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Thread: What was the traditional wood filler before plastic wood?

  1. #1
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    What was the traditional wood filler before plastic wood?

    I was filling in some nail holes this weekend and got to thinking. What was the traditional wood putty of choice? I read about hide glue and sawdust or shellac and sawdust, but these weren't from documented sources.

    I am also familiar with the method of raising a slice of wood, driving the nail, and then gluing the slice back down. Maybe this was more common before putty?

    Thanks for any info!
    Always put the crappy side against the wall

  2. #2
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    I usually use sawdust from the wood being used ( finer the better) and just plain glue....or, add a plug to cover the screw/nail holes...matching the grain.
    A Planer? I'm the Planer, and this is what I use

  3. #3
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    Painters putty. You can buy in different tints ready made or use universal mixing colors to tint yourself. Mixing yourself gets a very good match. You’ll need several colors for a project. Apply after your sealer coats so it doesn’t smear into the grain. Apply finish over it.
    Jim

  4. #4
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    From rebuilding old case work I'd have to say wood, either in the form of "dutchmen" or cross-grain plugs. Anything from before ~1950 is patched with solid wood rather than any sort of goop. Some of them are quite imaginative.

    In my current project (a Belgian cafe dance organ, probably from the 1930's) I've probably put in at least 100 cross-grain plugs to fix stripped screws or abandoned screw holes, and probably have another hundred to do. Fortunately they are dead easy with modern tapered plug cutters-- a little glue, bang it in (matching the wood species and grain direction), and plane it flush almost immediately. Way easier than futzing with putty.

  5. #5
    I was taught that an elongated diamond patch looks the best. Several of my patches could not be found by some when they were
    challenged to find them. To me circular patch is for painted work , or inconspicuous spot that is conspicuous when it has a hole in it.

  6. #6
    This is entirely anecdotal, but I have a pair of twin beds from around 1850. In addition to being glued, the top rail and headboard are also pinned to the posts with small finish nail on each driven deep. Definitely looks like sawdust in there so I’m going to go with sawdust and hide glue. These have always been in the family so very likely they are from the Massachusetts or New York area.

  7. #7
    In boatbuilding, we use epoxy, and either wood flour or cabosil, or a mixture of both, to match the color to an extent. Both of these fillers make a structural repair, just like a Dutchman. It can be drilled, planed and even tapped. The wood flour must come from a cabinet shop that does a lot of fine sanding. It is much finer than sawdust. A quart only costs a few dollars, and lasts a long time, unless mistakes are large or frequent.

    73,
    Rick
    Last edited by Rick Dettinger; 01-17-2022 at 9:34 PM.

  8. #8
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    In Industrial Arts in 1966, we used Durham Rock Hard Putty. Pretty sure that was not before Plastic Wood.

  9. #9
    I think the lighter and more natural the finish, the more of a "problem" getting things matched nicely matters.

    Sanding dust + glue is pretty common. Experiment with different glue types to see what takes finish about right and doesn't turn super dark.

    An old "trick" when french polishing was that the pumice slurry used during leveling makes an automatic grain filler.

    Then, there's the trick of using a small chisel (usually 1/8"-1/4") to turn up an attached shaving. Nail under it and then glue it back down.

    Of course, dark wood stains and dark finishes hide dark imprint of an itty bitty wire nail pretty well.

  10. #10
    Plaster of Paris got used as well, with whatever handy method that was available to disguise it.

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by Andrew Seemann View Post
    Plaster of Paris got used as well, with whatever handy method that was available to disguise it.
    Came here to say this.
    I work with a lot of 19th century furniture and I see a lot of plaster filler in smaller voids.
    It's generally mixed with red/brown brick dust to colour it.
    It doesn't seem to age very gracefully and can stand out, so I remove it (if I'm restoring and not conserving).

    I use coloured hard wax to fill any smaller holes now.
    Looks fine under shellac polish.

  12. #12
    Quote Originally Posted by Stu Gillard View Post
    I work with a lot of 19th century furniture and I see a lot of plaster filler in smaller voids.
    It's generally mixed with red/brown brick dust to colour it.
    It doesn't seem to age very gracefully and can stand out, so I remove it (if I'm restoring and not conserving).
    On 17th and 18th century harpsichords there is often a painting on the soundboard. They frequently hid knots by filling them with plaster and using them for the eye of a bird or center of a flower.

  13. #13
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    It depends on the type of work you're doing. I often use sawdust from the project itself mixed with whatever finish I'm using. Obviously this presents no compatibility problems. I also have an old set (I don't know where I got it) of variously colored shellac burn-in sticks. The colored shellac is melted with a hot spatula and pushed into the divot. A little darker works better than a little lighter...
    -Howard

  14. #14
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    I also have an old set (I don't know where I got it) of variously colored shellac burn-in sticks. The colored shellac is melted with a hot spatula and pushed into the divot.
    My father had a kit with these in it. (my recollection is one of my older brothers has it now) It was made by Mohawk.

    They are still in business > https://www.mohawk-finishing.com/pro...hard-fill-kit/

    Another source for Mohawk and other supplies > https://www.shellac.net < they also carry wax filler and spray lacquers for guitar makers.

    jtk
    "A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty."
    - Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

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