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    Various fillers for painting and decorating

    hi-tech filler“Polyfilla” powder fillers are a firm favourite with trade and DIY decorators – economical, generic and all-purpose, sold by the box or sachet. There are other less well-known specialist fillers like 2-pack Polyfilla Deep Hole and Zinsser Ready Patch. They are hi-tech heavy duty fillers that won’t fail where will Polyfillas will. And for finer finishing, there are ready-mixed lightweight fine surface fillers like Red Devil, and more obscure still, Spachtel and Swedish putty. I have used all these types of fillers and this is what I have found.

    Please note, that whilst everything that follows is still correct, I have since converted to products from French filling company, Toupret, whose high performance decorating fillers meet most of my filling needs.

    In terms of wall filling, their spray fillers and surfacers have taken potential finish quality to a new level, and the strength of their “TX110 polyfiller” is on a par with 2 pack fillers – yet they are easy to sand dead smooth. Apart from Murex exterior filler on timber, flashing is not a consideration, and the sheen on front doors is a wonder to behold if you surface fill first with Toupret oil-based Gras a Lacquer.

    Polyfilla powder types

    Ignoring the home brand rubbish sold in DIY superstores, the most economical filler is Halls Beeline, followed by Gypsum Easifill, with Polycell Trade Filler the most expensive. In my experience, they all perform roughly the same.

    You add water to the powder to make a paste. You can mix it to a consistency that suits your filling requirements – stiffer for holes, smoother for cracks and small dents. Mixed up filler is usable for 20-30 minutes.

    Tips If a sachet of powder has been left opened for a day or two, it will dry out more quickly when mixed, (sometimes it hardens instantly!) so I seal opened filler bags with masking tape. I mix filler in a plastic kettle, whereas a friend of mine uses half a plastic football which he can turn inside out for a quick clean. Rather than mess up a clean sink, I fill a bucket with cold water and use that water for mixing up filler where I am working.

    Under normal circumstances, powder fillers dry hard within two to a few hours and sand down smooth, ready for over-painting, papering and even drilling. If you want filler to dry rock hard, mix it with emulsion rather than water. Deep holes can be “bodged” by mixing up wet newspaper with polyfilla for a plaster of paris type fill.

    Powder fillers have some disadvantages though.

    - On all but the shallowest dents, the powder fillers tend to sink and usually you need at least a couple of passes for an acceptable job.

    - They take a couple of hours before being dry and hard enough to sand. In cold conditions, or with any sort of depth of filler, they can take all day to dry off.

    - The sanded powder is very fine, which for most decorators means the creation of dust clouds. (Vacuum sanders are a good solution to fine sanding issues. I use Mirka Abranet abrasives attached to a Henry and it seems to cut down dust to a minimum.)

    - If you fill walls with polyfillas and “size” them with diluted paste or PVA, before hanging wallpaper, you can get in trouble! (I know I did!) The paste can soften the filler and as it dries out, the filler may come away from the wall, taking the wallpaper with it. This seems to be the main cause of curling edges on painted lining paper. One solution is to use a special “size” like Beeline Primer Sealer, Gypsum Drywall sealer or Zinsser Gardz. These clever water-based products prevent paste from soaking into the filler, while providing a strong key for paste to stick to.

    Zinsser Ready Patch

    This is a ready-mixed spackle – a casein resin emulsion from the US to be precise – with a distinctive “spirit” smell. It will stick to grainy absorbent plaster surfaces, as well as metal and anything in between. And when it dries – within 30 minutes – it is easy to sand and doesn’t create clouds of fine dust. So if you are faced with filling over poorly adhering plaster, complicated troublesome surfaces, or you have nail holes and dents in woodwork, and you want to get a move on, this is a great product.

    There are a couple of issues to watch out for, though.

    If you leave it overnight, sanding Zinsser filler is quite a bit tougher than normal filler. 80 grade Abranet makes this task more user friendly however.

    Ready Patch has a shiny finish, which means it is great for over-painting with oil paints – one undercoat and gloss, or two coats of satinwood will obliterate the filler. However, if you are applying an emulsion finish, you have to spot prime the filler with Zinsser Bullseye 123, then paint the whole wall with Bullseye before emulsioning. The Bullseye dries in 30 minutes, but if you don’t do those stages, the filler will flash through the paint.

    Another downside is that unlike the advertising claims, Zinsser Ready Patch does sink like powder filler, so two fills are still required for a top job.

