Hiding blemishes on your project surface is something that often comes with the package when making things out of wood. Wood, as you may know, is often imperfect. But even if it is pretty close to flawless, you may still need to counter-sink a screw, or something similar. One thing I’ve learned is that a nice clean counter-sunk hole looks better than a screw head. You’ve probably come across situations that required you to fasten your project together with screws even though you didn’t want to leave anything visible on the surface.
So what do you do when you absolutely HAVE to use screws but you can’t stand the sight of screw heads on your finished product? (Personally, I abhor screw heads!) My solution is to counter-sink and then fill the holes with wood putty. This looks far better in my opinion. The only down-side is that taking it apart is a pain as you would need to dig out the putty before you can access the screw. But this isn’t really an issue in my book as I more often than not use wood glue between joints anyway, and so don’t plan on ever taking my project apart.
So here’s how you do it:
Get your wood glue – the squirt-bottle with the white creamy stuff in it – and squirt an appropriate amount on a mixing palette of some kind. This can be anything from a 20cmX20cm piece of plywood to a scrap of cardboard. Now take some saw-dust – preferably the saw-dust you just made so the color will be somewhat similar – and start mixing it into your glue. You should come up with a “dough-like” consistency. Remember to mix the 2 together well, making sure all the saw-dust is properly “dissolved” into the glue.
You’ll want to pack as much of the paste into the hole as possible to ensure a quality, long-lasting seal. Mounding the putty up over the hole is a good idea as you can then sand the putty perfectly flat with a disk sander after it dries. Trying to smear the putty flat while wet – and make it look good at the same time – is a futile endeavor – not to mention it will “concave” after drying. So it’s best to just mound it and take it down afterward. Remember that wood glue dries to a transparent finish but the saw-dust remains visible, so you’ll want to as much as possible keep the putty INSIDE the hole and not get it all over the surrounding areas.
Let the putty dry for at least 24 hours. Once dry, you can take your disk sander and sand it down till it’s smooth. It should be smooth enough to where you can run your fingers over it and not feel any unevenness. Of course, you will still be able to see where the hole was filled, but by staining, varnishing, or painting the surface, this should be minimized greatly. In the end, if you did the job right, it should look as if it was “meant to be there”.
You should also know that if you plan to stain or varnish the project after your putty job, you should take special care to sand down ALL traces of the putty to the outside of the hole. Any lingering films of glue will prevent proper penetration of the wood by the stain or varnish, and will consequently leave an ugly discoloration. One last tip to get you the best results: Make sure your counter-sunk screw holes are as aligned as possible and not just randomly placed. This will help everything to look uniform.