Filler and Finish for Antique Wood Surfaces

July 7, 2011

I have been asked to make a kitchen island top out of old pine barn beams cut down to 1 1/2" thick. The wood has a few bolt holes and nail holes that have blackened over time. It also has a few areas of rot. I need to fill the holes without taking all the old look away. I also need a good finish for a kitchen area. They do not plan on using the island as a cutting board, but I am sure food will be present, as it is in a kitchen.

Forum Responses
(Furniture Making Forum)
From contributor M:
We do some old pieces from reclaimed heart pine from time to time. I have found that almost any filler will take away from the appearance of the wood. We actually leave the nail holes, saw marks and missing knots as found. While leaving these may not be best for your surface, I would suggest a clear resin type of filler, if you must do something. I don't use these, so I can't make any suggestions.

From contributor J:
I'd fill anything you want/need to with West Systems epoxy. As for finish, pre-cat or conversion varnish should be durable enough.

From contributor P:
Fill bolt holes with plugs made from the same stock. More time than epoxy, but looks way better. Rot should be cut out.

From contributor R:
Mohawk Finishing Products makes a 2 part epoxy putty that comes in about 12 different colors. Harden the rotten areas with liquid 2 part epoxy. Finish the top with conversion varnish or 2K poly.

From contributor A:
It would be wise to have these boards kiln dried to set the resin if you are considering any epoxy solutions. One thing will lead to another, and you'll end up with an epoxy seal-coat, so be prepared for it and go ahead and kiln dry.

From contributor B:
I agree with filling with West Epoxy. You could also mix fine sawdust from this project with shellac to make a filler. Since this is an older looking piece, have you considered using dutchmen?

From contributor S:
West has worked well for me, but be careful about bubbles - I hate it when that happens... quarter size holes or irregular length cracks will fill nicely, but you need to use a very slow pour. I find that using the slow hardeners, #206, 207 or 209, allows me to let the mix settle a bit after I've stirred it so that I am not pouring an air filled mixture.

As for the finish - have any of you ever used Waterlox? It's a tung oil product with additives that builds up with repeated coats to a varnish like surface (unlike using Watco). This stuff cures unbelievably hard and water and stain resistant. I've had to repair a dent in a walnut top that I had finished with Waterlox. I sanded around the dent, used a hot iron over a wet towel to lift the spot. After twenty minutes or more of water and ironing there was no none whatsoever compromise to the surrounding finish. After, it was easy to blend the repair into the surrounding area. Good finish!