I haven't talked about any good to tool purchases for a while, but I recently picked up a little something that is making me feel like a pro woodworker. It's a complete wood plug cutter set.

We're running full steam ahead towards our floor refinishing project in our house, but there are a few things we need to take care of before we can take the plunge. Most notably, the 108 year old antique heart and yellow pine floors are full of over a dozen holes from the baseboard radiators we removed from the house, and a large missing section of flooring where we removed the partial wall in the living room.

The living room patch job will be fairly straightforward with a few spare pieces of wood I collected when I cut the hole for the air return under the stairs...

...but the holes all over the house are a bit more involved. The various holes range in size from 3/4" to 1-1/4", with some strange shapes and very Swiss cheese looking sections. Overall, it's unsightly and can't really just be left as is.

If you're ever faced with something similar, the plug cutter is the perfect tool out there for you. All you really need is the right sized cutters and a few spade bits or hole saws and you'll have yourself plugged up holes in no time.

The whole process of hole plugging is very straight forward, though a bit time consuming. My first step is to determine the size of the hole based on the largest part of any given hole's diameter. So if the hole is a bit wonky and varies from 1" to 1-3/16" or something, you may want to go for a 1-1/4" hole to make sure it's good and clean.

Next I make sure the hole is exactly the right size. I like using my spade bits to open and round them a bit, though a hole saw is probably a better choice as it won't bounce around as much if the hole is already a very odd size. The main issue you face is that the hole is already there, so you need to use something to guide the bit you're using to ensure the hole is clean. The easiest way to do this is with a scrap piece of wood that has the right sized hole already cut.

You center the scrap hole template over your existing hole, insert the bit into the hole, and then start the drill above where you want to drill it. If you can do it steadily enough, you'll have a rounded out hole that's exactly the right size for the plug you'll cut.

Next up I needed to get a scrap piece of wood to create the plug. I've been collecting scrap pieces of the heart pine wherever possible for just this very reason. As the guys cut the holes for the floor vents I would pick up the scrap bits just in case I would need to use them. These were 2" to 4" piece that most would throw away, but I know they're like little bits of gold that must be saved.

Using the scrap wood I stand on either side of the piece to keep it stable and place it over a sacrificial piece of scrap since the bit will ultimately go through the top piece and into the lower. I used the sacrificial piece of scrap since I was cutting on the floor so I didn't want to do any damage. Applying even downward pressure to ensure a straight plug, you know it's fully cut when the plug starts spinning with the bit, free from the piece of scrap.

If you're going to be cutting any more than a few plugs, it might be a good idea to look into using a drill press for this sort of work. A drill press will be for more consistent and will ensure the plug is nice and square, not a little wonky like some of mine ended up.

Here's the plug along with the hole it will fill. It's almost important to pay attention to the orientation of the grain to ensure you're putting the plug in place with the same orientation. This will help disguise it once everything is sanded and finished.

One of the most important parts of this work is glueing. I make sure I have good glue coverage on both the plug and the hole interior by using a small brush to spread it all around. Good glue coverage will ensure this plug will last as long as the rest of the floor surrounding it.

When it comes to putting the plug in place, use either a rubber mallet, or a hammer onto a scrap piece of wood to ensure you're not damaging the plug or over sinking the plug. The rubber mallet or scrap wood will keep the plug from harm and will only let it sink flush. The important part here is that it's a very tight fit. If it's not tight, you won't have a good glue bond and your plug will likely fail.

Again, don't over hammer. In our case we're going to be sanding the floor soon, so I even left it a tiny bit proud of the rest of the floor. Eventually it will all look like a single piece of wood.

After hammering the plug down to the desired height and flushness, wipe the excess glue from the surface and you've got yourself a plugged hole.

Sometimes you need to get a little creative. In the case where two holes were drilled side by side due to a floor joist the installer ran into, I had to make a partial cut with the spade bit before I completely cut out one of the plugs. This was done by starting the plug, then cutting the spade bit hole, then finishing up the plug. The end result may not be perfect, especially since the plug spans two boards, but it's a heck of a lot better than it was. I'll still fill in some of the gaps with a mixture of sawdust and glue before sanding, but that should work out just fine.

And in some areas, you just do the best you can. This area in the corner of the living room, where three water pipes, an electrical line, and apparently some other stuff all passed, will need a lot of attention. But I'm so happy to be able to take care of this and close up all of these holes.

We're really looking forward to updating you on this area once it's all said and done.

Anyhow, progress is happening in our living room and the rest of the house. Fingers crossed we'll have some good work to report on consistently over the next few weeks. Who knows, maybe we'll even have a finished room to furnish before too long? That's crazy.

Have you ever had to plug holes in a floor or other wood item? This would work well in furniture or craft as well, and would even be useful when cutting round peg pins for tenons in table leg joints. 

UPDATE: After a long search for a good contractor, our floors have been refinished and we think they look pretty great. The plugs pretty much disappear and give the whole house a much nicer look overall. Check out the finished floors and let us know what you think.

Comments 11

Comments

Renov8or
9/10/2015 at 2:29 PM

Nice work, Alex! I admire your perfectionism. It is details like this that really pay off and give your home such a finished look. It is going to look really beautiful after the floors are sanded and refinished.

Alex
9/14/2015

Thanks! I can't want to see everything refinished. It will change the look of the house more than I can imagine.

Mia
9/10/2015 at 5:19 PM

So that's how it's done! Do you have more steps to complete before sanding/staining the floors? Be sure to point out these repairs when you post a finished-floor shot--if you dare!

Alex
9/14/2015

There are a few major steps left. We need to support some of floor where vents were cut for the HVAC, patch a few damaged board areas, and pull up all of the shoe moulding and nails. Oh, and decide on a floor finish technique.

Lara Black
9/11/2015 at 2:07 PM
Alex
9/14/2015

Yes! How awesome is that? I met Timothy (the LifeHacker Workshop author) last year and he's really a great guy. He's the same Timothy that's behind Charles & Hudson. So glad he picked it up. It's one of those things that applies to so many floors in so many situations.

9/11/2015 at 3:28 PM

This definitely looks really easy the way you've done it! Is it possible to use a wood that isn't the exact right color, but then stain it?

Alex
9/14/2015

Yes. Even using different wood that stains a little different can add some visual interest.

max1023
9/13/2015 at 3:22 AM

Flippin genius on using a sacrificial piece of wood as a guide if using a spade bit over a pre-existing hole. I wish I would have thought of that when I was drilling holes for my new outdoor spigots. Lets just say it wasn't pretty. Stellar work as usual.

Alex
9/14/2015

I've used this several times, especially when trying to cut large holes (like 4"+ for plumbing), and it works so well. It actually works 100 times better when using hole saws rather than spade bits.

7/25/2016 at 9:30 AM

I really like this idea. Cutting the old hole to the size of the new hole is really a great tip. The end results look great

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