6 Ways to Plug or Fill Pocket Holes

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Introduction: 6 Ways to Plug or Fill Pocket Holes

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In this Instructable I'll show you 6 Ways to Plug or Fill Pocket Holes with a variety of methods. I'll break down the 6 ways into 3 fillers and 3 plugs made from wood. Each of these has their pro's and con's and I'll cover each of them in detail along with application methods and results after sanding to 150 grit.

If you want to see a little more detail and a quick jig I made to cut the plugs for my favorite method (#6) then you can head over to my 6 Ways to Plug or Fill Pocket Holes post on my site.

And if you like the build video please subscribe to my YouTube channel!

Step 1: Get Your Materials and Tools

Here is what you'll need for the build. The links below are affiliate links and help support my channel and let me build more projects.

Tools Used

Materials/Supplies

Step 2: #1 - Filling With Wood Filler

The first filler method is traditional wood filler or wood putty. Applying it is very easy, I just filled the holes to the brim with wood filler then set it aside to dry.

The holes are deep so I ended up having to wait overnight for the wood filler to dry. I thought it would crack or shrink, but the filler did a great job. After sanding it was very smooth and ready for paint.

Pro’s: Smooth finish, easy to apply, sands quickly

Con’s: Long drying time, uses a lot of filler per hole

Step 3: #2 Filling With Sawdust and Glue

The second filler method is using sawdust and glue. I'd never used this before, but I got a tip from Instagram to try it out. I’m not sure I got the mixture right, but I just dumped out the dust from my orbital sander and mixed it with glue into a paste. I mixed it and put it in the holes and it made a huge nasty mess. This stuff was pretty hard to spread.

I let this one dry overnight as well and it was actually still rubbery the next day almost 24 hours later. I tried sanding it and it turned into a big mess and totally gummed up my sandpaper.

Pro’s: Ummm, I guess it’s the cheapest

Con’s: Everything else, this one was bad

Step 4: #3 Filling With Bondo

The third filler is Bondo. I also got this tip from the Instagram community. The bondo has a putty and a hardener you mix together. I followed the directions on the can and stirred it up until it was an even salmon color.

I filled the pocket holes with the bondo and overfilled them to make sure it would be flush when I sanded it back. It took a little to get used to the thick consistency but wasn’t too bad to work with, though it did have a somewhat strong smell.

The bondo dried much faster than first two fillers and was ready to sand in about 2 hours. It also sanded way faster than I thought it would. It only took 10 or 15 seconds more than the wood filler to sand. And the finish was glassy smooth, even better than the wood filler.

Pro’s: Super smooth finish, dries faster than other fillers

Con’s: Bad smell, needs to be mixed before use, any material mixed but not used is wasted

Step 5: #4 Plugging With Store Bought Plugs

The next 3 methods are using wooden plugs. I put a picture of the different types of plugs and I'll go over each one in detail. If you wonder why my fingers hate #5 then go watch my YouTube video for this tutorial.

The first plug method is using store bought plugs. The ones I used for the test were oak but they come in several varieties. You just put some glue in the pocket hole then push in the plug.

The fit on these plugs was pretty loose for me so I had to let the glue dry for about 30 minutes before flushing cutting with my flush cut saw.

Pro’s: ready off the shelf, available in different wood species

Con’s: inconsistent fit, more expensive

Step 6: #5 Plugging With 3/8" Dowels Angled-cut

The next way is to basically recreate the store bought plugs using a 3/8″ dowel and a little jig. You just drill pocket holes in a scrap piece then insert a 3/8″ dowel into the hole and cut it flush on the bandsaw or with the flush cut saw. This gives you a plug that looks just like the store bought ones.

The problem is with the installation. I had a really hard time getting these installed. I tried using a rasp and also the Kreg Mini Jig which has a little spot for pushing the plugs in. Neither of those worked great and I ended up not getting the plugs set totally flush. I let the glue set for about 5 minutes, since it was a tight fit the plugs were pretty secure, and then cut them flush with my flush cut saw.

The angled dowels left some gaps that would need to be filled since I wasn’t able to fully seat them. But other than that they did a good job.

Pro’s: most efficient use of material, uses inexpensive dowels

Con’s: hard to install, finger busters

Step 7: #6 Plugging With 3/8" Dowels Straight-cut

The final way to plug pocket holes is my favorite. The idea is the same as the angled plugs except you cut the plugs into 1.5″ sections with a straight cut. Apply your glue and use a hammer to tap the plugs into place. No rasp, no Kreg Mini, no busted knuckles. Just a few easy taps with the hammer and you’re ready to go!

