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How To Remove Excess Wood Filler

Some of us have encountered open cracks in joints or nail holes in our wood projects. Filling these holes and bumps is the function of wood filler. If you've ever completed your woodcraft project, and an unappealing blotch stands out after patching some nail cracks, you've probably asked yourself, "How do I remove the excess wood filler?" We’ve researched this topic for you!

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 If you're planning to remove cured food fillers, follow the steps below:  

  1. Prepare a small amount of cleaning solvents that you can apply to the area.
  2. Let it sit for a minute, then begin sanding the filler to lose.
  3. Dab a little nail varnish remover on a piece of cotton wool and rub it over the filler.
  4. Sand the wood lightly until the wood is smooth.
  5. Consider removing any filler residue from the wood's surface by wiping it away with a cloth dipped in solvent.

If you are removing excess filler while it is still slightly damp, you can simply wipe it away with a small amount of mineral spirits. Gently abrade or buff the outer layer of the wood filler with sandpaper or steel wool.

We'll go into more detail about this later, so keep reading until the end of this post to find out how to remove the excess wood filler. Without further ado, let’s get started on this topic!  

Wood Filler Being Applied To Holes By A Female Carpenter Ready For Sanding Down., How To Remove Excess Wood Filler

How To Remove Excess Wood Filler

Wood fillers are used to fix wood furniture, floorings, and even walls. During the drying process, wood filler frequently leaves a layer of excess which can ruin the look of your woodwork. Don't worry because there are ways to get rid of those stubborn excess fillers!

filler - wood filler or crack filler over yellow background

Removing Wet Excess Wood Filler

Wet wood fillers do not require a lot of effort to get rid of. You just need to use a piece of clean cloth or rug dipped in mineral spirits or water. 

When working with a petroleum-based wood filler, use mineral spirits to get rid of any residue. 

If you've used a water-based wood filler, you can use water to remove the excess filler as long as the wood filler hasn't cured yet.

Check out this wood filler on Amazon.

Removing Cured Excess Wood Filler

Since wood fillers dry fast, the simple trick you can use when working with wet wood fillers might not work anymore if you're planning to remove dried wood filler residues.

Here is a simple guide that you can follow to remove dried excess wood filler in your woodwork.

Putty spreader

Prepare the Tools and Items You Will Need

 Before beginning the extracting process, keep in mind to gather all of the necessary tools. In addition to the wood scraper, which will be your main tool, you will also require:

  • Denatured alcohol or rubbing alcohol
  • Acetone
  • Latex gloves
  • Sandpaper
  • Cloth or sponge 

Apply a small amount of mineral spirits to the area you want to clean before you start removing the wood filler. Allow for a minute or two, then take a small portion of sandpaper and begin sanding the filler. 

Denatured alcohol or rubbing alcohol can also be used in removing a water-based filler. Use acetone, white spirit, or lacquer thinner for chemical solvent-based fillers.

 Before using the technique on your main project, test it on another piece of packed scrap wood with the chosen solvent

 Remove The Lacquer

Wear a pair of tough outer rubber or latex gloves to ensure your safety while working. Apply the liquid lacquer remover directly onto the surface of the wood filler by dipping the end of a clean shop washcloth or rag into the solvent and gently rubbing it over the filler's surface.

If the lacquer removal is still difficult, dab a little nail varnish remover on a piece of cotton wool and rub it over the filler. 

Adjust the direction of your movements frequently to reduce the surface more evenly. Make sure to remove all the lacquers before proceeding to the next step, or you might not get the best result.

Click here to see this lacquer remover on Amazon.

Remove the Filler Completely

When the filler begins to loosen or discolor, use tools with sharp tips to remove the filler from the area you do not want to fill.

A screwdriver with a power drill is enough for larger holes. 

Realize that you only want to remove the smear, not all of the filler you've used to fill gaps and holes in your woodwork.

For small areas where you want to remove the excess filler, you can use a drill that's smaller than the hole or gap. Power up the drill at its slowest speed and remove all the residue that you want to get rid of.

Scrape and Sand the Area

Man is sanding a wooden wall for home maintenance

Use sharp tools such as a knife to remove the excess filler on the surface. You may also use a needle to extract the filler from larger openings and cracks.

After removing the excess filler inside the wood, you may proceed to sand the surface using steel wool. Once you're done, you can use a clean cloth dipped in mineral spirits to highlight any remaining residue that needs to be removed. You can repeat this process until you're sure that you've already gotten rid of all the excess wood filler.

For the final step, finish the process by using a sanding block and fine grit sandpaper (150 or 220) and you’re good to go!

Water-Based vs Petroleum-Based Wood Filler - Which Is Easier To Clean?

Wood fillers are intended to fill gaps and holes in wood-works. If you're planning to use wood fillers and are torn between water-based and petroleum-based wood fillers because you're worried about the residue, the answer will depend on your preference when it comes to cleaning the excess filler.

Water-based fillers will typically always include the terms "Cleans up with water" or the statement "water-based". You can easily clean the excess using water.

Petroleum-based or oil-based wood fillers cannot be cleaned with only water. You will need some chemical solvents such as acetone or mineral spirits to remove the residue.

Can Dried Wood Filler Be Softened?

When wood fillers are stuck in a can for a long time, it is more likely dry due to weather conditions and their chemical components, but just because they hardened doesn't mean you can no longer use them.

Depending on the type of wood filler you're using, wood fillers can be softened using water or acetone. 

When trying to soften a dried water-based wood filler, you can add some water and stir the filler until the texture becomes softer and even. 

If you're trying to soften a petroleum-based wood filler, mix the filler with acetone. 

How To Hide Wood Filler

Close-up putty cans in man's hand. DIY worker applying filler to the wood.

After getting rid of the excess fillers, the next best thing to do is to hide the wood filler so it wouldn't ruin the overall look of your woodwork.

You can achieve an even color of the wood and wood filler by using stain. Wood stains are used to paint wood surfaces to preserve their color. By applying wood stain on your woodwork, you can also make the wood filler match the actual wood.

To hide the wood filler using a wood stain, you can follow the simple steps below.

  1. Sand the surface of your woodwork where the wood filler was put. 
  2. Clean the surface using a damp cloth or rug to remove dust.
  3. Apply the pre-stain conditioner onto the area to level out the color of the wood and the wood filler.
  4. Allow the filler and the pre-stain conditioner to cure overnight.
  5. Apply the top coat of your stain and let it sit for 24 hours.
  6. Apply the protective finish onto the surface. You can make the finish thicker to make it more resistant to moisture.

See this wood stain on Amazon.

In Closing

Wood fillers are great products to fill gaps and holes in woods, but removing the residue might need some effort especially if it's already dry. Remember to check the label of your wood filler so you will know the correct steps you will take in order to remove the excess wood fillers. Water-based and oil-based wood fillers will require different techniques, so make sure you are aware of which type of filler you are working with.

Before you go, don't forget to read these posts, too to learn more!

Does Wood Filler Act As Glue? [And Which To Choose]

How Big Of A Hole Can Wood Filler Fill?