as epoxy, lacquer, clay, and polyurethane.

Although most wood fillers will come in a neutral color it is possible to add tints or dye so that it can match the colors and grain of the wood. Also, you can mix it with sawdust for a more natural look.

Wood filler is often the better option when you want to fill large holes and cracks on the workpiece. And it comes in various types which are formulated for different uses.

The latex filler is one of the common types and it is water-based for easy cleanup. Latex fillers also mix well with dyes and they will be a great choice for sealing large cracks and holes in unfinished wood.

Other types such as the epoxy and polyurethane fillers are also quite handy to have in the workshop. But you should only use epoxy fillers on an unfinished wood as they require a lot of sanding which can ruin the finish.

It is also important to note that wood filler is not expandable as it will break when the wood expands or contracts. Hence, it will not be very suitable for use on outdoor projects. Also, exposure to direct sunlight will make it shrink by drying it out.

Since wood filler lacks adhesive properties, it will be necessary to apply some seal on top of it. But, it is more versatile than wood putty and you can use it on various finishes.

Wood filler dries faster that wood putty and most types will start drying in as little as 10 minutes after application. And it will be dry completely in about 24 hours which makes it a great choice when working on a short deadline.


  • Relatively fast drying. Wood filler will stats drying about ten minutes after applications and in most instances, it should take a maximum of 24 hours only to dry completely.
  • Available in various types. There are more types of wood fillers than wood putty. From the stainable wood filler to the latex, epoxy and polyurethane types you can be confident of finding a type that suits your particular needs.
  • More versatile. Availability of wood filler in various types makes it more versatile than wood putty. And there are countless things that you can use it for when making indoor furniture. Most woodworkers tend to use putty more often than they use fillers as it is more suitable for a variety of finishes.


  • No adhesive properties. Unlike wood putty, fillers do not have adhesive properties and this means that still need to use seal on top of your filler when finishing the workpiece.
  • Not expandable. Wood fillers will not expand and they will instead break when the wood expands and contracts. Hence, it will not be ideal for use for outdoor furniture or products that will be exposed to the elements.

Bottom Line

If you are a professional woodworker or one of those hobbyists and DIYers that tackle a lot of different projects, it is a great idea to have both wood putty and wood filler in the workshop. You cannot always be sure what you will need for a particular project.

However, wood putty is slow drying and seems to work best with oil-based finishes only. Also, it has limited uses. And so, wood filler is a better choice for those that are looking for something versatile that will be useful for various projects.

Also, the relatively faster drying time gives wood filler advantage over wood putty because no one wants to waste an entire day just waiting for a filling agent to dry.

About the author

Ashley is an enthusastic woodworker and knows what materials and tools and materials are right for your job. Find out more at Woodworkingtoolkit.com

29 thoughts on “Wood Putty vs. Wood Filler: What’s the Difference?

  1. Ross Shand says:

    Thank you very helpful i am planning to patch a 60 year old floor with differing woods used due to the changes within the house.I am no pro. so found your notes excellent. I intend to finish the floor with Ruskins 2 coat approxy. I thinkj I will opt for a good filler.

  2. David Strauss says:

    I am still confused. I am repairing my cedar deck. Some of the railings have rotted in spots. I am sanding down the old finishes for the past 20 years. Right now I am filling in the rotted wood with layers of Zar wood patch. I have just read your article, and what would be my best filler to use to fill in and shape the wood.

    • Hi David, you might just want to cut out the problem areas and replace them. Coat the decking with a protective stain soon after installation. Make sure you don’t have an underlying cause such as leaking gutters or standing water.

  3. Jeffrey Jimenez says:

    I have 20’high fluted column in closers. It is sectional. So there are seams some gaps are 1/2″wide,approximately 1″deep. Looking to fill voids, before painting. All outside colonial style home.

    • With most deep holes you are best off filling them in stages to give the material time to set before adding the next layer. Often fillers will sag as they set if you put a whole load in at once.

  4. Kayleigh Morrissey says:

    I’ve a cracked tread on my stairs it’s been cracked well before I lived here the previous occupiers covered it with carpet but I’m having natural treads I’ve ordered a hard wax oil for treads and white gloss for the risers I need to fill the crack it goes the full length of the tread And all the way through but movement in the tread is minimal it doesn’t creak and is sturdy enough to only move slightly when an adult jumps on it I don’t want to have to come back to it In a few months should I just embrace the crack I’m going for a more rustic vibe anyway or fill it I don’t think I’m experienced enough to fit a new tread I’m just worried about fire safety and holes being present it’s an old mid 1920-30s built in situe staircase The under side of the staircase isn’t boxed in and is located in a cupboard in my kitchen I was going to silicone all the gaps from the underside in the hope it might limit airflow in a fire for even an extra few minutes or am I overthinking this

  5. Amie says:

    What would bee the best way to fill in a small, narrow gap that occurred when adding mitred trim edges around a tabletop? I edged with 3/4 x 1.5 inch oak using dowel pegs and wood glue. I don’t expect a lot of movement, but I’m wondering if something with a little give or flexibility would be appropriate. Thank you!

  6. Louis Jackson says:

    What are your thoughts on caulking? I will be filling old screw holes in a Welsh dresser and then chalk painting over it.

  7. Waqar says:

    I have old hardwood floors on my ground floor that have varying gaps of a few mills between them. Look amazing but the draught to your feet is a nightmare.
    I’m planning to fill in the gaps using wood putty.
    Can anyone tell me if that is a sensible or stupid idea before i take the plunge?

    • Wager, the problem of using putty for that job is that it may crack as the wood expands and contracts through the seasons. For that reason cork is the traditional material for filling such gaps. You can also buy or make tapered wood slivers to knock down into the gaps and then sand flat. The modern solution is a plastic v shaped strip.

  8. Larry Risdale says:

    Could you answer a question for me please? I have built a cabin using oak sleepers which have been sandblasted to give them a good new finish. I have used hosepipe to bed each layer of sleepers on and now have to fill the gaps between the sleepers.The gaps vary from a few mm up to 3cms. I was thinking to use wood putty (I know I’ve got a long job coming up!). Do you think this would be the best thing to use or can you suggest anything else? Any advice gratefully received.

    • Hi Larry, like most of the use cases for putty you need to look for a flexible material to allow some wood movement. For log cabins the term they use is “chinking”, it is designed for bigger gaps than some of the other options. Or perhaps borrow an idea from the world of wooden boats and look into oakum which is a tarred fibre?

  9. Alex says:

    Just re used an old tongue abd groove decking laden with nail rusts and old nail holes. Please advice whether to use timber putty or filler to patch the holes before sanding

  10. Charlene Bartlinski says:

    Hi Andy, Im repairing corners of a drawer. I purchased Woodsculpt putty to recreate the corners. I understand that wood putty cant be stained. Rather than try to match via paint mixing, i was wondering if putting a layer of stained wood filler on top of the cured putty would work? Thank you

  11. Wood ship kit says:

    That’s really nice post. I appreciate your skills. Thanks for sharing.

  12. Barrie says:

    Laid some new flooring in the bathroom screwed them down need to fill where the screw heads have pulled down below floor level

  13. Sand the painted surface and the transfer will work

  14. Wayne says:

    I am refurbishing my pool table and was wondering it would be a better end product if I sanded the whole table back then used filler before staining rather than using filler-sanding-stain?

  15. Mark Jemmett says:

    Hi Andy,
    I am refurbishing an old wooden rocking horse. It is made of pieces of timber and some of the joints have developed cracks over time.
    I would like to know what would be the best to fill these cracks both to fill them and give maximum strength to the joint before painting.

  16. Paul Cowell says:

    Hi Andy,

    I’d really appreciate some help. I have several pieces of stag furniture in my bedroom, but recently I knocked a hanging plate down and it had left a couple of indented marks. Because the top is a veneer (I think) I need to be able to use a tiny brush to paint them when finished to try to hide the marks. I need a really fine wood filler (or whatever you suggest) to do this. Any help would be appreciated. Thank you in advance.

    • If the dents are not too large and finish is a varnish then you might try wax.
      If it is not finished then dampening the wood might cause it to swell back to size. Similarly a steam iron (with a damp cloth to protect the wood) might work.
      But if it is a paint finish then none of that would work. A filler primer paint or fine surface filler would be best. Before repainting.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

 characters available