If you want to see how to make this quick little dowel cutting jig I'm showing then watch the YouTube video or head over to my blog post at FixThisBuildThat.com.

You can cut these flush almost immediately, but I do wait about 5 minutes just to be sure. Then cut them with the flush cut saw. After sanding the surface left behind is very good and only needs slight filling or additional sanding if any.

Pro’s: easiest installation for plugs, tight fit so minimal waiting for glue to dry, uses inexpensive dowels

Con’s: uses more material than angled dowels

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    61 Comments

    #7: dry-wall patch. You apply with a putty knife and be sure to leave it proud to the wood--it will shrink. VERY easy to sand to a flat final surface for painting. The bad parts are that there is NO WAY for this to be stained or the like to look like wood. It's white and will stay white. The other bad is that if something pokes it later, it can dent. This is not as bad as it sounds as it requires a direct and pointed hit. That's actually hard to do.

    2 replies

    Yeah, I thought about using drywall mud, but figure it was pretty close to wood filler. It's a lot cheaper than wood filler though for sure!

    And it sands a whole lot easier. Besides the issue that it "bangs" quite different from wood (when struck from an object). Also, it does take a bit more prep for painting: you must do an undercoat and sand, then it will finish as if solid wood.

    For the sawdust & glue solution standard PVA glue is never going to work on holes that deep because it will never set once the surface dries. It's a great & easy trick for shallow holes, dents and scratches because you can match the timber colour instantly but for deep holes you need an epoxy or resin glue that doesn't air-dry. I'd use Cascamite powered resin (aka Polymite) - it mixes with water, sets rock-solid and is a lot easier to use than a two-part epoxy.

    1 reply

    Great video. How would each of these look if you wished to stain them? I wouldn't expect the Bondo to stain at all. Thereby eliminating one great filler option.

    1 reply

    Thanks! Yeah, i want to try and stain them soon.

    Thanks a lot for sharing this was very useful info!

    1 reply

    For the best finish try a combination of plug & filler. Insert a dowel rod into your hole, then extract slightly before cutting flush. Your plug can then be tapped into the hole leaving it sitting slightly below the surface. The resulting hollow can then be filled with your filler of choice. This method limits any shrinkage & allows the filler to dry quickly & completely.

    1 reply

    Good info but Epoxy works better and I just grab a hand full of sawdust from under the saw then put it through a coffee grinder. I use System Three Epoxy, the two to one mix and you will be able to sand it out the next day.

    1 reply

    Yeah, I wondered about epoxy. Good tip on the sawdust.

    user

    You are a very good teacher! I like the straight dowel method the best, as do you. Please keep these videos coming. I would like to see you instruct on how to use Kreg pocket hole jigs.

    1 reply

    so I type out a nice long post only to find I have to log in in order to post it. I log in and, of course, the message has been wiped. Don't feel like doing all that again. Stupid setup.

    3 replies

    thank you for the wonderful and insightful comment I'm sure you wrote :)

    ^Hahahahaaaa! well timed.

    I am using glue/sawdust atm, until I can get a press jig made for the corded drill, when I have a drill press available, I use some 3" plug cutter bits I picked up at woodworker supply, I like them because I can use the pocket hole bit & the plugs I make for doweling/temporary bench dogs/getting rid of bad nail holes in re-purposed lumber/making a hole for whatever reason & then being able to plug it. The plug cutters are also cool because I can go down the grain, or across,,,or some weird angle if I have reason/desire.

    About the sawdust method, if you mix in a fraction of water to the glue (before adding the sawdust) it is a bit more workable,,,still takes over 24hrs to set up good, and it shrinks a bit more than straight-up glue. Also, check your putty knife, I have stainless now, but first time I had a steel one, and it caused the mixture to darken terribly.

    Oh, and about the dowels, Don't square off the end that goes into the pocket hole, cut it back something like 45Deg, and keep the longest...side(??) oriented towards the surface. the screw heads can cause a gap when you plug it, and the 45 degree cut should let it slip past the screw head enough to cover it from the surface...I really hope that made sense..

    Thanks for the tips! I didn't think about mixing the sawdust and glue a little thinner. That would have helped because it was a huge muck of a mess and wouldn't go together well. I get ya on cutting the dowel on an angle, but it's an added step I probably won't do since I get good results without it. Thanks!

    A question before I deal with filling the pocket holes: when I screw the screw into the pocket hole to join two boards, about 1/16" of the screw head remains above the surface of the wood. The screw head does fit snugly against the pocket shoulder. Am I cutting the pocket wrong? Am I doing something else stupid?

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