Some types of wood have grain that is so open even a good paint job will do little to hide it.
Oak is just such a wood species, which is why if you do not fill the holes within the grain first, you will have a difficult time making the results look smooth and desirable.
You will need to fill in the holes found in the grain first with a good grain filler and a primer before you can add a layer of paint.
Based on my personal experiences, DryDex Spackle is one of the best products you can use to fill oak grain before painting. If you do the job right, all you will need is one coat of primer followed by two coats of paint – and that’s it!
Still, looking for more information on these oil-based grain fillers and a few other options? Let’s jump in…
What is a Wood Grain Filler?
Typically, it’s a woodworking product applied on the wood surface to fill pores in the wood grain.
Grain filling your oak timber isn’t a necessary process, but if you want to achieve a smooth-textured wood finish along with an aesthetic and functional look, it’s good to fill the grains before you prime and paint.
With that said, if you plan to achieve a high gloss finish on woods such as oak, mahogany, and walnut, using the best wood grain is definitely a way to go.
So, the first step should be to find the right primer that is best suited for wood with large grain patterns such as oak.
However, keep in mind that the right type of primer and paint is only part of the process.
You will need to do more if you expect the final product to have the appearance that you want.
And that’s where finding a good grain filler for oak wood comes into play, especially when you want to paint your oak cabinets super smooth.
What’s the Best Grain Filler for Oak Cabinets?
Unfortunately, there are only a relatively few grain filler products that work well on oak cabinets.
This is because the product not only needs to fill in the grains but also to be easy to sand.
Because sanding is important to get that smooth finish once you apply the paint itself.
When picking the right product for the project, you will need to account for the following considerations…
- Long shelf life
- Fast dry time
If you have lots of wood to paint, then you want a product that has a long shelf life. Plus, a fast-dry time will speed up the process.
Knowing all that, now you are ready to choose between the best primers for the job.
1- Aqua Coat
It doesn’t have the best smell, but that is usually not a big issue when you apply Aqua Coat to the wood.
Unlike other primers, this is a clear gel that will sink into the grains and fill up the holes.
You can use a taping knife to apply the product or an old, outdated credit card works well also.
What makes Aqua Coat a good product is that it is thin enough to smoothly apply but thick enough to get the job done.
The downside of Aqua Coat is that it can be difficult to sand smooth if you apply too much. Worse, it may leave behind globs along the edges which are even more difficult to smooth out.
However, it does dry harder than DryDex Spackle which is another recommended product on our list. Although Aqua Coat is more expensive.
Another issue with Aqua Coat is that because the gel is clear – if you miss a spot or two you will have difficulty noticing it.
That’s why you might want to use a primer that has a color such as white to ensure that all areas are properly covered.
This is basically a spackle and not a wood grain filler. And while the difference may seem minor in some regards, it’s actually pretty important depending on how the wood will be used.
The spackle itself is easy to apply and can be sanded thoroughly with little difficulty. Especially if you use 220-grit sandpaper which leaves behind a smooth finish.
Another advantage is that DryDex Spackle will last for several months when sealed properly in the can.
This means that you can use it today and weeks from now and get the same results.
All you need is a sanding sponge, a putty knife, a damp rag, and a little elbow grease to remove the excesses of the product from the edges or other surfaces.
Although the spackle is not quite as hard compared to Aqua Coat once it has dried, it does offer other advantages that you may find desirable when painting your oak cabinets.
3- Famowood Wood Filler
Famowood has established quite the name in wood filler products and for good reason.
But it is not perfect as the end result is a hardened wood filler that may be difficult to properly sand. But there are advantages as well.
The natural color of the filler makes it easy to blend into the wood.
That makes painting the final product easier because you do not have to cover filler that has an unnatural or unusual color.
However, the downside is that you may miss some spots in the grain because of the natural coloring.
Another benefit is that the odor is considerably less obnoxious compared to many other filler products which makes working with Famowood easier.
However, you should always apply any filler product in a well-ventilated area.
And while the price is not outrageous, Famowood does not last very long once you break open the seal.
All things considered, DryDex Spackling is arguably the best compared to Aqua Coat or Famowood.
However, there may be certain situations in which either of the other products may produce better results.
Plus, they should not be confused with wood putty as they are two different things.
Can You Use a Homemade Grain Filler?
Yes, it can work perfectly fine – provided you know how to make and use your own DIY wood filler correctly.
I have seen many fine painters and carpenters who prefer making one on their own.
Personally, I don’t like the idea because it’s not an expensive product to buy.
Why consider a DIY wood grain filler?
Besides money, there are still a few reasons why you may want to make and use a DIY homemade grain filler for oak wood.
Some of them include:
- The convenience of making as you can whip and prepare a small batch within 5-10 minutes
- You want to get a close match by mixing some sawdust from the same wood with wood glue
- You run out of commercial wood grain filler and don’t have time to buy one while working on the project
IMO, if you are planning to make the grain filler just to save a few bucks in your pocket, I don’t recommend it.
