Wood filler and spackle may have some confusing similarities regarding their use, but this does not mean they are the same. Understanding the differences between these patches can help you make the right choices when deciding what to use.

This article looks at wood filler vs spackle in detail. It examines the substances, the various types available, and the best places to use each.

Ultimately, the article compares wood filler and spackle to help you choose better for your next project.

What is Wood Filler?

Wood filler is a composite of substances such as epoxy, polyurethane, and clay used to fill small holes and fix crevices in wood surfaces.

It does an excellent job of sealing and fixing tiny scratches and larger dents on the wood surface for functional and cosmetic reasons.

Wood filler varies from one type to another, with some of them being sandable and stainable while others do not accept wood stain or sanding.

Some are exterior-grade wood filler, while others only work for indoor applications. Therefore, using indoor wood filler outdoors is not recommended.

The material is unlikely to be pretty ineffective outdoors. So it is essential to check the type and grade of wood filler you have each time you want to use them to fix something.

While wood filler is primarily meant for wood, it can also work on drywalls, albeit less effectively and only to fix minor cracks.

When used correctly, the paste does an excellent job hiding defects on wood surfaces. If you intend to use the filler on stained or painted wood, consider going for a type that will accept the finish.

Primary Types of Wood Filler 

Wood filler can be one of two primary types based on the binders or binding method used in it. Here are the types available. However, you can also have a homemade wood filler with sawdust.

Oil-based filler

Oil or solvent-based wood fillers typically consist of vinyl or epoxy. These wood resin fillers contain high levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), making them significantly toxic, with a characteristic strong odor. 

Solvent-based filler is the popular choice for larger projects, even though it tends to be messier than water-based fillers. Also, like most oil or solvent-based products, this type of wood filler will take longer to dry.

However, it rewards you with excellent adhesion and great durability. In addition, Co solvent-based fillers have greater resilience to weather elements and moisture-related problems than their water-based cousins.  

After using this type of filler, use mineral spirits to clean it off surfaces as pure soap and water are ineffective against it.  

Water-based filler

Water-based filler is the most common type. It typically consists of gypsum and cellulose or either of the two components. 

This type of wood filler is easier to use. It cleans easily with soap and water and leaves behind less mess to deal with after your project.

However, it is typically less durable than oil-based filler, so it may not be the preferred option for larger or exterior-based projects.

This type of wood filler is formulated for indoor use, especially on unfinished wood surfaces. It is ideal for smaller projects such as sealing small cracks and holes in wood. You can sand it and paint or stain it in most cases. 

Like most water-based products, this wood filler is non-toxic, hardly has any odor, and boasts low levels of volatile organic compounds than oil-based types. So you can use it without wearing any sophisticated breathing equipment.   

Wood Filler Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Some wood filler types allow for sanding and finishing.
  • It produces lasting results on porous surfaces.
  • Wood filler can mend big holes in wood.
  • Wood filler allows you to adjust the consistency for easier workability.

Cons

  • Wood fillers tend to expand and shrink with changes in temperature or weather conditions.

What is Spackle?

Spackle is a paste-like compound consisting mainly of vinyl powder and binders used to fill and repair holes and other defects in drywall or similar materials. It comes in various consistencies and weights for specific applications.

This drywall compound typically comes premixed from the manufacturer and is sold in bins or tubs designed to maintain the form. Spackle is usually water-based and dries to form a hard substance that is easy to sand.

While spackles are originally made for drywall, modern formulations also work for wood, plaster, and more. Lately, many homeowners spackle wood paneling to make them look like drywall.

In addition, it has a creamy consistency that makes it easy to create a smooth surface with spackle. 

The Vinyl spackling compound does not require the surface to be primed for it to work. As a result, its fast-drying quality is generally a big advantage as it makes working with spackle a quick process.

In addition, the material does not shrink, especially when the correct amounts are applied. Finally, while spackle is water-based, it works for both indoor and outdoor applications.

However, you need to prepare and prime the surface before using speckle if the project is outdoors. The other main advantage of spackle is the ease of using it. A fully dried spackle surface is stainable and accepts most wood finishes without issues. 

Main Types of Spackle

Spackle is available in the following five main types. 

Standard spackle 

Standard spackle typically consists of gypsum. It is a general type of composite formulated to take on heavy-duty drywall filling applications. The dried standard spackle is generally more robust than other types of spackle. 

