Picture this: You’re in the middle of staining your woodworking project, and you notice that the wood filler you’re using isn’t taking the stain. All you’re left with is a blotchy, uneven mess that looks terrible.
I feel your pain. But don’t despair! There are a few things you can still do to fix this problem.
First and foremost, if you’re continuously getting blotchy results when staining wood filler, the stain and filler must be sanded down with 100-grit sandpaper, wiped down clean, and restained.
Hopefully, it will fix the problem. If not, you will need to know the exact causes of the issues you are getting and then act accordingly.
So, let’s get into those details right here…
Why Some Wood Fillers Don’t Take Stain Well?
If you are wondering why your wood filler isn’t taking the stain, it is likely for one of the following reasons:
a) You are using the wrong type of wood filler
For example, if you are working with an oil-based stain, you will need to use an oil-based wood filler.
Be aware that not all wood fillers will take the stain or paint because they may not be designed in such as way. So, it’s good to ensure and check the product description before making your purchase.
When shopping at stores like Lowe’s or Home Depot, see if they are marked “stainable wood filler.” Brands such as Minwax, Elmer’s, and FamoWood have good options that can be used for indoor woodworking projects and are worth looking at.
While there are many other stainable wood filers available in stores, I often recommend using sawdust from the existing wood project to make a wood filler that matches the wood project exactly when staining. You can mix some wood glue and sawdust to use on your project and then stain as required.
b) The wood filler you are using is too old
As wood filler ages, it starts to become more and more difficult for it to take stain evenly. This is especially true for water-based wood fillers. So, if you’re using an old can of wood filler, it’s probably time to toss it and get a new one.
If you keep on trying with old, you will be just wasting your time and effort – most likely, your old wood filler will not absorb the stain as well as it should no matter how hard you try.
c) The wood filler wasn’t mixed, sanded, and applied properly before staining
The stain will absorb into the wood filler differently than it will into the surrounding wood, and this is due to the fact that the wood filler will have a different consistency (thickness and texture) than the wood around it.
So, when mixing the stainable wood filler, it is important to use a proper mix ratio and mix it well according to the instructions on the product.
Then to hide the filler from showing through the stain, you need to sand it down until it is even and smooth with the surrounding wood. The sandpaper grit that you will be using will depend on the wood filler product and can range from 120 grit to 220 grit.
Once this is done, you can then apply the stain evenly to the wood filler and the surrounding wood.
How to Fix the Wood Filler that Won’t Stain as it Should?
If your wood project has been taken over by stain and wood filler, and you are still in the middle of it, the only way to save it is to sand off every trace of them and start over again.
How to do that? Let’s have a look…
- Wait until the stain has dried on the wood filler.
- Then with a belt sander and 100-grit sandpaper, take the layer of stain and filler off.
- If the project area is not significantly large, you can use a mechanical sandpaper block instead of a belt sander.
- Sand the area until it’s smooth, and wipe down the project with a clean rag.
- You will most likely have some exposed holes or gaps at this time; fill them up again using a bit of wood filler and your fingers.
- After that, apply a coat of pre-stain wood conditioner to help take the stain well.
- Finally, take a piece of rag and apply the wood stain of your choice evenly on the wood and the filler. Once done, let it dry according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
What if I Have Already Completed the Project and Need to Fix it?
In case you have completed the project and haven’t noticed the problem early enough, there are still ways to salvage the project.
The easiest way to remove or cover up wood filler stains (showing through wood stain) is by using a wood dye, which comes in a variety of colors and can be bought at any hardware store nearby.
- All you have to do is mix the dye with water according to the instructions on the package and then apply it to the wood with a brush.
- Let it sit for a few minutes, and then wipe it off with a clean cloth.
- The dye will darken the wood, but it will also even out the color of the stain and wood filler.
Another way to fix the problem is by using a gel stain. Compared to regular liquid wipe-on stains, gel stains are thicker and will help to even out the color of the stain and wood filler.
To use a gel stain, simply apply it to the wood with a brush and then wipe it off with a clean cloth. The gel stain will darken the wood, and will also even the color of the stain to hide the applied wood filler.
