Fix a Screwed-Up Table Top

Photo 1. I mistakenly put screws up through this tabletop four times! I thought I had the right length screw. Boy, was I wrong.

Photo 1. I mistakenly put screws up through this tabletop four times! I thought I had the right length screw. Boy, was I wrong.

Did you use too long a screw, and now it’s poking through the tabletop? Here’s a ‘swell’ repair solution.Sending a screw up through a tabletop while attaching it to the apron is a disaster, there’s no question about it. I managed to do this four times when I grabbed the wrong length screws from a misplaced bin (Photo 1)! I did everything right: the top was finished and I’d flipped it over on a blanket to protect the surface; I pre-drilled pilot holes for the screws; I even added a little wax to the screws so they would corkscrew smoothly into the table top. I didn’t, however, remember to double check the screw length directly against the thickness of the top. Big mistake.

It may have been easier to just replace the top, but I really liked the grain of this particular red oak table, so I decided to fix it. The holes were relatively small, and oak is a porous wood, so I knew making these holes disappear would probably be easier than repairing a tight grained wood like maple or cherry.

Photo 2. Close inspection reveals small chips that have been pushed up by the screw. I carefully leave the chips intact, so I can use them to fill the void after I remove the screw.

Photo 2. Close inspection reveals small chips that have been pushed up by the screw. I carefully leave the chips intact, so I can use them to fill the void after I remove the screw.

First, I examined the top and holes. The screws had only punctured the surface and all the small mini-chips were still there (Photo 2). I didn’t sand these off, as I knew I would need them to make this fix blend in perfectly.
Photo 3. I apply distilled water to the holes and to the chips that were pushed up by the screws to swell the fibers of the wood. The syringe allows for water to precisely drip on the mistakes and the surrounding chips.

Photo 3. I apply distilled water to the holes and to the chips that were pushed up by the screws to swell the fibers of the wood. The syringe allows for water to precisely drip on the mistakes and the surrounding chips.

I removed the screws and went to work. The first step to fixing the top was to apply distilled water to swell the fibers of the wood. It’s easy to get water exactly where you want it with an inexpensive syringe (Photo 3). I used distilled water because I’d heard that minerals in tap water could react with the tannins in oak, darkening the wood. Although I don’t know if this is true, I decided it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Once the fibers of the wood were dry, I used a small piece of plastic laminate (a credit card would work perfectly) to force the fibers back into place (Photo 4).

Photo 4. I force the fibers flat and back into place with a thin hard implement, like a credit card. The wet fibers mash back into place pretty well.

Once the fibers of the wood were dry, I used a small piece of plastic laminate (a credit card would work perfectly) to force the fibers back into place (Photo 4).
Photo 5. I inject glue into the holes from the bottom side of the table to saturate each hole and the small fibers. Once I see glue coming through the hole, I know it’s ready for clamping.

Photo 5. I inject glue into the holes from the bottom side of the table to saturate each hole and the small fibers. Once I see glue coming through the hole, I know it’s ready for clamping.

Then, I used the same syringe to inject glue into the holes from the bottom of the table (Photo 5). I applied enough pressure to the syringe to see the glue emerge from the top side.
Photo 6: I clamp the fibers by using flat scrap blocks wrapped in plastic so they don’t adhere to the table. I let this glue-up set overnight to make sure the glue dries completely.

Photo 6: I clamp the fibers by using flat scrap blocks wrapped in plastic so they don’t adhere to the table. I let this glue-up set overnight to make sure the glue dries completely.

After applying glue to each hole, I clamped the fibers down (Photo 6). I placed a small clamping block wrapped in plastic between the clamp and the tabletop to forcefully push the fibers of the holes flat.I wanted to make sure the fix dried thoroughly, so I let the clamp-up set overnight.By the next morning, the glue was certainly dry, so I removed the clamps .I was pleased to find that my holes had almost completely disappeared. Once I sanded and finished the top, they would be nearly invisible.
Photo 7. I wipe the top with denatured alcohol to expose any glue spots that remain after the sanding. If any appear, I sand a little more and repeat the process. Once clear of spots, the tabletop is ready for finishing.

Photo 7. I wipe the top with denatured alcohol to expose any glue spots that remain after the sanding. If any appear, I sand a little more and repeat the process. Once clear of spots, the tabletop is ready for finishing.

