Removing small dents from wood

It’s all too easy when working with timber to damage it, for example, missing with your hammer and leaving hammer rash all over your nicely planed timber. So, what’s the best way to go about removing dents from wood?

Well, we could use some filler; if the timber is being painted then it’s not going to show, but if the finished piece is going to be stained, oiled or left un-coated, then the filler is going to stick out like a sore thumb.

We could sand the timber down to get rid of the indentation, however, if you’re already at your finished thickness then this will reduce the thickness of the timber, and if you’ve got a big indentation, then your nice flat timber surface will more than likely end up slightly dipped, as you concentrate sanding in the area of the dent.

Oh and if you do keep missing with your hammer causing all manner of hammer rash in your work, then please do give your hammer a clean.

So, how DO I get a dent out of timber?

There are a couple of methods you can use to remove dents from timber, we’ll start with the easiest first, not that any of these methods are really difficult.

A wet cloth or rag

The easiest way is to use a wet rag. Soak the rag (kitchen towel works best) in water and then simply place the clothe or rag over the indentation.

Leave the wet rag in place for ten to fifteen minutes or so and you should, when you remove the rag, have no dent in the timber. If you can still see the indentation, then it’s usually because it’s been a pretty big dent, but the rag and water should have reduced it somewhat.

Steam iron

Another method is to use a steam iron. It’s a bit more fiddly than using just a wet rag but it does tend to produce quicker results, as the steam is forced into the wood rather than gradually pooling on the surface, before being absorbed by the timber when the simpler wet rag method is used.

Using a steam iron is a better option for longer and/or wider indentations in timber; you still won’t be able to remove all indentations, however, as when the timber has absorbed all the water it’s going to absorb, you’ll get no further movement. So again, it all depends on how deep the dent in the timber is in the first place.

Just remember to keep the iron moving or you’ll put nice burn marks on the timber as well!

Dented timber

Dented timber prior to steam ironing

Dent in timber removed with steam iron

Dent in timber gone in no time after steam ironing.

Will this work on all timber with dents?

This trick won’t work on any timber that has been coated with paint, stain, oil or anything that stops the timber from absorbing the water; if the water cannot get into to the timber, then it cannot lift the grain to fix that dent or indentation.

If your using already sodden timber then you’ll again struggle to see any results.

You’ll also have best results with less dense timbers. For example, Scandinavian Redwood, commonly used in the UK for manufactured joinery, will absorb the moisture quite readily and the indentation will be gone in no time.

Try the same thing in Oak, and you will be able to get rid of smaller dents in most cases but will more than likely fail with larger indentations that would be removed in say Scandinavian Redwood.

Still, you should get most of the indentation out and you may have to remove the remainder with a spot of sanding.

Dented Oak

You’ll have mixed results with dense timbers like Oak

Try the same thing in Accoya and you’ll have no luck whatsoever, as the Accoya is a timber that has been modified so it does not absorb moisture.

The plus point to this is that it moves very little with moisture and, as it doesn’t absorb water, it doesn’t rot.

Unfortunately, this is not so good if you want to remove dents with water!

Dented Accoya

However much you try, this won’t work with Accoya!

How does this timber dent repair work?

Timber is hygroscopic, meaning that it has the ability to both release and absorb water. By soaking or steaming the dent in the timber with water, the timber absorbs the moisture, so the grain lifts as the timber expands.

This is the same reason why if you leave a nicely planed piece of timber outside and it rains, the nice smooth finish is, to an extent, removed as the grain of the timber has lifted.

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