Last Updated on May 22, 2023 by Ernest Godia
Wood filler and spackle are somewhat similar products with different uses. Such close similarities can create confusion when deciding what to use on a specific project. Notice that using the right product on your project is essential regardless of your skill level.
Understanding the difference between wood filler and spackle will help you make the right choice when deciding what to use.
This article details wood filler vs spackle, the various types available, and compares the products side by side. By the end of this post, you should have clarity on when and where to use each product.
What is spackle
Spackle or spackling paste is a form of putty made with hydrated calcium sulfate, glue, and gypsum plaster. The paste is handy when repairing defects on drywall, bricks, and plaster.
As a DIYer, there is a level of anxiety when trying to drill a screw or nail furniture. When working with drywall, you can quickly fix nail holes, pinholes, or jagged surface cracks with good-quality spackle. You don’t necessarily need to call a handyperson to handle the repair.
You can purchase premixed spackle and apply it directly from the container, or you can get the powder form and mix it to make the paste.
Types of spackle
Spackle is available in a variety of forms, which are:
- Lightweight spackle
Lightweight spackle is ideal for fixing holes less than an inch wide. It contains sodium ciliate, which helps it grip the holes firmly. Lightweight spackles are an excellent choice for shiny and smooth surfaces.
Lightweight spackle is easy to spread and doesn’t shrink or crack after drying. It works on both indoor and outdoor surfaces and requires no sanding. Also, you can paint or stain it. Top of the list is the Red Devil.
- Vinyl spackle
Vinyl spackle is a composition of elastic polymers. DAP DRYDex comes in pink color but dries white.
Vinyl spackle works on indoor and outdoor surfaces and can patch small, deep holes of about ¾ inches. Applying this spackle requires following a specific procedure for the best possible outcome.
- Standard spackle
Standard spackles can fix more extensive damage compared to lightweight spackles. A good example is the DAP 18741 Platinum Patch Filler.
The standard or all-purpose spackling paste contains gypsum; thus, it’s the best formula for repairing cracks and gaps on drywall or ceilings. It dries hard and is easy to sand to smooth the surface.
- Epoxy spackle
Epoxy spackle is known for its fluid viscosity and oil-based nature. It is the most durable yet challenging to apply, especially to vertical surfaces. The hardener and resin come in two separate bottles; you’ll need to mix them before using them.
Epoxy spackle is durable due to its oil-based material and is water-resistant, making it suitable for outdoor use. A good choice is the Totalboat spackling compound.
- Acrylic spackle
Like vinyl spackle, acrylic spackle is excellent for deep holes on indoor or outdoor surfaces.
Acrylic spackle works on plaster, drywall, wood, bricks, and stone. It dries quickly without shrinking or cracking. You can sand over it to smoothen the surface. It can patch up holes between 3-5 inches wide. Go for the 3M spackling compounds depending on the diameter of the hole.
Spackle pros and cons
Here is an outline of the advantages and disadvantages of spackle:
- Spackle is the best choice for patching small and large holes on drywall or plaster surfaces.
- It’s flexible enough for indoor and outdoor use.
- It doesn’t shrink or crack as it dries.
- You can sand, paint or stain over spackle.
- Due to its consistency and texture, it’s easy to apply.
- Spackle dries very quickly with exposure to heat and air; hence tricky to store.
- Spackle is pricy
- You’ll need to follow a particular application procedure for a good outcome.
- It’s less effective for larger holes.
What is wood filler?
As the name suggests, wood filler is used to fill gaps or nail holes on wood surfaces. The filler comprises polyurethane, epoxy, and clay.
Apply the wood filler on bare wood to bond with the wood grain and create an even surface. Wood filler dries and hardens, making it easy to sand. After sanding, you can apply the finish to the surface.
Wood is prone to rot and other undesirable imperfections you would prefer to cover up. Apply adequate wood filler to the flaws and let it dry.
You can opt to make some homemade wood filler instead of buying. The advantage of homemade wood filler is the dust matches the color and tone of the wood surface. Combine wood dust or sawdust with water or oil-based suspension, and it’s ready for use.
Types of wood filler
There are two primary types of wood filler:
- Water-based wood filler
The water-based filler is either made of cellulose or gypsum. It is easy to apply, dries quickly, and is suitable for indoor use. It cleans easily with soap and water and bonds with water-based paints or stains.
It is less toxic and odorless, unlike the oil-based filler. However, it is less durable and can’t withstand the elements.
- Petroleum-based wood filler
Petroleum or oil-based filler contains more potent compounds like epoxy or vinyl. It has a higher level of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), making it significantly toxic with a pungent smell.
It is easy to apply but takes longer to dry. Clean it with mineral spirits instead of soap and water.
The filler adheres well to the wood surface and patches up the imperfections on the surface. Due to its durability and resistance to the elements, petroleum-based wood finish is excellent for outdoor projects.
Wood filler pros and cons
Here are the benefits and drawbacks of wood filler:
- You can sand and paint over wood filler
- Its consistency makes it easy to apply
- It can fix big cracks or holes in the wood
- With the weather changes, wood filler tends to shrink and expand, which can result in cracking.
Wood Filler VS Spackle Detailed Comparison
Below is a side-by-side comparison of wood filler and spackle to help you choose the correct product for your DIY projects:
1. Wood filler vs spackle: Common uses
Wood filler is ideal for wood surfaces, while spackle patches up holes on drywall and plaster surfaces. Occasionally spackle can seal minor dents or flaws on wood and metal surfaces.
The composition of wood filler allows it to bind to the wood fibers, which is why it is suitable for repairing wooden surfaces. At times, wood filer is used on other surfaces, but it isn’t an excellent choice for metal, drywall, or plaster material.
Wood filler has a color and tone similar to wood and can cover overly porous wood species like fir, walnut, oak, ash, and mahogany. It creates an even surface hiding the imperfections on bare wood.
Spackle only outperforms wood filler on brick, metal, and drywall. It helps fix dents, cracks, and holes on the surfaces mentioned.
2. Spackle vs wood filler: Shrinking
One superior quality of spackle is its resistance to shrinking. Despite exposure to harsh weather conditions and the changing seasons, spackle doesn’t shrink. Even in its dry state, spackle will not shrink; it retains its shape.
Wood filler is known for its notorious shrinking characteristic. Wood filler shrinks because it gets absorbed into the wood pores. Once the filler is in the holes or cracks, it tends to shrink and sink in as it dries.
Shrinking and cracking are not suitable for outdoor exposure but excellent for indoor projects.
Use the oil-based filler when patching up outdoor surfaces and the water-based filler for indoor projects. Apply at least two layers of wood filler in the holes or a generous amount and let it dry.
3. Dry time of wood filler vs spackle
Some of the factors affecting the drying time for these two patches include the following:
- Amount of product used
- Method of application
- The depth of the hole; the deeper it is, the longer it takes to dry.
Spackle takes less than 30 minutes to dry in small and shallow holes. However, it takes approximately 1-2 hours to dry completely if the gap is large and deep.
If you are in a hurry, opt for the quick-drying spackle to reduce the waiting time. Some brands of spackle change color from pink to white as they dry.
Wood filler dries slower than spackle. The type of wood filler also determines the drying time, as water-based filler dries faster than petroleum-based ones.
Water-based filler dries in 2 hours on shallow nail holes and 5-6 hours in large dents. Oil-based filler can take 1-2 days to dry and completely cure.
4. How to apply wood filler vs spackle
Applying spackle and wood filler follows the same techniques. Use a putty knife or spatula to apply the filler or spackle into the gaps. Scoop the product you plan on using into a container and seal the lid on the remainder to prevent it from drying.
Apply a generous amount of the wood filler into the nail holes and smooth out the surfaces with the knife. Once the area is covered, clean up the excess filler with a damp rag. Let the filler dry before you can sand it.
As for the spackle, apply the product with a spatula. Cover the surface thoroughly and wipe off the excess. Let the spackle dry, then sand. Spackle dries fast and doesn’t shrink, so fill the dents evenly for a perfect finish.
5. Spackle vs wood filler: Painting
Spackle binds with paints and stains, but you’ll need to add a coat of primer for the paint to adhere properly and appear vibrant. For a glossy or clear finish, select a matching primer. Let the spackle dry, sand, wipe the dust, prime the surface, and then paint.
Spackle accepts paint better than wood filler. After sanding the wood filler, the surface isn’t as smooth and even compared to spackle. Adding a coat of primer before the paint is better for a desirable sheen and paint coverage.
Use water-based paints and finishes on water-based wood filler and oil-based paints on petroleum-based wood filler. This choice helps ensure better adhesion and durability of the paint job.
6. Spackle vs wood filler: Sanding
You’ll have to wait at least 24 hours before sanding the spackle. If you sand too early, spackle clogs the fine grit sandpaper making a mess. The only way to clean up the mess is to remove the spackle and fill the cracks again.
Spackle is much easier to sand than wood filler. You can use a sponge or sandpaper for scuffing the spackle, but it may require an orbital sander when working on wood filler.
It would be best to refrain from using a power tool when scuffing spackle, as the excess pressure will prevent you from achieving a smooth surface.
7. Cracking on wood filler vs spackle
Wood filler and spackle have very poor flexibility, making them prone to cracking. With exposure to dry and wet conditions, wood filler and spackle expand and contract, eventually giving.
It is best to protect the filler or spackle with a coat of paint to increase its resistance to heat, moisture, and UV light.
Wood filler vs Spackle: FAQs
Below are answers to some of the frequently asked questions about spackle vs. wood filler:
Can I use spackle instead of wood filler on wood?
Yes, you can use spackle to fill small holes on wood surfaces. However, spackle is better when fixing drywall, metal, or plaster. Wood filler is the ideal choice for patching cracks and dents on wood surfaces.
When should you not use a wood filler?
Avoid wood filler when filling dents on finished wood surfaces. Use wood putty instead for finished wood, as it does a better job. Also, keep off wood fillers when fixing cracks, nail holes, and dents on drywalls, plaster, bricks, or metal; use spackle instead.
It is also better to use wood putty instead of wood filler on outdoor projects exposed to fluctuating temperatures and humidity as it is more flexible.
Can DRYDex spackling be used as a wood filler?
Yes, wood is one of the surfaces where you can apply DRYDex spackling. It is a lightweight spackle suitable for drywall, wood, stone, brick, or plaster surfaces. The product is pink in color but dries white, the color change indicating when the surface is dry and ready for sanding.
What is stronger than wood filler?
Wood putty is denser than wood filler. Wood putty is a non-hardening material made with plastic and oil-based solvents. Unlike wood filler, wood putty never hardens even after it dries. Its non-hardening quality makes it flexible and doesn’t shrink or crack. Wood putty fills nail holes and gouges on finished wood surfaces.
Here is an article that covers the drying behavior of wood putty and wood filler.
Can you use spackle to fill nail holes in wood?
Yes, you can. However, remember that spackle isn’t the best product choice when filling nail holes in wood. You can use spackle, but the wood filler is more suitable.
Which is better for nail holes between wood filler and spackle?
The better patch for nail holes depends on the location of the nail holes. Use wood filler to fill holes on wood surfaces and spackle to fix nail holes on drywall, plaster, brick, or stone surfaces.
Can you use wood filler on drywall?
Yes, you can use filler on drywalls, especially when filling small holes. When working on holes larger than 3 inches deep, use spackle. The wood fillers to apply to drywall are; cellulose, epoxy, gypsum, and latex wood filler.
Can you use wood putty on drywall?
Yes, you can use wood putty to fill minor imperfections on drywall if you don’t have a better option. Spackle is ideal for filling dents, cracks, and nail holes on drywall.
Wood Filler VS Spackle: Conclusion
The significant difference between wood filler and spackle is that wood filler adheres to unfinished wood surfaces and dissolves into the wood pores. Spackle, on the other hand, clings perfectly to drywall, plaster, and stone surfaces.
Key similarities are that both products are sandable and require a coat of primer before applying paint or finish on them.
This detailed head-to-head comparison clearly clarifies what product to use and when to apply it. This should help you pick out the suitable filler and work on your projects like a pro.
Please share your experience using wood filler and spackle in the comments.