Should I Trowel Fill?

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Aug 24, 2022
I installed a character-grade Rift/Quartered solid white oak floor. There are some gaps between boards, knots and bug holes. My question to you pros: should I trowel fill? I am concerned with the natural variation in wood color, that the filler might look bad. The area is only 450 SF, so I could also spot fill or only do the knots if you think that's a better plan.

I purchased wood wise white oak wood patch (which I can mix a cup or two of water into and trowel), and the non-shrink knot filler in both brown and black. I also have West End epoxy on hand w/transtint dye.

I would also love to hear your recommended sanding procedure. I am thinking drum sanding/edging at 60/80/100 grit, then buffing with a 120 grit screen. I am sealing/finishing with Bona naturale.


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I hate perfect floors for my own house. I want to be able to live on my floors cus I'm not taking my shoes off. A nice compromise is cabin grade. I installed cabin grade in my house because I like all the character and defects. Knots and gaps are part of the deal so why try to hide them but you definitely want to fill them so they aren’t collecting dirt n crud. Turn the flaw into a feature. Much easier than trying to hide it. If you didn’t like the flaws and character than why did you buy that grade of hardwood in the first place. I know the answer, price. Don’t let people know you’re cheap, let them think you are an artist. Trust me, if you use a high solids poly to finish that off it will look like a million bucks.
The price was definitely attractive, but I bought the character grade because I wanted the knots and variation. I definitely don't want to hide them, just stabilize and fill them. I'll definitely use a dark color for that. The gaps between boards is another story... those I kind of want to hide, but that may not be possible.
Maybe you play with a couple different color fillers. Is this your house and you have time? Bust a move on what you think you will want to look at.

On my house I filled the knots with clear epoxy then used black filler for everything else. I thought it would look cool but after taking several days doing the epoxy, filler and then finishing the floor you really can’t see the knots like I thought I would be able to and in the end it was ultimately just a waste of time. Lesson learned I guess. So maybe you fill the knots with black then try and blend the gaps as well as you can. Or maybe you just hit it all with black and be done with it. Once you get furniture n stuff back in the room you won’t see half of what you think you will anyway so the few remaining uncovered features will stand out a little more with black.

As far as sanding, what kind of equipment do you have? I have a Clarke Hydrasand and that thing is a game changer. Is there a rental place in your area that you could rent one from? If not then just go with what you originally planned on doing. Work through the grits and be done with it. Be sure to post some pics when you’re done cus I love me some cool lookin hardwood floors.
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CJ, I wound up filling the knots with tinted epoxy, then trying out a test board with the filler I have and the two sealers I was trying to decide between (classic or natural). Photo attached. I think the filler is not very noticeable unless you're quite close to the floor, so I am thinking that I will use it for the cracks between the boards and just spot fill.

Since the floor is new and I'm inexperienced with a drum sander, I reserved a random orbit sander described as "medium duty." My plan is to try 60 grit, and if that's not aggressive enough to get the floor flat, move down to 40 or 36 grit. Then I will progress 60/80/120. I plan to use a handheld orbital sander on the edges. I figure this way it's somewhat idiot proof as I can't make drum marks. I also won't need to rent an edger. Let me know your thoughts on this plan..


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The orbital sanders are great for DIY without that much experience. They are much more forgiving than say a drum or belt sander. The downside is they aren’t as aggressive so if you’re working an area that needs some work, it’ll just take you a little more time. You also may need to step down to a lower grit if 60 grit just isn’t cutting it for you but I think 60 grit is a good starting point.

As far as the filler, the truth is you won’t see it as much as you think you will. If you have a decent match it will just blend in with the floor and everything else you put in the room.
Thanks, I will purchase a lower grit too when I get my rental. I really appreciate your help. One question I have is about the sealer/finish I'm using. Bona recommends making a final cut with 80-120 grit paper, then "multi-disc with 120-150 grit." I don't have access to Bona machinery as a DIY-er.. what would be a good substitute? A buffer or polisher with 150 grit paper?

In their training video, Bona specifically recommends against screening with their water-based products.

They also say to use a Tampico brush on a buffer as a final step before applying sealer, in part to knock down soft grain. Would a maroon pad or shoe-shine brush (lol) do the trick?
You are renting an orbital floor machine? What kind are you getting? Square buff, 16” or 17” floor buffer, or??? If a floor buffer, what kind of head? Flat plate? I think you can get screens for a square buff.

