How To Fill Wood Grain On Oak Cabinets Before Painting

how to fill wood grain in oak cabinets before painting

One of the things that has bothered me the most about my green cabinets has been the wood grain in the cabinet doors. These cabinets are oak, and wood grain in oak is very visible and deep compared to most other wood species. And during the mid afternoon when the sunlight in the kitchen is the brightest, the grain is so prominent on the cabinet doors that it actually looks like some of them have a subtle decorative pattern painted on them.


Before repainting them, I wanted to fill the grain so that it would at least be dramatically minimized. On oak with really deep grain, I think it might be almost impossible to make the grain completely disappear, but I’ll be happy with just minimizing it.

To fill the grain, I used this wood filler called Timber Mate, which you can find here on Amazon*.


It actually comes in different colors. I happened to have Red Oak since I originally bought it to fill cracks in my red oak floors. It comes in 8-ounce jars, or quart containers, and it’s a very dense product. Not only that, but it stinks to high heaven. It smells like formaldehyde to me. Every time I open it and get a whiff of that smell, I flash back to high school biology class when I had to dissect a cat. 🙁

Anyway, I just scooped out a big spoonful into a bowl, and then added some water and mixed it up until I had a thick paste.


And after lightly sanding the cabinet door with 150-grit sandpaper, I brushed the paste over the entire surface.


I put it in front of a box fan, and it took about 30 minutes or so to dry. Then I  used 150-grit sandpaper to sand the entire surface. You can see here how the Timbermate settled into the wood grain.


I don’t have a door that’s completely dry yet, but when I do, I’ll take a picture and add it to this post to show you the difference. Now again, it doesn’t make the grain go away completely on this type of oak that has such heavy, deep graining. But it does minimize considerably. Of course, you can add another coat and sand again. That would probably help even more.

Another thing that helps to minimize the grain even further is to paint the cabinets with a paint brush instead of spraying. I love my Critter sprayer* and use it when I can. It makes painting cabinets and furniture so much faster and easier. But when it comes to oak, I’ve noticed that actually dragging a brush across the surface pushes the paint down into the grain and fills it more, where spraying doesn’t really have the force to push paint into the grain, so it actually accents it more.

If you get nervous at the thought of painting cabinets with a brush, I’ve written about my process and my painting tips here.

How to paint cabinets with a paint brush and get a near perfect finish

So my kitchen cabinets are coming along. 🙂

In other news, I have brand new drywall in my hallway, so that’s ready to be primed and painted. Then I can install new doors on the bedrooms, install a new light fixture, and build my hall tree. I’m still waiting for my wallpaper for the breakfast room to arrive, and I still haven’t heard back from the guy about spraying my countertops. So I may be jumping around from room to room for the rest of the year, just getting as much done as I possibly can in the next 48 days. (Wow! Only 48 days left in this year!!)

how to fill wood grain before painting


I finished repainting my kitchen cabinets! Click here to see how they turned out

My finished for now kitchen - from kelly green to teal - before and after

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  1. Always excited to see progress! 🙂 Keep up the good work! Now that you have a decorating plan in mind for all of the main areas of your house, it probably won’t feel like “jumping around” so much. It’s almost like you’re just working on the different components of one big space. Will you be posting an inspiration board or anything? Or just keep surprising us? Either way works for me!

  2. Betsy must be younger than I am- we definitely had to dissect a cat! Florida high school in the 70’s.

    I’m so interested in what the uppers will look like and if you will think that revere pewter translates as more of a gray (which you don’t like but I do) after the Gentlemans Gray on the lowers.

    What brand/ type of paint are u using for the cabinets?

    1. I’ve now seen it at all times of the day, and it still doesn’t look gray to me. We’ll see how it looks with the blue, but in my house, in my lighting, it has too much brown to be gray. I really have an aversion to cool grays, though. So even if it does look a bit grayer with the lowers painted blue, there’s no way this paint color could ever look cool gray.

      1. You’re lucky. I painted my upper cabinets Revere Pewter and the lowers BM Copley Gray and the uppers look like a very cool gray to me, almost bluish at times. I haven’t replaced my counter top or the back splash yet so I’m hoping that helps. I have warm colors in the room as well though, so I’m sure that makes a difference too!

      1. Oh, I LOVE BM Advance! Absolutely the best. In fact I was at the Benjamin Moore Store today and I showed my BenM Lady your cabinet colors! I picked Van Deusen Blue for the powder room above the bead board and in a small room. I almost changed to your Gentleman’s Gray when I saw it. ;0)

  3. Looking forward to the “filling” of the oak grain. I have never tried filling / painting oak. As luck would have it, I really need instruction on this as I have several oak pieces that I want to paint.

  4. Pro’s often spray then follow with a roller or brush for exactly the reasons you are describing. Faster and better coverage.

  5. I thought the oak grain on the green painted cabinets looked pretty nice. It was kind of showing off that the cabinets were a nice hardwood and not a engineered wood product. I think when you use high quality building materials, why not show off what you’ve got? But, this was a neat post, showing us what this timbermate product is. I always learn alot from this blog. I have no doubt the cabinets will turn out wonderful.
    Can Timbermate be used outside?

  6. Oak’s aggressive grain is why I would advise against using it for surfaces you are going to paint.

    If one is determined to have solid wood then other fine grained hardwoods are preferable – maple, poplar, birch…

  7. Wow that did a nice fill job already. Thinking about trying that on my face! Lol

    Yep high schools in FL dissected the cat too. Even in the late 80s.

