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The Best Wood Grain Filler For Oak Cabinets (and how to use it)

In today’s post I am going to share a secret that I don’t give out lightly.

I am going to share with you the absolute best wood grain filler for oak cabinets and how to use it to virtually eliminate all oak grain from showing after you paint your kitchen cabinets.

Painted Kitchen Cabinets

This product and method fills the grain quicker than any other product on the market, sands quicker, lasts longer, and is cheaper and easier than any other wood grain filling method for painting.

NOTE: This method is NOT for staining wood (hopefully that is obvious).

What Product Do I Use?

(any why should you listen to me?)

Drywall Joint Compound.

Specifically, I use Plus 3 Drywall Joint Compound.

But wait, before you homeowners go slapping joint compound on your cabinets and you painters insisting I don’t know anything, let me explain how this works.

How I Developed This Method

Kitchen Cabinet Grain Filler
Oak Grain Filled With Plus 3 Joint Compound

First, I have painted over 100 sets of oak kitchen cabinets.

I did a lot of cabinet pre-finishing from 2007-2010, but with the market crash, I found a great niche in painting existing cabinets (mainly oak) in 2012. This was the vast majority of my work for the next 7 years (probably 75% of my painting work is cabinets).

When I first started painting oak cabinets, everyone wanted them as smooth as possible and to look nothing like oak when they were finished. So I was always looking for a better way to do things and how I could improve my final product.

To eliminate the grain from the final finish, I tried every product on the market.

Some completely didn’t work. Some worked ok. Some worked great but added way too much time to my projects.

So I started doing my own experimenting.

The Final Results

Rather than tell you my trials and errors, I’ll jump to the final result.

I found that if I mix a batch of joint compound with water until it gets creamy (a bit thicker than paint), I could actually brush it onto my cabinets.

I take my joint compound mixture and literally brush it onto the cabinets. I make sure to get it into all the corners and everything.

By brushing it onto the cabinets (using a stiff bristle brush) you force the compound deep into the oak grain.

Next, what’s really great about using Plus 3 Compound is that it sands off really easily.

Many grain fillers do not get all the way into the grain, and then they are impossibly hard to sand.

Not joint compound.

It gets deep into the grain, then it sand smooth incredibly easily.

Does The Joint Compound Hold Up Over Time?

Yes, it does.

After you send off the excess compound, you’ll see that the joint compound that is left behind is minimal. It is just in little lines in the grain of the oak cabinets.

After the grain is filled and sanded, it is then covered with primer and two topcoats of enamel (at a minimum). Enamel is basically incredibly hard paint.

This means that the tiny bits of joint compound are sealed in using incredibly hard paint.

Think of it like this:

Your walls have huge amounts of joint compound in them covered by a soft wall paint, and yet that joint compound is holding up just fine for decades.

How much more do you think the compound in your cabinets will last.

I’ve been painting oak cabinets for 10+ years and have never had a warranty issue.

The Best Wood Grain Filler For Oak Cabinets Conclusion

Plus 3 Joint Compound Ready Mixed

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The Best Wood Grain Filler For Oak Cabinets (and how to use it) 1
as of February 26, 2021 5:51 am

In my opinion, which is based on painting over 100+ sets of cabinets, the best wood grain filler for oak cabinets is joint compound mixed with water and brushed on using a stiff bristle brush.

Hopefully, this helps you solve the problem of filling the oak graining of your kitchen cabinets.

For more cabinet painting help, check out my other kitchen cabinet painting posts:

Crimson Red: 10 Ways To Use Crimson Red Paint In Your Home
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Olive Green: 11 Ways To Use Olive Green Paint In Your Home
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Wednesday 3rd of February 2021

My kitchen cabinets were oak and have already been painted. You can still see a lot of the grain and imperfections from the oak. Could I use this method over the painted cabinets before repainting to obtain a smoother finish? Any other tips, advice or suggestions if I do this? Thank you!!!


Thursday 4th of February 2021

Hi Lynn, I have used this method over painted cabinets without any problems. Make sure to go through all the steps I lay out in my How To Paint Cabinets Like A Pro post and you should be fine.

Penny Conklin

Monday 1st of February 2021

Where do you buy the Smart Prime? Only place I can find is Amazon and the reviews on there say theirs arrived chunky and appears old.


