Do You Need to Prime Wood Filler Before Painting? Pro Tips & Techniques

I winced, looking at the scratches and dings all over my dresser, wondering if all that wood filler I’d smoothed into the gashes would prevent the new paint from adhering properly. Should I prime it first?

Before you risk peeling paint revealing very un-charming blemishes, stick with me. I’ll explain if priming wood filler before painting is always necessary and share pro techniques to ensure flawless finishes.


Yes, you should prime wood filler before painting. Priming ensures better paint adhesion and a smoother, more professional finish on your woodworking projects.

Types of Wood Fillers

Wood fillers, essential for repairing holes and gaps in wood, come in various types, each with unique characteristics.

Commonly made from sawdust mixed with a binding medium, these fillers are designed to fill voids in wood without adding structural strength.

Water-Based Wood Fillers

These fillers are known for their ease of application and quick drying times. Ideal for indoor projects, they can be a bit crumbly but are easily smoothed out and cleaned up with water. Once dry, they can be sanded, stained, or painted to match the surrounding wood.

Petroleum-Based Wood Fillers

Offering a smoother, creamier consistency, these fillers are more resistant to environmental changes, making them suitable for both indoor and outdoor applications. They provide a durable finish that can withstand humidity and moisture.

DIY Wood Fillers

For a custom solution, DIY wood fillers can be made using sawdust from your project and a binding agent like glue. This option perfectly matches the wood you’re working on, ensuring a seamless finish once sanded and painted.

Wood Filler Comparison Table

FeatureWater-Based Wood FillersPetroleum-Based Wood FillersDIY Wood Fillers
ConsistencyCan be crumbly; easily smoothed with waterSmoother, creamier consistencyVaries based on the mixture of sawdust and glue
Drying TimeQuick drying (often within 10-15 minutes)Varies, generally longer than water-basedDepends on the glue used; generally longer
ApplicationIdeal for indoor projectsSuitable for both indoor and outdoor useCustomizable for specific projects
Environmental ResistanceLess resistant to humidity and moistureMore resistant to environmental changesVaries based on the components used
FinishCan be sanded, stained, or paintedCan be sanded, stained, or paintedCan be sanded, stained, or painted; matches project wood closely
Ease of UseEasy to apply and clean upEasy to applyRequires mixing but offers custom matching
Primary UseBest for porous and raw woodsEffective on finished woods and for moisture-prone areasIdeal for matching specific wood types in a project

Finishing and Durability of Wood Fillers

Wood fillers, known for their durability, dry hard and fast, typically within 10-15 minutes, and are ready for finishing in about half an hour. This quick drying time is ideal for indoor projects where a smooth, professional finish is desired.

When finishing wood filler, applying a primer before painting is crucial. Priming ensures better adhesion of the paint to the wood filler, leading to a smoother and more uniform finish. A primer also helps seal the filler, enhancing its durability and appearance.

After priming, use fine-grit sandpaper to achieve a smooth surface. Whether you plan to paint or stain, a well-sanded and primed wood filler ensures uniform application and an aesthetically pleasing finish.

Since wood fillers contain real wood elements, they accept stain well, allowing for seamless integration with the surrounding wood.

While all wood fillers provide a durable finish, water-based variants may be more sensitive to environmental changes. Therefore, selecting the right type of wood filler based on the project’s specific needs is crucial for long-lasting results.

Can Wood Filler Take Screws?

While standard wood fillers are not suitable for screwing into, epoxy-based wood fillers offer a stronger alternative that can accommodate screws.

These fillers are ideal for repairing or reinforcing damaged or decaying wood, providing a durable bond suitable for both interior and exterior projects.

What About Wood Putty?

Wood putty, distinct from wood filler, is best used on finished wood. It is composed of plastic or petroleum-based compounds and is designed to fill holes in already stained or painted surfaces.

Unlike wood filler, wood putty doesn’t harden or sand, making it ideal for areas subject to expansion and contraction.

Available in various colors to match existing finishes, it’s particularly effective for exterior projects, adjusting to environmental changes without cracking.

Wood Putty vs. Wood Filler

Understanding the differences between wood putty and wood filler is crucial for selecting the right product for your woodworking project.

FeatureWood FillerWood Putty
CompositionMade from sawdust or wood fibers and a binding agentComposed of plastic or petroleum-based materials
Use CaseRepairs holes, cracks, and imperfections in unfinished woodFills holes or gaps in finished wood surfaces
Drying & SandingDries hard and can be sanded, stained, or paintedDoes not harden completely; not suitable for sanding
TypesWater-based, petroleum-based, DIY mixturesOften plastic-based, available in various colors
ApplicationIdeal for pre-finishing work in areas without movement or moisture exposureBest for post-finishing work, especially outdoors where flexibility is needed
Color VarietyGenerally colorless, takes on the hue of the wood or can be stainedAvailable in colors to match existing wood finishes
FlexibilityLess flexible, more prone to cracking with wood movementRemains pliable, adjusts to temperature and humidity changes

The video below is directly on point as to the differences in wood fillers and where and how to use each of the two main types – filler and putty.

To Sum It Up

Priming wood filler before painting is essential for a smooth, professional finish. Choose the right type of filler: water-based for easy indoor projects, petroleum-based for durability, or DIY for custom work.

Remember, for structural strength and screw support, opt for epoxy-based fillers. Follow these guidelines to ensure your woodworking projects are both aesthetically pleasing and long-lasting.