Next, I removed the existing finish, (in this case, polyurethane) and prepared the top. To guarantee that no residual glue remained on the table top, I wiped the top with a rag wet with denatured alcohol (Photo 7). This not only removed sawdust, but exposed any remaining glue that remained. Once the top was clear of glue and debris, it could be refinished and attached to the apron. This time, I remembered to use the right length screw!

Photos By Mike Krivit

Discussion
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21 Responses to “Fix a Screwed-Up Table Top”
  1. Amy Seifried

    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!
    This article was a lifesaver! We are in the middle of a kitchen renovation and while attaching a custom face frame with pocket screws, one came completely through and 4 others were pushing out the wood (hard maple). Your technique worked beautifully—the face frame looks perfect!
    Thanks again!

    Reply
  2. Nate Frost

    This a neat technique, and it can be a lifesaver in some situations. I have sometimes removed the clamps early so that I can sand the top while the glue is still wet, adding sawdust to the glue, which makes it even harder to spot. Then I re-clamp until the glue is dry.
    Another similar trick is to dampen the damaged wood (either a hole or depression), then apply a hot iron over a damp cloth to swell the fibers, then dry the wood with the heat and sand again.

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      Dear Rodney,

      Thank you for contacting us. I’m sorry you are unable to see the photo’s in the article. We have tested the article successfully. Please refresh your page or try using a different browser to see the photo’s. I apologize for any inconveniences.

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      Taylar
      Woodworkers Guild of America Video Membership

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      • Bruce

        Pictures would not display with Internet Explorer 11, but did using Google Chrome.

        Reply
  3. Jeannie

    Question: I have IKEA kitchen cabinets that when my daughter screwed in the hinges she screwed them in to far and made a “dent” on the face of the door. Would this work the same as yours? Cabinets are white. The screws did not come all the way through, but enough to make that dent. Thanks for any help you can give me!!

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      Hi Jeannie. I don’t have any experience in repairing IKEA furniture, so I’m probably not the best to give you guidance on this. If the screw didn’t penetrate the top, I’d suggest placing a piece of scrap wood over the top of it and tapping the flat. Obviously you should remove the screw first.
      Thanks
      Paul-Woodworkers Guild of America

      Reply
  4. JAMES

    The photos don’t appear in Internet Explorer v11, but do in Chrome. Great article, I can think of several times I started over after using to log a screw. Will certainly use this method before scrapping a piece.

    Reply
  5. beschreib77

    Nice job on the repair review.

    I humbly question the need for the water. My thinking is the last thing you want is for the fibers to swell. With the need for them to drop back INTO place, if they are fatter now than before it would seem that works against pushing them into the same size hole. It seems that the process of pressing them back into place is mostly responsible for the repair being successful. It would seem less sanding may have been necessary if the fibers were sticking out less. . . . or did I MISS something in the importance of them swelling!

    It would be interesting to try this minus the water to see if the water is unnecessary. I also would have thought that in addition to using a credit card to move the fibers back into place placing a small, flat block of wood on top and tapping lightly may have been a better way for a flush repair surface . . .

    as to distilled water: the concentration of minerals in water is extremely low, and they are in solution, not suspended solids. The fact that this is a tiny surface area also makes for a low likelihood that even a heavily concentrated solution with excessive solids in it would be visible to the eye.

    Reply
  6. Rich Manchester

    Great solution to a potentially tragic event. Also a good reminder on double checking screw length

    Reply
  7. William

    It seems that none of the pictures were available to be used as a reference for what had been stated in this document. Very disappointed.

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      Hi William. You should now be able to view the pictures. I am sorry for any inconvenience. If you have any questions, please contact our customer service team at 1-855-253-0822.
      Thanks
      Jean-Woodworkers Guild of America Video Membership

      Reply
  8. Carl Swart

    The comments in photo 4 say to mash the wet fibers down. The comments to the right of the phots says to wait till dry?? Contradiction!

    Reply
  9. Jennifer

    This looks a good idea. My son has a large round table with a limed wood finish. When they moved They dismantled the table and put the wrong screws in. So they don’t have to do this all over again what do you think of using slowish drying wood glue to swell the fibres and then push down with a credit card and put a weight on it?

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      Hi Jennifer. It seems like it would have a good chance of working, although I’ve never tried it so I cannot say for sure.
      Thanks
      Paul-Woodworkers Guild of America

      Reply