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Tips for Filling Holes in Cabinets You're Painting

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Matt is a professional painter and freelance writer, sharing his knowledge, house-painting tips, and product reviews.

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How to Fill Cabinet Holes

Whether you're replacing your cabinet door handles with single knobs, changing the location of a hinge, or repairing damaged wood, filling holes in cabinets is easy with the right patching materials. Deep holes from hinges and knobs usually take about three coats of filler to make them completely level and smooth with the surface. The key is using the right filler that dries fast and doesn't shrink.

If you'e drilling new holes in your cabinets for hardware and filling old holes, I recommend getting all of that done before you start priming and painting, so you don't end up drilling through the painted doors at the end. Patching the holes before applying the primer is important too because primer helps hide the patches and blend them in with the paint.

Supplies list for this project:

Filling Holes in Cabinets with Filler

Shallow holes from damage and wood grain are easy to repair with one to two coats of wood filler, or putty. Deeper holes from knobs and hinges usually take at least three applications to fill them all the way, but don't use spackle. Spackle takes too long dry and shrinks too much. Bondo filler and putty has performed the best for me on my projects.

The deep hole filler I've used many times for cabinet painting prep is the two-part Bondo Wood Filler in a can. I've also started using Bondo All-Purpose Putty. Both are two-part fillers and almost exactly the same, except the All-Purpose Putty is white and the filler is red. Each of them include a separate tube of hardener for mixing.

For repairing small dings and screw holes in cabinet doors, the one-part Bondo spot putty in a squeeze tube works great for that. This putty sands a lot easier than the two-part fillers and doesn't need to be mixed with hardener. The putty is red in color, but when primed, you won't see it through the paint. This stuff works great too for filling small pin knots in cherry cabinets.

How to Fill Cabinet Handle Holes

  1. Pre-fill the holes. Holes from handles that go all the way through both sides of the cabinet door should always be filled with filler that dries hard so it doesn't crack, or fall out. One way to stabilize the filler inside the hole is to pre-fill it first. I've used crumpled up masking paper, but you can also pack the hole with toothpicks, or a wooden dowel thin enough to fit inside.
  2. Fill the hole. For a handle hole, use filler, or the squeeze tube of one-part Bondo spot putty to fill the hole. Squeeze the putty into the holes on both sides of the door. Use a putty knife to smooth out the excess putty, or filler, on the surface above the hole. Don't leave globs of filler on the surface.
  3. Sand off the filler. Two-part filler is harder to sand than the glazing putty I recommended. The easiest way to sand the filler is with an orbital sander and 150-grit sandpaper. Sand the glazing putty with a piece of sandpaper of the same grit, or finer. Apply two more coats of filler, sanding between coats, to level out the holes with the surface. Deep cavities from hinges take multiple coats to completely fill them.
  4. Prime before painting. If you're painting the cabinets, prime the patches with one to two coats, using oil-based primer. The primer seals over the repair patches so they blend in perfectly with paint. One of the reasons I like using the Bondo All-Purpose Putty is that it's white, instead of red, and blends in better.

Filling Holes from Natural Wood Grain

If you're painting oak cabinets, or another wood species with an open grain, you're going to see tiny holes in the wood after painting them, unless you fill the grain first. The best way to fill holes in the grain is with grain filler, or lightweight wood filler, but not Bondo. Bondo is harder to sand and best for random repairs on cabinets, not for skim-coating multiple doors like you would with grain filler.

Filling grain holes is very tedious and usually requires two or more skim coats of filler to completely hide the grain. I've used Aqua Coat grain filler many times for this purpose. The newer version of the filler is white in color and fills grain better than the original clear gel version I used in the past. You have to apply at least three coats to level out the grain holes.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Matt G.