Knowing what tools you will be playing with helps. If you can do it all with a square buff that would be neat.
I have the three head sander reserved - the one with the triangular base- they call it random orbital sander but I think pros might refer to it as the planetary? That’s all I have so far. Was planning to use a handheld orbital for edges where needed. I was thinking about also renting a buffer if needed for the burnishing/finishing sand. Clarke American Sanders Random Orbit Floor Sander Rental 07163A - The Home Depot
I like that 3 headed jimmy bobber thing. I think that gets within an inch or so of the edge so I’d say you’re good to go with hitting the edges with a palm sander then using that 3 wheel deal.

Depending on how high of a grit you can get for that thingamajob you may be able to just use that for the majority of the job.

I would palm sand the entire perimeter with 60 grit and then hit any noticeable over/ under spots out in the field with the palm sander. Work one grit at a time. Edge first then hit the field with 3 finger jack. Bump up a grit. If you start at 60 then jump to 80 cus you gotta remember that, although forgiving, that 3 wheel trike isn’t that aggressive. After 80 you’ll jump to 100. I’d finish off at 120 or 150 depending on how I felt about the floor.

Are you staining the floor? Dark colors will require a finer finish. 120 or 150 grit. Dark colors also show EVERYTHING which is the reason for having to go higher with the grit. If you’re just sanding and finishing then I’d say 120 will get you there.

Do you need a buffer? Prolly not. The buffer is used to blend in the edging with the field but that 3 headed contraption will get you within an inch? of the wall. You’re putting base up so now you only have 1/2” to worry about. Take your time and you’ll be alright. Check all your filler before your final sanding cus some may have shrunk or popped loose. Now is the time to refill any gaps before your final sanding.

Alright, you’ve passed guitar heroes version of wood floor sanding and now you’re ready to spread some finish. I’ve rolled it on and used them fancy synthetic pads before and they work just fine but what I really like to use to spread finish is a T bar spreader. Works great. There is a slight learning curve but if you watch a few YouTube videos on using a T bar to spread finish you’ll be just fine. First coat is practice coat anyway, right😏

What Bona product are you using?
Oh yeah, see if you can hook a shop vac up to that machine. You’ll appreciate doing that. Make sure to get bags for your shop vac. They keep your filter from clogging.
Thank you so much for this info CJ, I am going to follow it to a T. Fingers crossed I can get some high grits at the rental place.

No stain, I’m using Bona NaturalSeal then two coats of Traffic Naturale. I did pick up the Bona T bar applicator and head, and I’ve watched the Bona training for applying water based sealers on YouTube twice now, and I know how finicky it can be with the white pigment and all that. We’ll see how it goes. I plan to T bar the sealer, and then roll the poly.

My baseboard is 3/4” thick and I actually bought some shoe too, so if I can really get within an inch of the wall, the edging with the palm sander will just be for posterity I suppose.

I actually have a few drywall dust bags, so I will get those in the shop vac and see if I can get it hooked up to the machine. Thanks for the tip, I hadn’t thought of that.
Well, I thought I would report back following my work this weekend. The three-headed sander was a bust, I had too much over wood and it could barely get through the epoxy/filler. I took it back and picked up a drum sander and edger, and I wound up having to start at 36 grit. I used 36/60/100 as my sequence. I found the drum sander was just fine, not difficult to use at all honestly. The edger, on the other hand, had a bit of a learning curve. I figured it out. I went back to get a machine to blend edger/drum marks and the only one they had with a grit higher than 80 grit was the deck sander, so I used that and finished off the floor at 150. Worked fine. Sanding a floor is hard work, I have a new appreciation for it.

The hardest part of the whole thing was applying the NaturalSeal and keeping the floor clean while finishing. I wound up with around 5 noticeable heavy marks that I'll live with. If I had to go back and do it again I would strongly consider rolling the sealer on. I vacuumed and tacked twice before sealing, then took off my boots thinking that was the smart move without realizing how much dog hair was on the bottom of my socks from my lab shedding all summer, haha. So I wound up with some black dog hair in the finish, some of which I was able to pick out between the coats. Again, I'll live with it. If I did it again, I'd pick up some of those shoe covers. I finished up the job with three coats of Bona Traffic Naturale, very happy with the sheen of it.

Thanks again for all the help CJ, especially your tips about using a dust bag in the shop vac, refilling cracks after sanding, and just the general order of doing things. All that's left is the baseboard!


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