    And it is a lot pricier than polyfilla. But Ready Patch is the sort of filler you can keep “on the van” for cracks / holes or difficult surfaces where polyfilla isn’t strong enough, plus it is a convenient fine surface filler for painted woodwork, .

    Polyfilla 2-pack Deep Hole

    Some decorators use “Bondo” 2-pack bodywork filler for that bombproof filling job. This is all well and good, except when to comes to grinding it down. Life is hard enough as it is. Bondo also has a distinctive smell.

    If you can get over the shock of £14 for a 1kg tub, plaster-based Polyfilla Deep Hole is a very good 2-pack alternative to bondo. I had to deal with some severe cracks around a door frame plus small (6 x 2″ x 1/2″ deep) areas where plaster had blown. Normal filler would crack before I left the job. Zinsser Ready Patch needs more painting than I prefer. So, 2-pack it is.

    This 2-part filler mixes easily and stays workable for about 15 minutes, it filled the deep cracks and missing lumps of plaster in two attempts, smooths out beautifully, and sands nicely as well with 80 grade Abranet. And its main advantage over Zinsser Ready Patch is – it doesn’t flash through paint i.e. touch in with diluted emulsion to seal it, then paint as normal.

    Surprisingly, it goes a long way too, and I have half a tub still, which will stay useful indefinitely – or at least till I mix it up.

    Ready-mixed fine surface filler

    I find that the convenience of Red Devil – it is ready mixed – is outweighed by its poor performance. It is too easy to squeeze the moisture out of it, so half of it ends up crumbled on the floor, useless. Also, considering it is a fine surface filler, it has poor adhesion over modern high sheen undercoats and after a light sanding, you can end up with less filler than when you started. There are better fine surface fillers available. (As a childish joke on site, we’d throw a full tub of Red Devil across to a bricky and tell them to catch it. No one expects it to be so light!)

    Sikkens do a fine surface Kodrin Spachtel which is oil-based and sands beautifully. Spec is:

    prime bare timber, fine surface fill, dry sand 12 hours later, 2 x oil based top coat 24 hours later

    Polycell Fine Surface Filler – I won’t use this after some horrendous experiences where, by the time I had finished sanding it smooth, I was back down to bare wood. Maybe they have since changed the formula but I haven’t been back, so to speak.

    Tetrion is another high quality fine filler, which works – as long as you don’t want to emulsion paint over it. A friend of mine found out the hard way that it is cement based. After 3 coats and no end to patches flashing through, a Dulux rep told him the only way to get a good finish is to oil primer seal the walls first. Not exactly practical.

    Sanding putty – When I was painting wooden boats, I used an impressive fine surface sanding putty over the top of undercoat. It was traditional linseed oil based, became very dry as it is spread and “squeezed”, but it filled the grain and sanded beautifully. As usual in corporate America, a competitor bought out the company and discontinued it.

    The “alternative” is called Swedish putty, which is a brilliant white linseed oil-based filler. It is dear as poison, but to be fair it works amazingly well, probably the ultimate filling product for achieving high class woodwork. I do wonder though what was wrong with the cheap as chips old-fashioned filler?

    Summary

    Now I carry 3 types of filler: Halls Beeline, Zinsser Ready Patch Toupret TX110 “polyfilla” powder, and Polyfilla 2-pack. I think between those I have most issues covered – or filled. Do you have any suggestions for alternatives?



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    20 comments to “Various fillers for painting and decorating”

    1. small business grants

      Terrific work! This is the type of information that should be shared around the web. Shame on the search engines for not positioning this post higher!

    2. andy

      hi SBG thanks for the vote of support. It is surprising what products are out there for filling different surfaces in different scenarios. Not quite the picture you get when you go to B&Q etc.

    3. acmasterpainter

      #FarrowandBall seems to attract the most interest on my site http://traditionalpainter.com/farrow-and… & this 2nd despite aversion to prep http://traditionalpainter.com/various-fi

    4. patrickbaty

      @ACmasterpainter Andy. I don’t see how those people can be regarded as a “traditional paint” maker. They can’t have their cake and eat it!

    5. acmasterpainter

      @patrickbaty is there another nifty description to cover the no longer traditional paint maker?

    6. patrickbaty

      @ACmasterpainter Not that I could repeat, Andy.

    7. Julian Cassell

      Hi Andy,

      Great site, and love your run down on fillers. I earn my living writing about DIY and if there is one thing that drives me mad is when I walk into one of the DIY sheds and see 250 different types of filler for sale. Sometimes I’ll watch people walk out with deep gap,small gap, sunday morning fine, deep hole, all-purpose, interior this, and exterior that…….well you get the idea…..and I just want to wander up to them and say – “guys, whatever job you’re doing, you only need 3, and max 4 types.” The whole thing is just SUCH a rip off.

