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Wallowed Wood Screw Holes

ChimeTime

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This must be a common issue, but I'm not sure if it's Cabinet or Clock repair.

I'm seeing many older clocks (especially those with mahogany cases) where the soft cabinet wood has wallowed out due to repeated cock face removal. My current method is to add 1/2 drop of common wood glue (e.g. TiteBond) to the hole and then stir it all around and work it deeply into the hole with a sharp dental tool until it is evenly dispersed. (And leaving a clear hole in the center as a 'starter hole'.) Then the screws are not re-introduced for 24 hours. In this application the glue does not set up hard, but remains somewhat pliable and able to accept screw threads.

My question is, short of inserting a dowel, is this the best way ?

IMG_20210912_120248385.jpg
 

brian fisher

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personally i am not a big fan of your method, but if it works for you, i say keep doing it.

I sharpen a dowel (same species of wood that the cabinet is built from) in a pencil sharpener. dip the tip of the dowel in glue, then lightly tap it in the hole. i then lay painter's tape over the finish of the cabinet in the area to be worked on and cut the dowel off with one of those flush cutting japanese pull saws.
 

T.Cu

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I follow Brian's method, but precut the dowel. I'm afraid the saw might damage the case even with tape.
I also use a dowel with hide glue, as it is reversible and also more authentic a repair. There's nothing ugly about a nice workman-like repair. Titebond III style glues are not reversible and it will not stick to itself after it's dry, hide glue will. (If you have to revisit something.) I buy the already liquid Titebond Hide Glue.
You do have to redrill the dowel for the screw, and you do have end grain showing now rather than side grain, but if the dowel is small enough the head of the screw covers it after you redrill it. (Or after you redrill and countersink, for a flat head screw.)
Like Thomas I also try to measure the dowel so I don't have to use the flush-cut saw, but have found a chisel works just as well for me on thin dowels if there is a stub needing cutting.
To redrill the dowel to replace the screw, I start with a tiny drill bit then move up in size if the bit is giving me trouble slipping off the end of the dowel.
The age-old tricks for this problem which require nothing more than a different sized screw are 1. Use the same thickness screw but longer, after drilling more length into the hole, and 2. Use the same length screw but fatter. But I like filling the holes better because then I use the original screw.
I will add that "moving" a slightly wrongly positioned hole, or filling old holes can be done the same way, except that then you will see the end grain of the dowel. But I think it's ok when necessary (just not on veneer, of course, or surfaces that show.)
When you are just filling an old hole on the back of a case though, if you are going to see the dowel end and circle around it, and don't want to, you can try reducing the dowel a little in the hole to make a dimple, and then putting wood fill over it, sanding, recoloring, etc. Sometimes this can be an improvement, sometimes not.
 

ChimeTime

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I really appreciate both your insights.

Since the old hole is now filled with wood when using this method, are you guys of the "pre-drill the wood screw hole" group, or are you guys of the "let the wood screw make its own hole" group ?
 

ChimeTime

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To follow up.... I purchased a small drill press today at a yard sale expressly for sinking precisely sized holes to a precise depth. So I'm taking up the dowel routine right away. Thanks again for all the input.
 

T.Cu

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I really appreciate both your insights.

Since the old hole is now filled with wood when using this method, are you guys of the "pre-drill the wood screw hole" group, or are you guys of the "let the wood screw make its own hole" group ?
If I understand you, yes, after the dowel piece has been glued into the old hole, a new hole has to be drilled into the middle of the dowel, that's the right width (and deep enough) for the original screw. So you can screw the original screw back in there. Into a pilot hole so to speak. Experiment on scrap wood to see what size new pilot hole works best with your original screw, if you are not sure about it.
Your drill press might not work unless you can get the piece of wood under the bit. So if you do it by hand, just put some tape on the right bit at the right depth, so you don't go too deep.
:) Not to put too fine a point on this subject, there are two schools of thought about whether to pre-drill the old stripped-out hole first, to the size of a new dowel piece you have, before you glue the dowel into the hole, OR whether you leave the old chewed up and partially "threaded" hole with wood fibers in there as it is, and just put an appropriate sized dowel in there that way. Without drilling the hole out some to make it "fit" the shape of the dowel better. Kind of fun stuff to fiddle around with.
 
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Micam100

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Hello ChimeTime

I'm no woodworker, but I'd go with dowels.

I put 4 dowels into mahogany last week. I had attempted a repair on a couple of them previously by filling the hole with a wood glue / hardwood chips mix. They didn't last…too easy to strip out if I tried to get the screws nice and tight.

I drilled the holes out to fit 8mm dowels. I cut dowels that were 20mm longer than required, tapped them in, marked a line around where they needed to be cut, pulled them back out and cut where marked.

Also, just put a smear of glue on the dowel and on the sides of the hole. You don't want a lot of glue in the hole that will prevent the dowel bottoming out. And one more thing, keep the pilot hole to a minimum and put a lot of pressure on the screw the first time you screw it in (unless the piece is narrow and in danger of splitting).

