Woodworking advice needed: Putty

I’m building some cabinets for Mrs R, and I’m about to assemble them for the last time, gluing and puttying the joints. I was planning to use the old standby, plastic wood, for puttying, but it occurred to me that something better might exist.

The cabinet parts have been dry-fit, then stained and varnished (except for the surfaces to be glued) but I do expect to have to touch up (putty, stain, varnish) the joints.

The ideal putty would sand easily, take stain just like real wood, and be water-soluble (at least before it dries), so I could smooth the joints with my wet finger or a sponge (thereby minimizing the chances of fouling up the already-finished surfaces during sanding).

Anyone out there know of a putty like that?

When you find it, let me know. I’m a total amateur (though my less handy friends disagree). I dry fit, then join/glue/clamp, then putty, then finish. This is an awful process and every time I start a project I swear I’m going to do the finish before I do the glue up. But then my fear of a mistake & desire to see it “almost done” get the best of me.

Best putty probably isn’t water soluble, is made of actually wood products and will accept stain.
However, it doesn’t need to be water soluble. It is work-able, sand-able and stain-able.

And for the life of me I can’t remember the name of the one I use, but Minwax has all the varieties.

I really likeElmer’s Wood Filler. It’s water soluble, sticky, dries hard, and doesn’t shrink. Sandable and stainable.

I’ve always used the minwax wood putty. But I’ve always done this after the glue up and before sanding and finishing.

Just out of curiosity, why did you finish the parts before assembling them? Unless there’s a compelling reason, you may be making it harder on yourself than it needs to be.

Missed the edit window- I see you are creating cabinets, so I agree that you should prefinish any panels you may have to prevent an unfinished line showing up later if the panel shrinks. But I think you’ll be unhappy with any filler/putty that you put on after finishing as most putty really requires the same application of stain and top coat to be invisible. If you have very small imperfections, Minwax also sells a type of wax pencil that comes in various shades (that somewhat align to their stains). The material in these pencils have a sort of sheen to them that looks closer to a finished surface.

In my opinion and experience, wood putty filler works better if applied after the initial construction is glued, stained and top-coated. The reason is that the putty solvent itself discolors the natural wood when it is smoothed out over the irregularity being filled so you get a discoloration mark in the wood under the stain and topcoat. You will get a cleaner result if the topcoat is put on and allowed to dry and the wood putty is put on last.

I do not have a preference for types; most are workable and most are stainable. They do not have to be water-solvent to smooth over and remove the excess. Following application of the wood putty, it too can be stained and top-coated…

What’s the nature of the joints you’re trying to fill? Like pipper, I worry about using any kind of putty in this application. My inclination is to say not to.

My neighbor is a cabinet maker. He works for one of the bigger firms locally, but he also has a cabinet shop in his backyard…give me a few minutes and I’ll run across the street and see what he uses!!!

He’s not home right now but I’ll keep an eye out for him and get back to you as soon as he gets back.

JFLuvly, that would be great.

pipper, panelled cabinets are beyond my meager skills; these are essentially boxes built out of plywood. The puttying will be at the bevelled joints between the sides of the cabinet. I got a pretty nice fit between the sides but am not optimistic enough to think I can get by without doing any filling.

For small gaps or cracks, superglue and fine sawdust works well.

But how do you sand down the filler without harming the pre-finished surface? Or are you being super careful about the application of the filler?

I tend to treat wood filler like drywall compound repairing a nail hole: smear a bit over any gap at a joint, making sure that everything is at least up to the level of the wood (e.g. no low spots), and then sand it and the wood down during the sanding process. Enough wood comes off during the progressive sanding that any wood ‘stained’ by the filler is sanded off and is not an issue.

Rocketeer- Can you give a bit more detail about the type of joint you are using? Are you creating the boxes by cutting 45 degree angles in the flat pieces? I’m having trouble envisioning what you’re doing.

Yes, the box is built by cutting bevels on the edges of the flat plywood sides, then gluing the beveled edges together. I’ll probably have to use a finishing nail or two to keep things in place while the glue dries. There are also some little screwed-and-glued gussets which hold the sides together and do double duty as shelf supports.

I realize it sounds crude, but it will match the existing (amateur-built) cabinets very well.

Got it. If you do more of these in the future, you may want to look into using a dado joint or a rabbet joint. They are a litle harder to create (but not much!) but are much stronger and, in my experience, easier to put together (those 45 degree joints are hard to get lined up just right and rock back and forth on you).

I went over and talked to him and he told me that at work they generally use this:


He prefers to use this at work and at home:


Thank you!

Here, for example: http://www.askthebuilder.com/Wood_Putty_Video.shtml

I dont have to sand the putty smooth because I fill the void and wipe away any excess…every job is a bit different and every person works a little differently, but this seems to work for me.