Fixing a Dent

A ding in a brand-new cabinet — what's the solution? Experienced craftsman suggest several fixes. July 9, 2005

Does anyone know of a way to deal with a dent or mar that is very small, but somewhat noticeable? We built an entertainment unit and found a small dent in the new cabinet and wondered if anyone would know how to get rid of it.

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor F:
I would suggest using a putty stick or burn-in stick to match the finish.

From contributor M:
There's a couple solutions, but the easiest would probably be the old iron trick. Heat an iron, put a thick rag down over the ding, place the iron on it and leave it until it cools. Repeat as necessary.

Depending on the finish and the severity of the ding, you can wet the rag before application. The steam effect helps. If you are worried about that idea, you can just leave a wet rag over the area overnight, sometimes that works.

It all depends on the wood, the finish, and the severity of the ding. Make sure your finish has fully cured before attempting.

From the original questioner:

We should have said that the coating is about a week old. We coated two coats of clawloc primer and then two coats of resistance coating.

From contributor R:
I've used water and heat to raise dents on unfinished wood, but would never consider it on wood that has a finish on it. Most coating manufacturers design their finishes to resist heat and water. The point at which the steam will raise the dent is the point at which the finish can no longer resist these forces and is called finish failure.

From contributor K:
Try using a joint compound, and make sure to have a damp rag and touch-up finish as well.

From contributor D:
I feel if the defects aren't too deep, you can handle them one of two ways. You can do simple clear liquid lacquer lay-ins or sanding sealer fills. These don't take too much expertise to handle. If the dents are deep I would recommend burn-ins.

From contributor S:
I would suggest scuffing the dented area with 220. Apply a fill using an epoxy putty stick which you knead in your hand prior to applying it. Wet your fingers with water and your spatula knife with water while you are working the stick so that you have as much of the shape as you need and as much fill - no more and no less - that you need. The water keeps the putty stick from sticking to you and to your tool. It should start to harden in about 5 minutes.

When it’s nearly cured, you can use a razor blade to cut the final shape. When fully cured you can sand and/or carve it as needed to get your final shape. Brush on some fresh Clawlock. Scuff it with 320 grit and either spot finish with your Resistant or airbrush on your Resistant. Scuff the entire front rail with 320 grit first, because if you can lay down a new coat over the entire front rail, then you won’t need to worry about halos and overspray marks which you get when you spot finish.

From contributor G:
I have used all the touch-up methods and materials mentioned except joint cpd. They have all worked well in the right situation. The size, depth, finish, etc. will determine which touch-up method I use.

For wax stick fill-ins, I level it with a real stiff object. (A good example would be a photo ID card I had to wear in one building – it was a great burnisher too).

For the 5 min epoxy technique, I level it with a sliver of broken glass - something I was taught years ago.

For antiques, though, I never use burn-in sticks. Years later they crack out because of wood movement and this can damage the surrounding wood when repairing it. Also, burn-ins and the wood eventually go their separate ways color wise.