Custom Wood Filler

By Hugh Foster Even the best planks you’re likely to find will have minor imperfections in them. As the cost of hardwoods continues to rise, cutting around these flaws can get expensive, and artful patching becomes more and more desirable.

Stick shellac is good, but it’s also fragile and never quite the right color-and blending tones can be messy, time-consuming, and not very precise.

None of the various wood dough, putty or “plastic wood” products is suitable for more than the most ordinary applications.

They, too, have color matching problems, and like the shellac sticks, they don’t take finish in quite the same way as the surrounding wood. If a superior, readily available alternative were available , YOU ‘d think someone would have made a (woodworker’s) fortune with it- but no one has.

What would you say if I told you that you already have the key ingredients to a superior wood patching compound in your shop, that it’ll always match your project perfectly, and always be fresh because you make it up only as you need it? Master woodcarver Chris Effrem showed me the trick he called “scrape” a decade ago, and I’ve used it ever since, never failing to get superior results. Let me show you how.

The materials are simple-two ingredients and a single tool. Buy a small bottle of liquid hide glue. This works better than does the hot hide glue you might make from crystals and water, for it sets more slowly. Buy small bottles so that you work with fresh glue more often.

That’s all you need to buy, for the other ingredient is the cut-off from the board that requires patching. (By all means, experiment with the hot hide glue for those applications where you’re really pressed for time; it’ll work just fine if you really hustle.)

Position the cut-off end grain up in your bench vise. Put a drop of liquid hide glue on the end grain.

With a very sharp chisel-but not one of your best-scrape the end grain through the glue with strokes a couple of inches long. Alter your scraping strokes enough to mix thoroughly the fine shavings you raise with the glue.

When the mixture of glue and “dust” reaches the texture your experimenting tells you is most useful, apply it to the damaged area with the chisel. I find that I get best results when I blend the “scrape” so that it’s somewhat thicker than commercial wood dough. ‘After the glue has set, the filler will sand and finish nicely.

Hide glue does less to prevent the finish from working than do the more common PVA (white) or aliphatic resin (yellow) woodworking glues. Some woodworkers use white glue and the contents of their belt sander’s dust bag. But the dust includes abrasive particles that are sure to ruin your finish, and unless your clean-up is absolutely meticulous, the white glue will show up under almost any finish. Besides, the micro-thin “scraped” shavings are the perfect consistency for this application