Joint Compound vs Wood Filler

If you’re a seasoned DIYer who works on various home projects, chances are you’ll encounter imperfections that need filling left and right. 

Luckily, there are plenty of materials out there to fill holes and gouges around you. However, this variety makes it a bit tricky to choose the right filler, and that’s where this guide comes in handy!

Today, we’ll take a closer look at two of the most popular materials used to fix imperfections and fill holes: joint compound and wood filler. 

By the end of this guide, you should have a better understanding of the difference between the two materials, so you can pick the ideal one for your next project.

What is a Joint Compound?

Joint compound is a commonly used material in drywall finishing. The material goes by a wide range of common names, including drywall mud, drywall compound, drywall putty, and taping mud.

It’s primarily made of gypsum dust, which is a fine white powder similar to plaster, mixed with binders and additives. When mixed with water, the material gets a paste-like appearance that dries up to a hard material, similar to drywall.

Joint compound typically comes in either powder form or ready-mixed. Depending on the application you want to use the joint compound for, your choice might vary.

The powder form joint compound, also known as setting-type, is commonly preferred by professional drywall finishers because it’s easier to store and gives better control over consistency, which reflects on its durability when it dries.

On the other hand, ready-mixed is much easier to work with, but it’s limited in terms of consistency and durability.

What is a Joint Compound Used For?

The primary function of the joint compound is smoothing drywall seams, hence the name “drywall mud”.  

This is done by covering the drywall joints with the material along with mesh tape to create a flat surface that can be easily painted.

However, thanks to its versatility, the material has also been used for a wide range of applications, such as patching holes and imperfections.

It’s also used to fix minor blemishes on existing drywall, such as cracks, bumps, and screw holes.

How to Apply Joint Compound

While joint compounds have different applications, they typically involve the same steps. These steps involve preparing the paste-like material, protecting the surrounding area, and priming the covered area for painting. Here’s a quick look at the steps:

  1. Protect the surrounding area from splatter and drips using tape. If you’re doing the ceiling, you may use towels to cover the floor as well.
  2. Mix the joint compound if not ready-mixed to get the right consistency.
  3. Apply one or more layers of the compound as needed to the surface
  4. Allow the drywall filler to air-dry completely.
  5. Once dry, use fine-grit sandpaper to smooth the surface and remove any imperfections.
  6. Wipe away dust with a damp cloth or a vacuum cleaner.
  7. Apply paint if you need to color the surface.

What is Wood Filler?

Wood filler, also known as “wood putty”, is a paste-like material used to repair imperfections and holes in surfaces before painting or staining.

As the name suggests, the compound is mainly used on wooden materials, but its high versatility allows it to work in a huge variety of applications.

Wood filler is typically made from a combination of fine particles like wood fibers and sawdust suspended in a binder that hardens when dried. 

Like joint compounds, wood fillers also come in different types. They vary depending on the suspension vehicle used in the formula.

The first type is solvent-based filler. These are fairly durable with limited shrinkage. However, they have a significantly strong odor. 

They’re typically difficult to work with because they’re messy and require lacquer thinner or mineral spirits for cleanup.

On the other hand, there are water-based wood fillers, known as “water putties”. These fillers are quite durable and very easy to clean up with soapy water, which makes them user-friendly for all levels of proficiency. 

Additionally, they typically dry up much faster and don’t leave an overwhelming odor that lasts for weeks like solvent fillers.

What is Wood Filler Used For?

Wood filler is a lifesaver for anyone working with wood, as it offers a reliable solution for repairs as well as wood restoration projects.

Besides wood, the material is also classified as an all-purpose putty, which allows it to patch a wide range of materials, including drywall, plaster, stucco (render), concrete, siding, and much more!

You can use the material to fill imperfections and holes in those surfaces, before finishing with paint or stain.

The material’s concealing abilities are not only limited to nail and screw holes, but also dents, gouges, cracks, and other imperfections. You can even use wood fillers to shape and mold small areas on trim pieces and furniture.

How to Apply Wood Filler

Working with wood filler is fairly similar to a joint compound, especially when it comes to preparation. Here’s a brief overview of the process and the steps involved:

  1. Start by making sure that the surface you’re working on is clean and free of dust or loose debris.
  2. Since wood filler is easy to clean before it dries, you don’t need excessive protection of the surrounding surfaces. You only need to apply masking tape for additional accuracy.
  3. Mix the necessary amount of dry powder of the putty with water in a ratio of 3:1, and continue stirring until the mixture is homogeneous and has a paste-like consistency. (some wood fillers, especially solvent ones, come premixed. In this case, you can skip this step and use it right away.)
  4. Use a putty knife to scoop out a small amount of the filler and apply it to the imperfection or use it as intended. If you’re filling a hole, make sure that you press it firmly to pack it in tightly.
  5. Make sure that you apply very little excess of the filler (around 1/16th of an inch) to account for shrinkage. With high-quality wood fillers that don’t shrink like Durham’s Water Putty, you can skip this step.)
  6. Allow the layer to air dry before sanding and painting it. (sanding is necessary for water putties because they’re not waterproof.)


Now that you know more about the two materials, here’s a quick look at the main difference between drywall vs wood filler putties:

Material Durability

Joint compounds are mainly designed for drywall applications while wood fillers are better suited for woodwork projects.

Both materials are quite versatile when it comes to compatibility with other materials. However, wood filler is slightly more versatile as it can be used in several applications and offers a harder filler material once it dries up.

Drying Time

Since wood fillers are typically water-based, they dry out slightly quicker than joint compounds, but not by much.

However, they don’t dry out so quickly that they’re hard to work with. This makes them highly reliable as they also become rock solid once they dry out.

Keep in mind that total drying time also mostly varies depending on the amount of material applied and weather conditions.

Water Resistance

This one depends on the type of suspension used in the wood filler, as water-based fillers have a much lower resistance to water, which is why painting them is a must to protect the surface, especially for outdoor applications.

On the other hand, joint compound has better water resistance before sanding and painting, so it’s not always necessary.

Ease of Use

Overall, both joint compound and wood filler are fairly easy to use. You may find wood filler a bit more straightforward in terms of mixing and preparing.

On the other hand, most joint compound formulas yield a softer paste, which makes it a bit easier to spread.


Finishing, Sanding, and Painting

Both joint compound and wood filler require sanding and painting after finishing to smooth out imperfections.

However, it’s much easier to sand and paint wood filler than joint compounds because of the difference in which each of them absorbs paint. Ideally, you need less primer coat layers while painting wood filler.

Shrinkage and Imperfections

Both wood fillers and joint compounds are known for their high tendency to shrink after application. 

However, high-quality wood fillers don’t shrink as much because they don’t lose as much moisture as joint compounds while drying up.

The quick-drying nature of joint compounds can also result in some imperfections after application, which needs further processing to smooth out, especially when used for an off-label application.


Both joint compound and wood filler are highly reliable materials when it comes to filling holes and perfections. But despite the similarity between the two, they have different applications and properties.

Joint compound is ideal for drywall repairs because it’s cheaper and dries up quickly, which works perfectly when you’re filling gaps between panels or trying to smooth some imperfections.

On the other hand, wood filler is a more versatile solution that patches a variety of surfaces besides wood. The material is fairly easy to mix and much easier to work with and clean.

However, the quality of wood fillers matters significantly when it comes to their performance. That’s why you need to use high-quality fillers like Durham’s Water Putty.

This easy-to-prepare formula makes it ready when you need it. It also doesn’t shrink and has an incredibly powerful bond strength.