Lightweight spackle 

Lightweight spackle is virtually on the opposite end of standard-type spackle. It consists of sodium silicate combined with an adhesive. 

This type of spackle is lightweight, as the name suggests, and does a better job filling smaller cracks and crevices in walls. 

Epoxy-based spackle 

Epoxy-based speckle is an oil-based formulation ideal for outdoor applications due to its superior water resistance. The spackle is ideal for sealing holes, gouges, and cracks in the wood.  

Vinyl-based spackle 

As the name suggests, vinyl-based spackle is a compound of vinyl and can cover and fill holes up to ¾ inches deep. When using vinyl-based spackle, ensure you apply multiple layers, allowing each to dry before adding the other. 

Acrylic spackle

Acrylic spackle resembles vinyl spackle in characteristics. It can be used on drywall, plaster, wood, and stone.

Related: Does vinyl stick to wood?

Best Spackle for Wood

DAP Alex Plus Spackling

Here is a standard spackle with professional-grade strength formulated for use on drywall, metal, and wood. It boasts exceptional durability and can be used on both interior and exterior projects with incredible results.

This DAP spackling does not shrink or sink, so you can expect the filled nail holes and cracks to remain flush and even. If the color does not match the substrate, you can sand and paint this product to create the look you want. 

If you’re filling cracks in hardwood floors, you may want to use a wood floor filler rather than a multipurpose one

Spackle Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Spackling does not require prior priming over a hole or crack for it to work. 
  • Spackle comes premixed and ready to use, making it user-friendly.
  • It is a cost-effective compound.
  • It creates a lasting solution for minor defects on walls or drywall. 
  • It typically works for both interior and exterior applications 
  • Vinyl spackling compound has superior resistance to shrinking, hence maintaining the shape.

Cons

  • Spackle is less effective on large projects or for sealing tasks.

Wood Filler vs Spackle Side by Side 

Having the right product is essential to the success of any DIY project. However, choosing between spackle and wood filler can be confusing, so here is a side-by-side comparison to clarify their differences. 

Spackle vs wood filler: Common uses  

Spackle is primarily used on drywall and plaster, while wood filler is mainly used on wood. This is by far the main difference between these two patches. 

However, the uses tend to overlap, as spackle is sometimes used on materials other than walls, including metal and wood, to seal minor cracks and fix defects on the surfaces of these materials. Similarly, wood filler is often used on surfaces other than wood. 

Nonetheless, the actual wood fibers in wood filler make this composite more suitable for repairing defects in wood than in drywall, metal, or any other type of surface. 

Because wood filler resembles wood to a good extent, you can use it to cover pores on overly porous wood types like mahogany, walnut, oak, ash, and fir. This helps create a nice, smooth surface with fewer, less manageable pores. 

Similarly, spackle is a drywall compound, so its formulation is most suitable for mending holes, cracks, and dents in walls and drywall—and less so on wood.  

However, they are more versatile than wood filler. So they can do an excellent job on plaster, masonry, and painted metal. It is only on wooden surfaces where wood filler typically beats spackle in terms of effectiveness. 

Spackle versus wood filler: How to apply 

You will use the same methods to apply wood filler and spackle on the respective surfaces most of the time. 

When patching up some gaps or cracks on wood surfaces or molding, apply the filler onto the area you want to patch up and spread it out with a spatula. The idea is to ensure you fill the holes or gaps with generous amounts of the filler for the best results.

After covering every inch of the affected areas, wipe away the excess product with a damp rag. Allow the filler to dry completely, then scuff sand it with fine-grain sandpaper to create a smooth finish. 

To patch up some defects with spackle in drywall, for instance, pull out a generous amount of spackle and use a spatula to work it into the affected area or hole. 

Just as with wood filler, apply enough spackle to fill the hole generously, then spread some of it on the surface around the affected area for an even look.

Next, let the spackle dry completely before sanding the surface to make it smooth and even. In either case, you can paint the fixed surface after drying completely. 

Wood filler vs spackle: Dry time 

Deeper holes often take longer than shallower cracks in both wood and drywall. So the dry time will be longer or shorter depending on the depth of the hole filled with spackle or wood filler. 

Spackle typically dries in less than 30 minutes on small holes and minor cracks and dents. However, it can take 1 to 2 hours for the spackle to dry if the hole or gap is really deep. 

