Wood Filler: Your Secret Weapon for Fast and Easy Furniture Fix-Ups
Learn how an easy-to-use, stainable wood filler let this satisfied homeowner sidestep a time-consuming refinishing job and still end up with a beautiful, professional-looking end result.
In the above photo, you’re seeing what used to be a playroom for my two daughters. For years, the space contained the chaos of their picture books, art supplies, and plastic toys. But once the kids entered elementary school—and once their afternoons became dominated by endless extracurricular activities—the playroom grew quieter and quieter. Gradually, it became clear to me that the girls needed not a no-holds-barred play area, but a quiet place to concentrate and do homework. That’s when I struck upon the idea of a family office, one that would be functional both for my kids and for my husband and me.
To anchor the office, I envisioned a desk large enough to fit two (pint-size or full-grown) people comfortably. A thrift-store junkie, I didn’t even consider buying something brand new. Instead, I set off on a tour of the local secondhand stores, thinking that if I didn’t strike upon a beautiful vintage piece of the right size, then at the very least I’d be able to snag a temporary solution. In the end, though, I managed to get lucky. On my first day out hunting, for $10 apiece, I purchased a trio of Art Deco vanity cabinets, and for a couple of bucks more, an oversize laminate board to serve as a durable work surface.
I happen to love the Art Deco style, but the cabinets had no doubt seen better days. Most of the damage came in the form of minor, barely noticeable scratches and dings, but there were also a number of deep gouges that anyone could spot from a mile away. No problem, I thought. Eliminating those eyesores would be as simple as refinishing the cabinetry. But simple though it may be, refinishing takes time and effort, and months passed before I faced up to the fact that overhauling the cabinets would never reach the top of my to-do list. In other words, it was time for me to pursue a speedier, more pragmatic fix.
In the past, in situations roughly similar to my cabinet conundrum, I had used wood filler with tremendous success to conceal flaws in both interior and exterior wood. Of course, if the cabinets had not been structurally sound, it would have been necessary to mount a more ambitious fix. But under the circumstances, with the cabinets having suffered only superficial damage, I felt confident that wood filler would do the trick. If I was concerned about anything, it was the challenge of blending the patched areas with the existing cabinet finish. After all, you can’t stain wood filler—or so I thought.
At Lowe’s, I was delighted to discover the first and only wood filler on the market that you can stain—Elmer’s ProBond Wood Filler. Although wood filler typically comes in an array of colors, you would normally have no choice but to settle for one that didn’t quite match the existing finish of the wood you were patching. Any areas that you repaired would stand out as obviously having been repaired. In other words, you would have to accept an imperfect result. Stainable wood filler, meanwhile, enables you to conceal your repair work with any stain you like—whichever offers the closest color match.
Besides its ability to accept stain, Elmer’s ProBond Wood Filler also appeals to do-it-yourselfers because it’s easy to work with. In fact, you can use virtually any tool to apply the compound to damaged wood. For my project, I opted to use a putty knife, but I could have relied on a paint stirrer or a cotton ball or even my index finger. After a bit of preparation—removing dust and debris from the damaged areas and sanding down the rough edges—I proceeded to the main event: Working the wood filler into chips and gouges until each sat flush with its surroundings. All told, it took me half an hour.
Note that with other wood fillers, you need to take care to account for shrinkage—that is, you must overfill your repairs in order to counteract any contraction that takes place once the compound has dried. With Elmer’s ProBond Wood Filler, however, you can ignore shrinkage altogether, and thanks to its unique formulation, you can expect that the compound will never crack. Yet another reason to like the Elmer’s product: It dries quite quickly. In my case, because I was repairing relatively shallow gouges, the filler dried in only 15 minutes, giving me the chance to proceed directly to the next step—sanding each patch until smooth.
Finally, to complete the job and erase evidence of the repair, I set about staining each patch of wood filler. In the garage, where I like to hoard paint and stain cans, I had scrounged around and found a stain pen whose color looked almost identical to the walnut cabinet finish. But rather than go full speed ahead, I first tested the stain on the least conspicuous, most out-of-the-way wood filler patch. Once I was sure that the color match would be as good as it had initially seemed to be, I went about staining the remaining patches. It took more than one coat, but eventually, any sign of my repair work had all but disappeared.
True, I’d initially planned to refinish the wood, but with the desk looking as good as it does now, I see no reason to go any further. That said, considering the project in retrospect, I’d say the quality of the outcome wasn’t even the best part—it was the “no muss, no fuss” process. If I’d gone the refinishing route, I would have needed to empty the cabinets, haul them out to the garage—you get the picture. It would have been an ordeal. But Elmer’s ProBond Wood Filler enabled me to get right to it, working on the pieces just where they stood, and finishing the project in a fraction of the time it would have taken to refinish.
Having purchased an eight-ounce container of the product, I now have plenty of it left over, and I’m glad. Wood filler comes in handy, not only for furniture fix-ups, but also for a wide variety of repairs, both around the house and in the yard. Scarred flooring, rotted fence boards, nail-hole-ridden wall trim—common issues like these can lead to time-consuming, energy-sapping, and wallet-emptying repairs. Or they can be dealt with quickly, easily, and affordably with nothing more than Elmer’s ProBond Wood Filler. If you’ve never experimented with this stuff before, get excited: It could very well become your go-to home repair favorite.
This article has been brought to you by Elmer’s Products. Its facts and opinions are those of BobVila.com.