When Hubs filled a REALLY rustic oak wood top with almost more wood filler than wood, I knew I’d have to come up with a solution on how to make wood filler look like wood grain. If you don’t want to hide all the rustic goodness of real wood, then stick around for how it looks now.
However, if you just want to learn how to fix veneer that is lifting, that post will give you all the details to prep a wood piece for paint.
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Oak Vintage Sewing Table Top
Here’s the top we’re starting with. You might be saying to yourself ‘but Sara, that wood looks perfectly fine!’ But that’s not oak; it’s a plastic laminate made to look like oak. And at this moment, there’s hardly any glue keeping it on.
When Hubs lifts away the laminate, it reveals a REAL oak wood underneath. Yuck; it’s not in great shape. My gut instinct was to tell Hubs we should just re-glue the laminate back on and then leave it or paint it. At least we’d have a perfectly flat and flawless surface to start with. But Hubs wasn’t having any of that! He had his heart set on rustic and authentic oak. So on to a new adventure; real oak it is!
I went inside and left Hubs to finish removing the laminate. What I didn’t realize until much later is that underneath the rest of the laminate, the previous upcycler put a kajillion scratches into the oak to get the laminate to bond better. Obviously it didn’t help because it popped right off without any effort! I guess those scratches will make this piece even more rustic.
Note that if all you have are a few scratches, you should read our post on how to fix scratches on wood floors. It’s a quick fix and the same principles apply (use Floor Repair Markers or you can also buy a complete kit).
After sanding and filling with wood filler, here’s one of the worst pieces. Just so you get a good idea of what we’re dealing with here. Does your wood furniture look more like polka dots after filling all the holes too? Pretty challenging eh? Well, it’s not going to be a disaster for long! It’s nice to have more options that painting right over the wood.
How do you Hide Wood Filler?
Can you stain wood filler? Yes. But it will show. Actually hiding wood filler is easier said than done. Unless you build your project from scratch and have left over saw dust to create your own, wood filler is not stainable. At least not to the degree that it won’t stick out like a sore thumb after staining. No matter what stain you use, it’s never going to blend in seamlessly.
So, if you come across a wood filler product on the market that say’s it’s stainable, don’t believe the hype. Many wood fillers claim to be stainable, but if you look at reviews, lack of stain-ability is the biggest complaint. That’s not to say they are not good products for filling!
Stainable or not, a two part filler is what you’ll want for a furniture project like we’re working on here (we’ll get to the filler we use in the next section)! Once the filler is sanded, remove all sanding dust and get ready to stain.
What did I get myself into? Truth be told, Hubs is an expert at furniture refinishing and could whip this off in a minute. However I wanted to see if I could pull this off so I can pass my learning on to you! If I can do it, you can do it too!
We’re using an oil stain by Minwax (Early American 230).
Here’s the progression of our piece during staining. You can see that the stain hardly makes any difference over the wood filler!
Before we get into how to hide wood filler, let’s discuss what we actually use for wood with a LOT of damage like this old vintage sewing table.
Wood Fillers are Not Created Equal
* [If you’re looking for some of the things we use, we’ve got you covered (disclosure): Clicking on the affiliate links in this post means we may receive a commission. But don’t worry, you don’t pay a cent more and it helps us make more unique crafts to share with you! Thanks for helping to support our blog!]
What’s the best wood filler? There are plenty of products you can find to fill small dings. But since we’re talking extensive damage, you really need a two part product for deep fills and missing chunks of wood.
For this project, we’re actually using Minwax High Performance Wood Filler. From our experience, it’s the best wood filler for painting so you can fool people into thinking the wood grain is actually there when it isn’t.
If you can get Minwax, great! However, this one from Varathane is similar. A two part filler is ideal for filling chunks taken out of edges – and especially corners, and big patches. It will stand up to bumps and won’t easily fall out.
For smaller dings, we swear by Famowood. Both the Minxwax and Famwood wood filler products dry without shrinkage. And that’s important because a product that doesn’t shrink only has to be applied once – saving you time.
You can also use straight up Bondo like my friend Denise at Salvaged Inspirations. She will take you though a comparison of wood filler vs. regular Bondo, so you can understand the differences of each type of filler.
How to Make Wood Filler Look Like Wood Grain
Regardless of what two-part filler you actually use to fill your wood, to hide it you’ll need:
- Artist brushes
- Low Odor Paint or Lacquer thinner
- Universal tints (I used burnt umber, raw sienna, burnt sienna and black – but it will all depend on the wood and stain you’re matching)
- Glass jar
- Plastic lid
- Clear shellac
Pour lacquer thinner into a glass jar. Put dabs of universal tint into a plastic lid. I used burnt umber (a reddish-brown), raw sienna (yellow), burnt sienna (red) and black.
Here’s our piece after the stain is dry. You can really notice the scratches now.
Dip the paint brush into some lacquer thinner and blend it with universal tint to create your first colour. You want to build up thin layers of transparent colour. In all honesty, most of Hubs universal tints were dried up. But the lacquer thinner not only helps with the layering, in this case it dissolved enough of the dried tints that I could use them.
How to Hand Paint Wood Grain
If you want to test how your paint will look before applying it, put a piece of glass right over the wood and dab the paint right onto the glass. You’ll be able to see through the glass to the wood tone below to better judge if the paint will work.
I’m starting with lighter tones. I apply it in stripes to mimic the wood grain.
Then I progressively work my way to darker colours to fill in. Imitate both the colour of the wood and graining as best you can and keep layering until you’re happy with the look. You can apply each individual colour to all areas at once or do one section at a time. I did a little of both.
The thing to keep in mind as you’re hand painting in the woodgrain is that the areas over the filler will darken up once the sanding sealer (shellac) is applied. The lacquer thinner added to the tints dries very quickly, but when you’re working with them wet, you’ll see how well the colours are blending into the wood.
In its ‘dry’ state, your hand painted patches may not look ‘right’.
Wood Filler Before and After
But here’s how the oak wood looks now with a coat of clear shellac sealer over top. Shellac does a great job of cohesively blending all the patches into the wood. Of course, if you stare at it hard enough, you can see your touch-ups. But when Hubs took the top to seal it then brought it back inside after a few days, I really had to look hard to find where I did my wood graining. He told me that would happen, but I was surprised nonetheless!
It’s like night and day from bare wood filler!
Here’s an overview of the entire oak top now. Honestly, there were too many patches to count but Hubs got the rustic charm he was looking for. And I learned a new skillset!
As much as Hubs is thrilled with how the oak top turned out, I’m still going to embellish it with a stencil and paint. That’s another reason for using clear shellac as the top coat. It will block any tannins in the oak from bleeding through the light colour chalk paint we’ll be using.
We’ll share the complete reveal of this vintage sewing table in an upcoming post (see how to stencil without bleed). If you’re curious to see what we did with an almost identical piece, check out our Singer Sewing Table Makeover and this Hudson’s Bay Point Blanket Inspired Upcycle (with its cool IKEA hack). As a matter of fact, if you’re wondering what you can do with an old sewing table, check out all our sewing table ideas. There’s bound to be one that inspires you!
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Wood Filler FAQs
What’s the best wood filler for painting?
A two part wood filler will be more durable on edges, but a one part system will work fine on areas that don’t get a lot or use or abuse.
Can you stain wood filler?
Yes, you can stain wood filler, but it will never match the colour of the surround wood because it takes stain differently and will show that difference. See the instructions above to paint wood filler to look like wood grain.