How to remove a dent in a piece of wood.

While working on the Bathroom Vanity for the Little House in the Village (LHV), I managed to tighten a clamp just a little too much and put a nasty dent in the front leg.  Bummer!

The “Good News Is”[1] that I learned how to take care of this kind of problem a few years ago at a woodworking school in Hertford, NC.[2]

The trick is to ‘refill’ the compressed wood cells (AKA ‘Dent’) with steam and they’ll inflate back to original size (more or less) and goodbye dent.  The photos below show the Before and After using the technique.

As you can see in the first photo, the dent is very pronounced and easily seen if not corrected.  My choices were:

  1. Sand the leg until the dent disappears – not a pretty choice as the whole leg would have an obviously large depression.
  2. Fill the dent with some kind of wood filler – this might work, but, over time, the filler would separate from the wood and fall off leaving an even worse appearance.
  3. Drill out the dent and plug it – this could work, especially since I’m painting the vanity and don’t care about grain matching.  Unfortunately, being at the LHV, I didn’t have any plug cutters with which to make a plug.  Still a possibility, but only if nothing else works.
  4. Steam the dent away…   What the heck?  It’s easy enough to try and I can always go back to choice #3 if it didn’t work.

Only problem was, to steam out the dent, I needed a clothes Iron.   Once again, our neighbors, Phil and Mary, came to my rescue and loaned me one.  Phil, being a curious guy and always ready to learn a new trick, decided to observe the process.

To steam out a dent:

  1. Lay out the dented piece on a stable surface – one that won’t care too much if it gets wet.
  2. Place a thin cotton cloth or, in this case, I used a folded over piece of Scott’s Rags in a Box, over the dented area.
  3. Dribble a bit of water onto the cloth, making sure the surface of the wood is wetted.
  4. Place an Iron, set to its highest heat setting, onto the wetted cloth and press down until the steam stops rising (no longer than this or you risk charring the wood).
  5. Lift the Iron and the cloth and see how much of the dent remains.
  6. Repeat steps 2-5 until the dent is sufficiently gone or no further progress is made.

After the wood dries, you may find that the dent has shrunk even more.  However, if you’ve wetted too much of the wood or repeated too many times, you may find that the area around the dent has swollen a bit.   If this happens, try to resist the urge to sand the swollen region flat.  If you do sand it, you may find that the area develops a depression after the wood dries completely.

That’s it!  Vanity Leg salvaged!


[1] “The Good News Is” is a pet phrase of my wife’s. Using it, she does a good job keeping the rest of us focused on the positive!
[2] Ben Hobbs makes furniture in Hertford, NC and also offers a series of woodworking classes. His classes are ‘productive’ because each class is oriented toward building a piece of furniture that you get to keep. In my case, I took class in which we each built a Pencil Post Bed (link to be added later).

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