Dear Highland Woodworking:
I have not been able to find a good stainable wood filler (or putty). Minwax indicates that their putty is, but it really isn’t. It does fill the nail holes, but I can never seem to get the colors right even when I buy the wax pencils to try to assist. Normally I use Minwax Provincial Stain on my baseboard, pine doors and trim. Could you please help? I’ll bet I’m not the only one with this kind of issue.
Thanks, Peter B.
Many of us struggle with the imperfect science of matching wood with putty. Despite the multitude of manufacturers and the wide array of colors they offer, finding an off-the-shelf product to match your wood and accept your stain exactly is a very tall order. It is really a process of getting the putty as close as possible to the color of the surrounding wood, and then further enhancing the repair through the coloring and finishing process.
As you know, putty and wood are different in many ways. Wood has side grain and end grain. Putty does not. Wood is wood, while putty is a mixture of many different organic and inorganic products. Furthermore, the density of wood is dissimilar from species to species as well as to wood putty. This is complicated by the fact that no two manufacturers’ products are the same. As a result, finding an off-the-shelf putty to match your exact needs is very tricky.
So, what should we do? It is important to get as close a match as possible with either the wood, or if staining, with the final color of the piece. Then you can do your best to “make the repair disappear” through the staining or dyeing process and the finish coat (tinted or not). You will very likely have better luck disguising the repair by applying colored topcoats of finish, or by simply painting the area with artist colors. (Be sure to paint in grain lines to match the surrounding area.)
Several years ago, a trade magazine explained how large furniture manufacturers color match their products. As no two pieces of cherry or walnut are exactly the same color (and it is important to make them be the same color as the rest of the dining room suite), the process of coloring the furniture is actually a process of coloring the finish — and multiple layers of finish at that. This allows a uniform color regardless of the underlying wood and any defects that are present. It is a little like repainting an old car, but you get the idea.
I hope this helps answer your question. We all struggle with this problem from time to time. For further reading, check out Bob Flexner’s book entitled Understanding Wood Finishing. It is a super book that covers most aspects of finishing wood.
Dear Highland Woodworking: