Wood Repair Tips

Fine woodwork, millwork trim, wood flooring and wood furniture in a home are all subject to surface damage. In expensive, dark woods like mahogany, teak, ipe, rosewood and walnut, these imperfections show up more readily; rather than completely replace them, it may be better to try to repair the existing surface. Dents, burns, chips, cracking and small gouges can all be repaired, given the right methods and materials and careful attention.


A surface dent caused by a falling heavy object or other surface blow should be repaired as soon as possible. One simple tip to try is to boil some water then fill the dented area with it; the compressed wood fibers may be still able to swell up from the heat and fill the depressed area back again, if the dent is fresh enough. This method will vary in success, depending on the wood type, but it is worth a try.

If the hot water does not work, there is another thing to try. Take a damp cotton cloth and lay it over the dent. Heat the cloth by passing an electric iron over it until steam rises from the cloth.

The heat should only be applied to the dented area, so for small dents, use the iron’s tip. If the dent refills, then allow the area to completely dry before doing any re-waxing or polishing. If the dent does not refill, it means the wood fibres have been crushed rather than merely compressed, and you will need to fill the dent with shellac or a wood filler compound, depending on depth.

Scratches and Gouging

Small gouges and scratches in wood can be repaired by filling with stick shellac, also known as wood turner’s cement, furnisher’s wax and stick filler. This material comes in the form of a large crayon-like stick that is penciled along the line of the scratch or gouge.

Deeper scratches and gouges can be repaired by melting some of the stick with a match or cigarette lighter onto a palette knife. Spread the melted shellac into the gouged area, removing any excess with a cotton rag by polishing.

For small holes, cracks, splits, and chips in wood surfaces, a wood filler compound can be used. The filler is applied with a putty knife so as to protrude slightly above the surface, since it contracts during drying. When dry, the area can be sanded down to be smooth and flush to the surface. You may need to add some pigment to the filler in order to match the surrounding wood if it will not be refinished; use powdered pigment of sienna or umber hues.


Repairing burn marks in wood is tricky if they are of any depth. You will need some garnet abrasive sandpaper, some short lengths of 1/8 dia dowel, bleach, stick shellac and beeswax. Start by gluing a strip of the sandpaper around the end of a piece of thin wood dowel. Use this to sand away the charred wood by twisting it between index finger and thumb, taking care not to sand the surrounding wood so as not to remove the patina.

When you have removed all the charred material from the wood, clean up the darkened area of the wood to match the surrounding color, by putting a drop of bleach on it and gently rubbing with a cotton swab. The depression in the wood can be filled as per the section on repairing dents above.

An alternate method of filling the indentation is to use some tinted beeswax. Melt an ounce or two of beeswax in a double boiler slowly. Blend in a small amount of acid-based wood dye as it is melting. You may need to use a mix of colors to get the correct matching shade to the surrounding wood.

Pour the beeswax into an empty disposable container like a tin can and let harden. Pull the hardened wax out of the container and put some of it on a putty knife. Warm the putty knife with a match so that the wax drips off the knife into the indented area where the burn was. Allow wax to harden and then remove any excess with a razor blade.

Water Damage

Rings formed by water left by dishes and glasses are common on wood surfaces like tables. You can remove them by applying camphor spirits to a cotton swab and rubbing the water ring. Instead of spirits of camphor, brass polish will substitute, or you can make your own mixture of one part linseed oil and one part ammonia.

Water that penetrates through clear polish finishes into the wood results in black spots. To remove these spots you need to actually remove the finish in the area, using denatured alcohol and steel wool. Once the bare wood is exposed, black spots can be bleached away.

Use a commercial wood bleach, or sodium hyperchlorate. Apply the bleach with an old paintbrush, following the manufacturer’s instructions carefully and taking all due precautions. The bleach should then be rinsed away with a mixture of 1 ounce borax in ½ gallon water, then a full strength water rinse. Allow 24 hours to dry before refinishing.