Can you change the color of wood filler after it’s been varnished?

It’s our privilege to talk to people all over the U.S…. and sometimes even all over the world about their wood flooring adventures and problems.

Here’s a favorite recent website inquiry we received from across the ocean.

Hi, A quick query all the way from Scotland!! Just had our old floorboards sanded and varnished. Contractor also filled some gaps with woodfiller but the colour doesn’t match!!

We have light pine boards in the centre and a pinkish pine surround but he has just filled with a yellow pine filler. Is there a way to fix this other than removing the filler completely?

Many thanks from overseas—Chris

It took all my willpower not to spell “colour” the British way for the rest of the day.

Chris’s problem is not just a Scottish one – this could happen anywhere. Here was the answer we gave him:

Hello Chris all-the-way-from-Scotland!

Unfortunately, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to change the color of filler after it has been varnished over. Most fillers are designed to “take” stain, but once they’ve been coated with finish, they are no longer porous enough to absorb it.  

So you could painstakingly sand off the finish on those tiny strips of filler, try to darken them with a stain marker, then re-apply finish with a tiny brush. You could also use a small pick and remove all the filler and replace it with a soft, color-matched putty. Unfortunately, now that the floor is sanded and finished it’s too late to use a hardening fill in those gaps. If it were me, I’d probably just pick out the offending filler and live with the gaps. Filler tends to be brittle and will break up over time and become unsightly – I’d rather just have the honest, gap – it’s part of the character of an older floor after all.

Great question – thanks for giving us an international connection today!

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