three pieces of wood with bowl of wood plugs

We demonstrate how to cover screw heads with wood plugs. You can make custom wood plugs to match any wood species using simple wood plug cutters.

Skill Builder Video

Video: How To Make & Install Wood Plugs - Video Transcript

Speaker: I've got quarter-inch, 3/8-inch and half-inch plug cutters here to suit different screw head sizes. They cut these tapered wood plugs quickly and safely. There's a couple of nice advantages to using wood plugs as I'll show you on these samples. For one, the tapered shape of the wood plugs fits tightly over the screw heads. They won't shrink or fall out like wood putty can. In fact, the wood plug fits like a cork in a bottle. Second, as you can see on this stain sample, the wood plug which is right here takes stain exactly like the surrounding wood because it's real face grain wood. Just try getting that kind of color match with wood putty. You can't.

Third, if you're careful about the color and grain direction of the plug material you use, the wood plug almost vanishes in the surrounding wood, or in the case of this walnut plug, you can use wood plug like decorative contrasting elements. The first step in using wood plugs is to drill a counterbore. It's just a pilot hole for the screw with a countersink that recesses the screw head below the surface of the wood. You want the screw head to end up at least an eighth of an inch below the surface. A quarter-inch or deeper is even better, because it ensures that the wood plug will seat well in the hole, then drive in the screw.

We're ready to make some wood plugs. I've got my plug cutter installed and I've clamped this scrap fence to my drill press table. That's for safety. I don't want the plug cutter to grab my workpiece and start spinning it as I'm drilling, and the fence will prevent that from happening. Now adjust your drill press to medium speed and set the depth stop so the plug cutter will stop about a half an inch into the wood. You can cut plugs pretty quickly. Just hold the workpiece, plunge in the cutter, withdraw the cutter, shift the workpiece and repeat.

It's fast and easy. If a wood plug should break off inside the cutter and get stuck, which sometimes happens, just dig it out with a scratch awl. One way to prevent that from happening when you're setting the depth stops is to keep the cutter from bottoming out in the workpiece. Now the plugs are ready to install. Just take a screwdriver, fit it all the way down into the cutter area, then rock it back and forth to break the plugs free. Now, to glue the plugs into their holes, here's a trick. Fill up one of these empty plug holes with glue, and that way you can use it like a glue reservoir.

Now, dip the tapered narrow end of the plug into the glue, about halfway. Set it in position and line up the grain direction as best you can, particularly if the plug is going to be seen under a clear finish. Then push it down the rest of the way. The reservoir helps keep your fingers clean of glue that way. Now, normally, I don't have to hammer the plugs down into their holes, but if they feel a little bit loose-- I'll put another one in here. Just give them a couple taps with a hammer and a dowel. That's it. Now, wipe away any glue squeeze-out from around the plugs and you're ready to trim off the excess.

If you have a multi-tool like this with a woodcutting blade, they're excellent for trimming wood plugs flush quickly. If you don't, use a flush cutting saw like this instead, they work great too. Either way, I like to have a spacer between the wood and the saw blade just to keep the wood from getting scratched in the process. Here I've got a piece of scrap brass, but I've also used scraps of plastic laminate or even old plastic gift cards. Just drill a hole through your spacer that's larger than the diameter of the plugs you're cutting flush. That way you can set your spacer in place over the plug, set your saw blade against it and trim off the excess. Now, sand or plane the plug flush with the surrounding wood and you're done.