Regardless of how ‘fine’ your woodworking is, you often just need to use screws – they save time on a project while maintaining strength. But how do you go about hiding the unsightly screw holes after you’ve fastened the wood pieces together?
Here are some great, common methods.
1. Use wood filler
A good quality wood filler is the tried and true method for hiding screws – but is only really suitable if the piece is going to be painted. You’re usually able to buy filler in different shades in order to colour match the filler with the wood, but it can still leave an obvious area where you can see the filler.
Crucially, wood filler’s extremely easy to use. Most modern fillers come ready-mixed so you don’t have to worry about ratios – you simply open the pot and push the filler into the screw hole with a scraper. Wait for the filler to dry, then sand it flush.
2. Use plugs
The efficiency and end result of plugs varies depending on what kind of fixing you’re using. The angle created by pocket holes, for example, is somewhat harder to plug than a straight-down fixing, such as that of a butt joint.
The key is to drill and countersink the fixing deeper than you usually would. You can then either use a plug cutter of the same size as the screw head to cut out from an off-cut, or use a dowel with the correct diameter.
Once you’ve driven the screw in and fixed the joint, you can then put a bit of wood glue in the hole and tap a section of dowel in snug. Give it time to dry, then flush cut the dowel with a flush cut saw (such as a Japanese Ryoba saw) and sand it true.
A top tip here is to try to get dowels that match the wood, and then line up the grain direction of the dowel with the grain of the piece you’re fixing into. Or, on the other hand, if you’re not worried about hiding the plugs, get a contrasting shade of wood and offset their grain at 45º to make them stand out more.
3. Use a chisel slip
This method is probably the most advanced method, but also the most inconspicuous. You’ll need a sharp chisel, a clamp, some painter’s tape, a countersink screw, a drill bit, and a countersink bit.
You begin by chiselling directly downwards with one or two firm taps. Then, with the chisel’s flat side facing downwards, shift to a relatively horizontal position and tap forward to peel off about 2.5cm of wood length, about 2mm deep.
The aim here is to create a flap that you can then fold back down once you’ve made the fixing.
At this point you’re going to need to drill, countersink, and screw the joint together. Then put a healthy amount of wood glue underneath the flap, fold it back down over the screw (which should now be flush with the surface), hold it down with the painter’s tape, and clamp it fairly tight to let it bond.
The use of the painter’s tape here has the added benefit of stopping the glue sticking the wood to your clamp!
When fully cured, you’ll be able to unclamp, peel the tape off, and sand clean with a random orbital sander. At this point, you’ll be left with a joint that you’d be hard pressed to spot any tampering with. The only clear marker will be the line you originally chiselled downwards with, but this is only ever visible to those actively looking for joinery marks. It gets further covered with any staining!
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