Alternatively, you can use a fast-drying spackle available in home-improvement stores and enjoy a shorter dry time for shallow and deep holes.

On the other hand, wood filler takes longer to dry than spackle. The time will also depend on whether the filler is water-based or solvent-based. 

Water-based filler normally dries in about 2 hours for minor defects such as nail holes. However, if the hole is particularly deep, you can brace yourself for 5 to 6 hours of drying time. 

If you use oil-based wood filler, prepare to wait about 1 to 2 days for the patch to dry fully if the holes are deep. 

Spackle vs wood filler: Shrinking 

One of the main advantages of spackle is its superior resistance to shrining. If you apply the product correctly into a nail hole or other gaps on the surface, it retains its shape once dry and will not shrink due to temperature and weather changes. 

In contrast, wood filler is known for shrinking in response to weather changes. Water-based wood filler is more notorious for shrinking and sinking when used in nail holes and other gaps on wood.

So, always consider applying large amounts of wood filler when filling holes in wood. Alternatively, you can use oil-based wood filler instead. It resists shrinking better on larger projects, so you may leave water-based fillers to mend superficial defects.

Wood filler versus spackle: Sanding 

Once the spackle is dry, it accepts sanding and creates a nice, smooth sanded surface. Spackle is generally easier to sand than wood filler. You will also usually take little time to sand spackle than wood filler.

Consider using a sanding sponge to go over the repaired surfaces to even them out and make them smooth. You will not require a power sander for the job because the material does not require that much pressure. 

On the other hand, wood filler may require more pressure and time to sand properly. It can be significantly stubborn depending on which type is involved. And you may need to use a power sander for the job.

Spackle vs wood filler: Painting 

You can paint over spackle once it is completely dry. When painting over spackle, you need to apply a primer first to make the paint appear more vivid.

The same rule applies when applying wood filler. It accepts paint but works better if the surface is primed before painting. More importantly, you must choose a compatible primer for each case to get the desired sheen and coverage.  

Wood filler vs spackle: Finishing 

Since spackle is easier to sand after it dries, it accepts finishing better than wood filler in most cases. Spackling creates a smoother and more evenly finished surface, thanks to its ability to accept fine sanding. 

Even though wood filler also accepts finishing, the surface may not be as smooth as spackling. The patched areas are likely to remain more visible after finishing than surfaces repaired with spackle. 

The process may also take longer when a wood filler is involved than with spackling.

FAQs

Can you use spackle on wood?

Yes. Wood is one of the materials where you can use spackle. The other materials include plaster, painted metal, wallboard, and masonry.

Can you use spackle to fill nail holes in wood?

Spackling paste does an excellent job filling nail holes in wood. Simply feed generous amounts of the compound into the nail holes and use a putty knife to spread the paste on the surface to make it flush with the surrounding wood. Once finished, use a damp rag to wipe the excess and let the patches dry.

Can spackling be used as wood filler?

Yes, spackling can work as a filler in some applications. For instance, you can use the vinyl spackling paste for filling cracks or superficial holes on interior wood surfaces instead of water-based wood filler. Spackling will do an equally good job on these interior surfaces because it does not expand or contract much, making it ideal for environments with relatively steady temperatures.

Which is better for nail holes between wood filler and spackle?

The best paste for nail holes will depend on whether the material is wood or composite. Spackle is better than wood filler for mending nail holes in drywall and plaster, while wood filler is better for filling nail holes in wooden materials like in wood trim or exterior projects.

Can you use wood filler on drywall?

Yes. Wood filler fills small holes in drywall and can be a perfect alternative filling material in place of spackling. However, larger holes or substantial imperfections require a new piece of drywall to replace the damaged one.

Can you use wood putty on drywall?

You can use wood putty to fill holes and cracks on drywall, especially for those that keep reappearing. The paste is weather-resistant and relatively flexible (putty does not harden), making it ideal for areas that experience significant temperature changes. You can also choose wood putty with a color matching the drywall.

Conclusion

Wood filler and drywall excel at mending holes and defects on wood and drywall primarily. Away from that, the uses of these materials overlap, albeit with varying effectiveness depending on the material involved.

So, use wood filler when repairing holes, cracks, and dents primarily on wooden surfaces and any other surface as specified on the product label.

On the other hand, use spackling primarily on drywall or any other surface as specified on the product label for the best results.

We hope this analysis helps clarify the best uses of wood filler and spackling compounds.

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