Picture yourself nearing completion of your masterpiece, just about ready to put a finish on it, and then the unthinkable happens. You drop your tape measure on top of the table, or you get a bit too aggressive with a mallet as you are tapping pieces together during a glue-up. What do you do? Sanding may remove more material than you are willing to lose. Patching is tricky and time consuming. Ignoring it will haunt you forever.
Turn to your household clothing iron in this situation. Soak a rag with water and lay it on the affected area, still soaking wet with water. When the iron is fully heated to its highest setting (typically cotton; I haven’t seen one with a “walnut” setting yet!) work it back and forth for 30 – 60 seconds, until the rag begins to dry out a bit. The heat from the iron will force the water from the rag into the fibers of the wood, causing them to expand to their “pre-dented” shape. After ironing, sand the surface lightly with 100 grit sand paper, and the repair should be nearly invisible. It is like having an “undo command” for your woodworking shop!
In the pictured example, we hit a piece of red birch four times with a 16-ounce hammer, leaving some pretty severe dents.
The dents became nearly undetectable.
This trick works well on nearly any species of wood, prior to applying a finish. It works best on dents that do not tear the wood fibers, but merely stress or distort the fibers.
Paul Mayer lives in Lakeville, MN and is a hopelessly addicted hobbyist woodworker with over 13 years experience building custom furniture and other fun projects. He also assists his father, Vernon Mayer, in his woodworking business Vern’s Wood Goods where they build serving trays, cutting boards, kitchen utensils and other fine crafts, and are now considering adding spoons to their product offering.
I have multiple interior pine doors that have deep scratches on them from our dog. We are in the process of painting them. Will this work on these doors? Or what do you recommend to fill these.
That approach only works well on wood that hasn’t been finished. You could use colored wood filler on your doors. Something like this: https://amzn.to/33rVLoU
Paul, Woodworkers Guild of America
Irons are available at the thrift stores for a fraction of the cost of a new one. Usually used irons have been left on on some polyester cloth or something that ruins the finish for ironing clothes. Rough surface irons work just fine for this process.
It’s very good idea. ۔ . . .
What happens when you apply a finish, like Varnish and you accidently dent the finish, how do you treat this dent?
Hi Robert. This tip will not work on finished wood. I don’t have a quick tip for doing something comparable on finished wood.
This tip will certainly go into the box of files that will be hopefully never need to be opened but there is always an accident waiting around the corner that will needed in an emergency.
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How would you remove a dent from finished wood like a cabinet door?
Hi Reg. Unfortunately I don’t have an easy trick for you to use on finished wood.
Any options for a finished surface?
Hi Marty. Unfortunately I don’t have an easy tip for you to use on finished wood.
does this work on a hardwood floor that has a dent in it?
Hi Ernest. I would advise against doing this if the floor already has finish on it. If it is unfinished it should work.
I have used this technique but with a cloth that was only damp. Will have to try it with a soaking wet cloth next time I need to do it.
I find it hard to believe that this idea is just appearing here now. I learned it 2 or 3 decades ago when I was studying gunsmithing. There are slight differences, that may be helpful information. The article above mentions unfinished wood, which would be the easiest to work with. A dent in an oil finished gunstock would require sanding the finish off around the area of the dent. Spray on finishes are a whole other bucket of worms. After removing the finish I would simply soak a shop towel (red rag) under hot running water while the iron is warming up. Make sure you have a steam and spray iron. Simply place the wet hot towel over the dent and apply the iron. Be sure to remember to press the spray button and keep the iron moving. DON’T LEAVE IT IN ONE SPOT! Check your progress periodically and it should come out fine. The only way you can get in trouble doing this is if you use your wife’s iron. I went to WalMart and bought a cheap spray iron, and was really glad I did after I noticed that the process leaves dark stains on the bottom of the iron.
One day, at a gun show, I came across a guy that was selling old wooden cigar boxes in different sizes and types. After removing the finish and ironing out the stamped in logos they made some very nice boxes for various purposes. One logo stamp was hit so hard it broke the wood fibers. Using the process it brought the surface of the wood back where it should be and only a faint outline of the old logo remains. The oil finish and relocating the locking catch did a good job of hiding that outline.
Good luck and Have fun!
Will this work if the surface already has a finish on it like varnish? There’s not enough detail to the story to be helpful, for me anyway. Do you need moisture? Is the iron hot, medium hot, warm?
Hi Gary. Within the article there are a couple of items that you might find useful to answer your questions:
“Soak a rag with water and lay it on the affected area”
“This trick works well on nearly any species of wood, prior to applying a finish”
“When the iron is fully heated to its highest setting (typically cotton)”
I use cotton wool pads soaked with water, and I put the pads on the dent and leave overnight. The dent comes right out.
Thanks for the information! I will keep this in my arsenal of skills for the next time it happens. I appreciate it.
This is a great “lifesaver” – one that I have used many times over the last 25-30 years in cabinet shops. In soft woods like pine, if the dent is deep, I usually try to have the damaged surface horizontal if possible so that I can puddle more water in the dent, then lay the clean wet cloth over the area and apply the iron. If the first application doesn’t remove the dent completely, you can try it again, or let the water soak in a little longer before ironing it. (I keep an old iron in my shop for edgebanding that also doubles as a dent removal iron. It has a setting for “wool” that I have modified to say “wood”.) This technique also works to repair material which might otherwise have been overlooked, or to make damaged sections usable. It will remove creases left by dragging the corner of another board across a smooth face, and it sometimes is enough to repair dents from specks of gravel that rolled between two boards. You may also have success using it to repair corners of pieces that fall off the bench and hit a concrete floor, to dry up water spilled on an MDF workbench surface before it swells.