  8. I thought I understood what you meant when you’d mentioned the grain showing through… but I didn’t expect it to be visible that much! It’ll be very interesting to see the after with the Timbermate.

  9. A somewhat related question. I have a terribly scarred/marked up cherry wood top table that is stained. The base of the table and chairs is painted black. I don’t want to restain it – would rather keep it more natural looking and if it’s going to get beaten up (homework/drop zone) what could I do rather than painting it? I think it’s just the finish that’s all beaten up, so not sure wood filler would be appropriate. TIA!

    1. So the top is stained and the base is painted black? And is it just the top that’s scarred, or just the base that’s scarred, or both? If it’s just the stained top, and you don’t want to go to the trouble of sanding and refinishing, you might try one of those products from Home Depot or Lowe’s that says it refreshes the finish without having to strip. I’ve never tried it myself, but I’ve heard good things about them.
      If it’s the base that’s scarred, then you can just sand the scarred areas and feather out the sanded edges so that they blend in with the painted areas around them. Then repaint. Although you might have to prime first if the sanding exposes bare wood.

      1. Thanks! It’s just the top that is scarred up – the base is OK. Thanks for the reminder about the finish refresher. It reminded me of the product from General Finishes that I used over stained wood before. It was 2 years ago and I’d totally forgotten about that. Either way I have a project for after Thanksgiving- ha! Appreciate the help 🙂

  10. I guess I wonder why you went the oak cabinet route in the first place. Was oak less expensive than maple or cherry?

    1. Yep, I used in-stock unfinished oak cabinets. When I remodeled my kitchen, I didn’t really cook, and wasn’t intending to spend much time in the kitchen, so I didn’t want to spend much money on the remodel. I regret that now since shortly after remodeling the kitchen, I started cooking quite a bit, and I use my kitchen every single day now. But yes, the in-stock unfinished oak cabinets from Home Depot are very inexpensive.

  11. I love your new colors. I have also purchased for myself a Dremel multimax 45; a dremel hand tool and case; an air compressor with one 16 gague nailer. I am waiting to purchase a stapler to purchase one for upholstery with a longer-ish nose. I purchased a used Dewalt miter saw from my neighbor. Almost ready to go!! First now on Friday, I am leaving for a 13-week assignment in Brooklyn to work. My fun stuff is put off a little longer. Thank you for your inspiration and example. I know I can do all this stuff. It just takes me a little longer than most! HaaH!!
    Please tell me what came of your weight loss endeavors and the HCG?? I am so wondering about that and need your input and opinion and experience. Thank you. I admire you so very much. Sincerely Barbara Dunlop.

    1. HCG is great. I really do highly recommend it. Just beware that HCG isn’t a magic pill. It’s just like any other weight loss plan in that when you finish, if you go back to eating the way you did to gain weight in the first place (like my addiction to sugar), you will gain the weight back. No weight loss plan is successful without a complete change of lifestyle beginning first and foremost with your regular daily diet. Unfortunately I did fall back into old habits. I just can’t seem to kick the sugar habit!! But Matt and I ordered HCG just last week, and as soon as it arrives, we’re getting back on it. I’ve got to find healthier ways to deal with stress rather than turning to sugar. I kind of feel like a smoker who has already “quit smoking” about 20 times, and I’ll just continue until one of those times sticks for good. 🙂 Matt actually used to smoke (before I met him) and he said he “quit smoking” about a couple of hundred times before he actually quit, and it took him four years. I’m hoping one of these times, my “quitting sugar” will actually stick and be for good. 😀

  12. After reading your posts on the Critter Sprayer, I purchased one. I have been having trouble getting it to work for me. I’m sure it’s operator error. I used the Floetrol to help with the viscosity of the paint, but my sprayer would work for a few minutes, and then clog again. Do you have any suggestions? Do you thin your paint down further with water? I’ve adjusted the pressure and the nozzle height with very little positive results. Just ordered a different sprayer, but I can return if I’m able to get the Critter working properly.

    1. Do you strain your paint as you pour it into the glass jar? The only time I’ve ever had mine clog is when I forgot to strain the paint. It makes a big difference. I buy the paper cone strainers at Home Depot that come in a 4-pack.

  13. Hi, I was just googling around to see what others were doing to achieve what I’m trying to achieve right now. Just as another option from the wood filler you’re using, Durham’s water putty is made to fill surfaces that’s about to be painted and it comes in 4 pound cans for just $4 (on Amazon at least right now). I learned about this stuff about 2 years ago and I love it. You can make it as dense or viscus as you like and when it cures it’s rock hard. It fills our oak cabinet grain really well. This method is just a bit labor intensive lol.

    Anyhow, great post!

  14. Wonderful post. I’m wondering, do you have to apply a primer AFTER you apply the wood grain filler? I am also applying the wood grain to prepainted oak cabinets. Thanks!

  15. Hello,

    I was wondering if you primed after the wood filler step? I am repainting oak cabinets black that were previously painted black by another home owner but want to try the wood filler first. Thanks!

    1. I started primning on the first cabinet doors that I did, and then I got lazy after doing a few and stopped priming and just went directly to painting. I couldn’t tell a difference. I did use a high quality paint (Benjamin Moore Advance) and I also did two coats of paint. So you might just test on one door and see if you need primer. If you skip the primer, you’ll just want to be sure that you’re using the same kind of paint. In other words, you won’t want to put latex paint right over oil-based paint. You’d need to prime first.

  16. I am just wondering how the wood filler has held up? Any cracking? I just followed your process to fill in wood grain on a project I am working on. Thanks for the tutorial!