      Like you, I always like to have a powder filler (normally polycell – used to use Terion until I got so hacked off with the stuff you pointed out!), a 2-part (although I tend to use the Ronseal option – horrible to work with, but always effective), and a ready mixed which I tend to keep knocking around for all those occasions when you’ve packed up, are walking out the door, and notice that one nail hole you’ve missed on the architrave!

      The only other filler I use is caulk (I see you wrote on another post about this) and I share your annoyance with manufacturers. I’ve always found that you switch allegiance to a brand that seems to be ‘better’ and then they change their formula, and you start looking elsewhere! Like you, I find the oil-based undercoat sorts the cracking problem. In recent years, I’ve also found that using Zinsser B-I-N is a good option as it dries so quickly, and so you don’t have to wait another day for drying.

      Anyway, I’ll stop before I take up any more of your page – Great site – great advice, and all the very best.

      Julian Cassell

    8. Andy

      One point you could mention is the difference between Polyfilla Interior and Pollyfiller All Purpose…
      The interior version doesn’t flash when overpainted with emulsion whereas the all purpose one is better for under wallpaper or oil based finished.
      Other than that… Great article!

    9. Johnny Sharples

      I have found that using holkham linsead oil putty with their linsead oil paint has worked great on the window cills I have repaired. Traditional or not works for me and my customers.

    10. john shearer

      John from the USA here…great page here. Looking into these products now.

    11. Andy Crichton Andy Crichton

      you have some good kit there too!

    12. Charles Budd

      Hi Andy, why do you go for the TX110 as opposed to Le Reboucher? And don’t you use Ready Patch now? Just normal 2 part & Polyfilla Deep Hole 2 part?

    13. Andy Crichton Andy Crichton

      Hi Charlie I favour TX110 because it skims and fills very nicely, with added advantage that it is super tough. It does seem to match Polyfilla Deep Hole for strength, all that marble dust, don’t you know :)

      Do you mean the Zinsser spackle? The spec from Tor for filling wall areas is fill, sand, spot prime with Bullseye 123 then paint whole surface to a break with Bullseye, to avoid flashing. For that inefficiency reason I wouldn’t use it under water based wall finishes.

    14. Charles Budd

      Thanks for that Andy, I didn’t know TX 110 contained marble! Now I know what to use on a bashed corner on a commercial job I’m quoting for! I was thinking about the Zinsser Ready Patch for woodwork. Or would TX110 be just as good?

    15. Andy Crichton Andy Crichton

      Ready Patch is a finer finishing filler. Try saying that quickly!

    16. Charles Budd

      Thanks Andy. I wouldn’t try saying it quickly, not with my stammer! :-)

    17. Puma

      The two packs I prefer are Upol Easyone and Upol Fantastic. The Fantastic is unbeatable for fine filling, a little tacky (sometimes) but ultra smooth and sands easily. Upol easyone similar to Ronseal but much cheaper.

      I always keep a tube of Polyfilla quick drying as well. It is perfect for snagging – dries in about 10 mins but without the hassle and stink of two pack.

    18. Mike Jacob

      Hi

      We have been left with a strange detail on a job that we need to get over. What you see in the picture (not sure if its attached to your web form) is a shadow gap.

      shadow gap

      This has been created with a plasterer’s angle bead that should meet the wood flooring to hide the OSB board that can be seen right at the bottom. Because there are some slight undulations in the floor the OSB is visible and this gap is too big to get over with a mastic joint.

      We thought there might be a suitable filler that could be applied to close the gap and create a neat and even surface for decorating, prior to the joint being finished with a neat mastic joint. The angle bead has already been primed and painted with a natural water based paint. The area to fill is very tight and we would need to be able to bond to the OSB (Sterling board) and the painted angle bead, before rubbing down and re-decorating.

      I look forward to any advice regarding the suitability of your products.

      Best regards

      Mike Jacob

    19. Andy Crichton Andy Crichton

      I think I can understand what is going on. I would mask off the bottom and look at the Zinsser Ready Patch which will adhere to plaster, wood, metal even. Apply in thin layers. Don’t leave it too long after drying before sanding. Remove the tape and if necessary run your finishing bead to create a tidy white line, then paint, or paint then run a caulk line, whichever way round you prefer.

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