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Tips on Using Drywall Joint Compound as a Grain Filler for Oak Cabinets

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Filling Oak Grain Cabinets with Drywall Mud: Does it Work?

If you've ever done any drywall repair work, or taping, you've probably used joint compound, but have you ever thought about using it as a grain filler for oak cabinets? Probably not, and it might sound weird using drywall mud to fill wood grain, but it actually works surprisingly well for cabinet painting.

Drywall Mud vs Wood Grain Filler

In the past, I've tested and used several fillers for my cabinet painting projects, including Timbermate, which smelled horrible and was hard to sand, DryDex spackle (purple container), Famowood, and the popular Aqua Coat grain filler, but I discovered that plain old drywall mud outperforms all of them at a fraction of the cost. I use it for all of my oak cabinet painting projects.

  • Filling grain holes. If you're painting oak cabinets, the grain must be filled to hide the thousands of tiny holes and cracks in the wood. I used Aqua Coat a lot on oak cabinets, but one coat was never enough to fill the grain. On old and worn-out cabinets, it would usually take at least three coats. Drywall joint compound fills oak grain almost completely in just one coat. The compound is smooth and easy to apply with a taping knife or a stiff paintbrush.
  • Sanding. The drywall compound I use sands easier than any wood filler I've ever used. The key is not laying it on too heavy. The biggest downside is the sanding dust. There is a lot of dust, especially when using an electric sander. I use an orbital sander to sand the doors outside my shop. For cabinet frames, I sand them by hand with a sanding sponge and use box fans to filter out the dust.
  • Cost. Wood fillers usually aren't cheap. Even a small quart-size container of Aqua Coat costs around $40. More than one container is needed for multiple coats. For under $25, you can buy a large bucket, or bag, of drywall mud and get several uses out of it. You can also use it to patch holes for wall painting.

Filling wood grain by hand is tedious work, regardless of the product you use. The process involves skim coating all of the cabinet doors and frames, followed by a ton of sanding, but using joint compound will make your painted oak cabinets look amazing at the end if you follow my steps below.


Filling Oak Grain with Drywall Joint Compound

The first step is choosing the right drywall mud that fills and sands easily. This is important because some are hard to sand, or take too long to dry. You can use premixed mud in a bucket, or "hot mud" in a bag that you mix with water. The powdered mud in a bag dries faster in a specified time of twenty, forty-five, or ninety minutes. Don't use Durabond in the brown bag. The compound dries too hard and is hard to sand as a result.

The Sheetrock drywall compound I use on my oak cabinet painting jobs is Easy Sand 45 in a bag (45 minute dry time). For a large set of cabinet doors, I use the 90-minute version and the 20-minute version for small projects like painting an oak fireplace mantel, or a bathroom vanity. I like the bagged drywall compound because the fast dry time makes it possible for me to begin sanding the same day.

Steps for Filling

1. Clean the doors before filling. I wrote an article that goes in depth on my favorite cleaners for cabinet painting. If the doors are greasy, you definitely need to de-grease them before doing anything else. Cleaning maximizes paint adhesion and also allows the drywall mud to fill the grain better.

2. Mix up some drywall compound in a mud pan. If you're using the bagged Easy Sand compound I recommended, mix a few scoops of the powder with water in a mud pan. Add just enough water until the compound is mixed to a creamy consistency. Don't add too much water otherwise the compound won't fill the grain as good.

3. Skim coat the door panels and frames. Use a plastic taping knife, not a metal knife, to skim-coat the cabinet doors and frames in thin coats. Easy Sand is in fact easy to sand as long as you apply thin coats. Use your finger to apply compound over crown molding and door edges. Remove excess compound from grooves and corners using a damp rag and a putty knife. This makes sanding a lot easier.

4. Sand off the compound. Like wood filler, drywall mud turns white too when dry. The fastest way to sand the compound off multiple doors is using an orbital sander for the panels and a drywall sanding sponge for the narrow edges and grooves. A wet rag and a putty knife works great too for cleaning dried mud out of corners. I highly recommend sanding outdoors with an electric sander. For the frames, place a box fan in a window to filter out the dust while sanding.

5. Apply a second coat between prime coats if needed. Older cabinets are usually worn out with more wood grain exposed. After you apply the first coat of primer you'll see some spots that weren't filled all the way. All you have to do is spot patch those areas before applying the second coat of primer.

Oak cabinets I filled with drywall mud and spray painted.

Oak cabinets I filled with drywall mud and spray painted.

Does Drywall Joint Compound Last Long-term on Cabinets?

I've used drywall mud on dozens of cabinet painting projects without any problems. It works great as a grain filler and costs less than other products that don't perform as well, including Aqua Coat. I don't recommend using drywall mud to fill large holes on doors. I always use Bondo wood filler for that, or Bondo Multi-purpose Putty.

After filling wood grain with joint compound, the chalky surface should always be primed to seal it and create a hard layer for paint. I recommend applying two coats of primer and two coats of paint to get a smoother finish. The primer and paint also fills in any remaining holes with each coat applied.

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.