A word of warning: As well as putting tape around the drill bit at the required depth, make sure the work is held down as the drill can suddenly bite and pull right through if the work is not very thick. I found that out the hard way.

Michael
 

JimmyOz

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Rather than putting tape on as this will push up every time you drill into the dowel when making the new holes, just use another bit of dowel and drill that with the drill you are making the new hole with, then cut it so that the only part of the drill showing is the depth you want. This way you know every hole is the same depth.
 
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ChimeTime

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Thanks for all of this information.

One of the beauties of the drill press is a depth stop. While the various tape methods are good to know, setting the hard stop is slightly preferable.

The one outstanding question in my mind is an appropriate source for dowels. Are you guys using standard, hardware store blonde wood dowels, or ordering special wooden dowels to match the parent wood ?

Again, thanks for all the details.
 

T.Cu

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Hi, The repairs I have been describing are only for unseen areas, or for what will be more or less under the screw head, so I pick the best "heartwood" looking dowel I can find in the hardware store's pile. If I'm lucky there's one or two good ones in there that aren't just weak white pulp. I just use the hardware store versions, but if you want a particular species wood, there are resources online for species-select dowels, like oak or mahogany, maybe at the specialized woodworker's stores like Rocklers or Woodcraft?
As to the stop on the drill press, I agree. But as I mentioned earlier, many times I can't fit the part needing drilling under my bit with my drill press, as the part needing drilling is still together with other case parts, so it won't fit, and I don't want to take it apart further.
And so I hand drill and use my tape thing which works well for me, but Jimmyoz's method is far more solid.
As well, they sell small steel drill-bit "collars" or "stops" that act as stops when you need to drill multiple holes the same depth. Some even have bearings in them! These tighten onto your bit with a small set screw, at whatever depth you want. Look up "drill bit depth stop" online. If I were drilling lots of holes all the same, I might buy some, but I don't usually do that.
 

JimmyOz

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I just use the hardware store versions, but if you want a particular species wood, there are resources online for species-select dowels, like oak or mahogany, maybe at the specialized woodworker's stores like Rocklers or Woodcraft?
You can just make your own dowel for this, pair the wood down roughly to the diameter and drill a hole in a steel plate the size you want and tap the wood through the hole, instant dowel!

Another tip, cut 2 saw drafts on the dowel to let any excess glue out of the bottom of the hole.
 
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FDelGreco

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The use of a dowel has two shortcomings: First, end grain shows which may or may not be a problem depending upon what will cover it. Second, end grain holds screws poorly. It's especially a problem if whatever you are holding with the new screw is heavy, such as a tall case door.

The proper way to do this is by using a plug cutter. First, drill out the hole to 1/4" D with a bit. Then get a 1/4" plug cutter (Woodcraft has them) and cut a plug from a scrap piece of wood of the same species and grain pattern. Then add glue and tap the plug in place, aligning the grain of the plug with the grain of the case. It will be less noticeable -- sometimes invisible -- and will hold screws far better.

Frank
 

Kent Dold

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If it is a small hole, I put glue on a toothpick, shove it all the way into the hole. Simply break it off flush or clip it, lightly sand if needed.
 
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JimmyOz

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The age-old tricks for this problem which require nothing more than a different sized screw are 1. Use the same thickness screw but longer, after drilling more length into the hole, and 2. Use the same length screw but fatter. But I like filling the holes better because then I use the original screw.
[1.] This was how it was done when I was working as an antique furniture restorer. If they were hand cut screws then we would cut a block with the grain running the same way and the same timber. These were for hinges or backboards where the block would be covered.
The proper way to do this is by using a plug cutter. First, drill out the hole to 1/4" D with a bit. Then get a 1/4" plug cutter (Woodcraft has them) and cut a plug from a scrap piece of wood of the same species and grain pattern. Then add glue and tap the plug in place, aligning the grain of the plug with the grain of the case. It will be less noticeable -- sometimes invisible -- and will hold screws far better.
I am not sure this is the proper way, the function of a screw is to hold something against something, therefore what is being held will cover any chance of the shank being seen. The smaller the plug the better, therefore trying to cut even a 1/4 inch circle cross grain and then tap it in to a depth of about 5/8ths, it will just fall apart. These plugs were used to cover the screw after the screw had been put in and were conical in shape (turned in a wood lathe). Of course you could make the hole wider than the cross grain plug, however then you defeat the purpose as most glues are poor at gap filling, hide glue is good at gap filling, however will crystallize in time.
Anyway this is just my view everyone has their own way of doing things.
 
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Mike Phelan

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I keep the original screws. Then I just split a piece of softwood to a point, and poke it into the elongated screw hole, glue it in and leave it.
After leaving it overnight, split the wood flush with the case, make a hole with a scriber and job's done.
 

shutterbug

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I have had success just mixing sawdust and glue together, filling the hole, allowing it to dry and then re-inserting the screw.
 

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