Wednesday 3rd of February 2021

@Ryanc, none of the stores sell Smart Prime. Checked Menards, Lowe's, Home Depot, Walmart and even our local Sherwin Williams store and that person has never heard of it. I've done a search online as to stores around me that sell it, but that only brings up stores that sell Rustoleum products such as auto parts stores..So I guess my next option is to switch back to the Benjamin Moore Advanced Primer that you talked about before you mentioned Smart Prime. I am waiting on an answer from Rustoleum as to where I could possibly buy it. (note: I can find it online in just a handful of places but I'm afraid with the cold weather it could possibly freeze before arriving to me)


Tuesday 2nd of February 2021

Smart Prime should be available at most Home Depot and Lowes stores. Sometimes when you get paint, it can show up chunky/old, this is not usually the manufacturer's fault. It is usually the store selling it. They may have let it freeze in their trucks, stored it too long, or something else. Smart Prime is great, just make sure to buy it from someone who sells enough and will take a return if anything shows up not on par.


Monday 1st of February 2021

Hi Ryan, I was looking for an alternative to the grain fillers that I don't have access to in my area and came upon your article. I live in Canada and don't have a store close by that carries the drywall compound you use. Would this( ) be a good equivalent to it? Or can you suggest another product ? Thanks for your help.


Tuesday 2nd of February 2021

Hi Rhonda,

I haven't used the ultralight in that link, but I would recommend just ordering some Plus 3 online. That ultralight may work, but I cannot say yes or no.


Saturday 23rd of January 2021

We are getting ready to start our kitchen remodel, which will be my hubby making cabinets above our existing cabinets (old oak cathedral style) and hiring an Amish guy to paint our new shaker doors and crown moulding so they are nice and smooth and I searched online for something to fill in wood grain on our cabinet boxes and came across your article. We are doing the cabinet boxes ourselves, though. I have a couple of questions. I was under the understanding that we needed to buy the "dry" compound to make it somewhat the consistency of paint, but since I read you buy it by the bucket, I assume we can use it that correct? Premixed is in buckets, and the powder is in a box. Can we use it premixed? Do we just thin it out or is it good right from the bucket? Also, besides using it on my cabinet boxes, I want to use it on the ends of my cabinets on both sides of my sink and that is actually 3/8" pressed wood with a plastic grain covering it, so we can't sand that without tearing the plastic can we...can we just cover those ends with the compound, too or do we need to do something else with it? We've thought about covering those panels with beadboard if there would be a problem with filling in the grain marks (even thought it's not real wood, it still has grains).

We are painting the cabinet boxes ourselves and hopefully we can cover up everything we don't want painted and my hubby can use his sprayer for the primer and paint for a finish with no brush or roller marks. Any suggestions for taping off and/or spraying. We are just do it yourselfers who like to try new things so we are thinking we can do this. Any suggestions are welcome!


Saturday 30th of January 2021

@Ryanc, We are trying to follow your ideas step by step and am reading your articles. We are planning to buy a wagner sprayer that you suggested and are planning to use Zinnzer Smart Prime (if we can find it locally) Menards doesn't carry it. When you mention thinning it out, do you thin with water or do you use a product called Floetrol and do you thin both the primer and the paint?


Monday 25th of January 2021

Hi Penny,

I like to buy the premixed Plus 3 in a bucket rather than the powder. Just add water to get the consistency. You could use either, but the powder tends to cure faster and be harder to sand.

I would think that you shouldn't have a problem filling the ends of your cabinets with compound. Just make sure to clean them and sand them before application.

As far as suggestions, I have a lot of useful posts on here for kitchen cabinet painting (and I'm always working on more!): How To Paint Kitchen Cabinets Like a Pro - A large guide on painting kitchen cabinets. Benjamin Moore Advance Review - My favorite cabinet paint. Zinsser Smart Prime Review - My favorite cabinet primer. Painting Over Oil Based Finishes Paint Calculator - Estiamte how long and how much your cabinet project will cost. How To Prep Cabinets For Painting.

I hope this helps! Good luck with your project.


Tuesday 19th of January 2021

I have 23-year-old golden oak cathedral cabinet doors. I am wondering if I could use the joint compound to completely fill in the "cathedral groove" so the cabinet doors are flat and we could potentially turn them into painted shaker doors?


Friday 22nd of January 2021

@Ryanc, Excellent, I can't wait to see your results.


Tuesday 19th of January 2021

Hi Kelly,

Believe it or not, I have actually been asked this same question 3 times in the last week! So here is what I am going to do, I am going to grab a few of these style doors and a few different wood fillers and see what works best for eliminating that large groove in this style of door.

In the meantime, I recommend thoroughly sanding the groove with a 100 - 120 grit paper, filling it with joint compound, sand and fill again as the compound will likely shrink, repeat until flawlessly smooth. Prime with Smart Prime, and top coat.

I will try to have this new post ready in 2 weeks. Hopefully I can give some concrete advice on the best way to tackle this issue.