It’s always good to buy one from the market as the finish you get with a commercial-grade product available on the market cannot match the homemade one.
How to make your own wood grain filler quickly?
Before you plan to make and use a DIY oak grain filler remember that it will not be exactly the same color as your project.
This is due to the fact that you are adding some glue to it which will be of a different color (mostly light brown) from the wood you are working on.
Plus, this will not be an ideal product if you want to bridge large holes, cracks, or gouges.
For making your own grain filler product (often called cabinetmaker’s putty) you will need a small piece of wood that matches your project material.
- Sand a piece of wood using a sander (that comes with a collection bag)
- You can use a file, or a rasp to sand if you don’t have a power sander available
- Collect the sawdust you have just made on a piece of cardboard or wood and remove all the larger particles
- Add a binder or wood glue. Stir it with a wooden stick to make a thick putty-like mixture
- Do not add much glue or else the right consistency will not be achieved
When you have prepared a grain filler, it’s time to move it to the area you want to apply it to.
Try to make it fast or else the mixture will get hardened soon, cannot be applied, and get wasted.
How to Fill and Hide Oak Grains Before Painting?
Now, once you know what are the best grain fillers for oak cabinets and furniture items on the market, you should know how to use them to get the most desirable results.
To level out the wood material and hide the grains, wood grain filler is easy to use a product, which professionals use frequently to get the job done.
Since fillers are between putties and paint in terms of consistency, they are fairly simple to apply when your ultimate goal is hiding wood grain before painting cabinets.
It is recommended that you use a water-based filler instead of oil because it dries a lot quicker.
Here are the steps you need to take to properly apply the filler and paint the wood.
Step 1. Prepare
The very first step for painting oak wood cabinets starts with making your cabinet ready to paint.
This should be done by removing all the doors and drawers from your oak cabinet. You should do this by unscrewing all the screws that are holding the doors or drawers through hinges.
If you plan to use the same old screws, hinges, handles, knobs, pulls, or any other hardware; make sure to keep them aside safely in a small plastic bag.
Step 2. Sand
Now it’s time to sand the wood gently. Use 150-grit sandpaper to prepare the wood for the filler product.
Sand by hand along the grain of the wood for the smoothest results and wipe off the wood when completed.
Step 3. Prime
Add the wood primer which will allow the filler to stick better so you can paint with more confidence. Even a single coat of primer can help make the final paint job look better.
Be sure to match the primer with the filler, so if you use an oil-based primer, an oil-based filler is best. It also helps if the primer you choose is the same color as your paint for a better-looking finish.
Step 4. Dry & Fill
Let the primer dry first before adding the grain filler.
When it’s completely dry, use a paintbrush, scraper, or putty knife to spread the filler in a circular motion. This will allow the product to fill in the holes in the grain while hiding the grains perfectly.
Do not finish applying all of the boxes in one go, as some wood-grain fillers can be kept around for future jobs, just in case you need it.
Step 5. Scrape
Use fine steel wool, a knife, or a paint scraper to scrape away the excess filler.
The more excess you remove now, the less you will have to sand off later. So, take some time and do it correctly.
Step 6. Sand
Sanding isn’t necessary when you have scraped the product right. But if you want to make it glassy, you can use 120-grit sandpaper and remove any excess along with sanding the filler smooth.
Once completed, wipe away the dust with an old rag and if you see any swirl marks left by the sandpaper, use 150-grit sandpaper to remove them.
Step 7. Paint
Now you can prime the surface once again (if needed) and start painting assuming the wood is dry and clean.
The better job you have done with the filler to hide the grain, the smoother the surface will be.
One nifty tip when using your best oak wood filler is to spray the paint instead of using a brush, so you do not leave behind brush marks on the wood.
Also, if possible, remove the drawers, doors, and other hardware from your cabinet by unscrewing the hinges and screws that are holding it on. That will result in a better-looking final product.
The Bottom Line
No matter whether you plan to paint your oak cabinets white, brown, or any other color, it’s always good to use the correct grain filler first.
While using a homemade one is a good option in a pinch, brands like Aqua Coat, DryDex, Famowood, Sherwin Williams, and many others are known to produce the top products you can pick from.
These are available at your nearby hardware store or online at sites like Home Depot, Walmart, and Amazon. Before you pick, researching and choosing the best product in the market is recommended as it will help you get a good overall finish without the grain showing on your final product. And this is what you are expecting to get. Isn’t it?
Jack Luis is a semi-retired painter who loved painting his clients’ ideas on their walls.
He had worked as a painter for over a decade serving customers in areas such as Charleston, Mount Pleasant, Beaufort, and Georgetown, SC (South Carolina). Today in his free time, he likes to read and write about the newer techniques implemented in his profession. You may read more about him here or get in touch with him here.