Boat Maintenance Boat Project

How to Repair Screw Holes with Wood Plugs

Monday, March 27, 2017S.V. CAMBRIA

Cambria’s previous owner was a dentist who had propensity for drilling. So when we bought the boat, it came with its fair share of holes. Nothing serious, mind you. But they were unattractive, nonetheless. We covered most of them up by strategically hanging pictures with Velcro or moving things around, but that left a few holes that remained exposed. Neither David nor I are experienced in woodworking but, fortunately, we had a dockmate at the time who was and he showed us a few tricks from his trade, including how to plug those unsightly holes. 

Prepping the Hole

To start, there needs to be an accurate center for the drill bit to bite into, so the existing hole needs to be filled. This can be done by using a starter plug (our friend put a wooden dowel into an electric pencil sharpener to make his but wooden matches or toothpicks would also work). Once you have a starter plug, dab the end of the starter plug with wood glue and insert into the screw hole.

Tap the plug securely into place and allow it to harden up overnight.

The next day, use a chisel to remove the end of the starter plug, trim it flush with the bulkhead.
Drilling a New Hole

Drill out the hole with a bit for cutting a square bottom hole (also called flat bottom), properly sized for the new plug (David likes to mark his drill bit with tape so he doesn’t drill too deeply). Clean the debris from the hole.

Dab the end of the plug in wood glue and insert the plug into the hole, attempting to line the wood grain as much as possible.

Gently tap the plug into place (which always seems to misalign the grain) and allow it to set overnight.

Lightly sand the area and apply a thin coat of varnish to finish.

Items Needed for the Job

  • Wood starter plugs
  • Wood plugs*
  • Wood glue
  • A chisel
  • A rubber mallet (or something similar)
  • A drill
  • Drill bits
  • Sandpaper
  • Varnish
*Wood plugs are available at most hardware store and chandleries, but they’re not cheap and are generally made from teak wood. Cambria’s interior is a white oak, so David makes ours by using plug cutter and a scrap piece of wood.

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  1. During our recent galley remodel our contractor shared another little trick carpenters use when filling screw hole, like if you want to 'start over' with a new hole in the same place. Use a matchstick and wood glue. This is not for holes where you are going to see the results. It's for hidden areas. But it works great. Just dip the matchstick in wood glue, stick it in the hole and let the glue fill in around it, then trim it off. Then drill your new hole when it's dried. Always learning something new!

    1. David's a pipe smoker, so we use wood matches a lot for things like that . . . also toothpicks!