In case, you want to lighten the dark stained wood, you can use white paint over it. Apply the paint to the wood with a brush, and wipe it off gently with a rag or clean cotton cloth.
No matter which method you pick, test it on a small wood area first to see how it will look. Once you are happy with the results, proceed to fix the entire wood project.
Types of Wood Filler that Can be Stained – Choosing the Right Product
Wood fillers come in a variety of colors and can be used to create different looks. And as we said above, if you picked the wrong product, it won’t take the stain as you’d expect.
In this section, we will explore the main types of stainable wood fillers and how you should choose them wisely.
Gypsum-wood fillers are typically a mixture of gypsum dust and some water that can be stained over once applied and dried correctly. You will need to use it while it’s still in the paste form, which will dry to form an inflexible composite material like a rock or a hard piece of wood.
Its improved sturdiness and flexibility compared to other types can stand up better under temperature changes. Lacking this property would otherwise cause them to dry out too quickly outdoors, where there’s more risk for rapid developments during hot summers/cold winters.
The only problem with these fillers is they work best in locations that are dry and less humid because they cannot tolerate much water and can easily be damaged by dampness.
Cellulose wood fillers, are made of real wood fiber and hence are easily stainable. Because of this obvious attribute, some producers don’t bother to mention them as stainable on the packaging and product description.
So, when you see “cellulose” in the product’s description or on the package it’s an indication from the manufacturer that actual wood fibers are present – expect it to be stainable and sandable after it has dried.
Cellulose-based stainable wood fillers are often high priced than gypsum based. A few are also designed to resist severe weather conditions so that you may apply them to the exterior. But ensure to check the product description and label to see if you are actually purchasing an outdoor grade that can be used outside.
Epoxy-based stainable wood fillers are tough, durable compounds that can withstand tremendous physical impact without breaking.
But mind it; they also have one major downside: they’re difficult (if not impossible) to work with. You’ll need a particular set of tools for mixing these 2-part chemicals into an easy application like putty or paste-type material.
But don’t let this discourage you from giving them a go. Because once done right, there isn’t much else out on the market, like how simple everything will become when working with an epoxy-based stainable filler.
Due to their resistance to a wide range of severe weather conditions, natural latex-based wood fillers are pricy but stainable. Simply because they can endure strong temperature swings they are ideal for outdoor usage.
The other significant advantage of latex-based fillers vs. epoxy fillers is the rapidity with which they are set up.
Unlike epoxies that may require several hours, a latex filler will be set in under an hour. The substance then solidifies and becomes more robust, while the surface becomes hard and resistant to dampness and water.
Once set, you can sand latex filler into a smooth, uniform finish or drill holes in it without any damage made.
Overall, the simplicity with which they may be used is one of the significant benefits of their preference over epoxy fillers for a wide variety of projects for beginners.
That said, latex and epoxy wood fillers are often more expensive than other varieties. So, if you are strict on budget and need large quantities, it’s good to stick to cellulose or gypsum-based.
Factors to Consider When Buying a Stainable Wood Filler
Even after knowing about the wood fillers with characteristics that match perfectly with your project needs, narrowing down to the best option may be difficult.
This might be tough, particularly when there are several options and brands with similar features on the market. So, here are a few other essential things to think about while picking the finest stainable wood filler for your job…
- The consistency of the wood filler
- Its ease of application, ability to sand and take the stain
- The versatility, strength, drying time, and cost of the wood filler you plan to purchase.
Typically, if you’re looking for a stainable compound that is easy to apply, dries quickly, and can be sanded down to create a smooth surface, a latex-based wood filler is your best bet.
But, if you’re looking for more strength and durability, an epoxy-based stainable wood filler should be your option.
The Bottom Line
There are reasons that your wood filler doesn’t stain well – maybe it is too old or wasn’t applied correctly in the first place. Once you figure out the root of the problem, you can take steps to fix it so that your wood filler will take stain evenly.
By taking the time to do this, you’ll ensure that your DIY staining and woodworking projects have a professional finish.
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.