I was working with a construction professional to fix some doors in a rental house. We had some holes that didn’t line up, which meant we needed to patch them before we could drill new ones. He asked me for some toothpicks. It turns out toothpicks are a fast way to patch screw holes in wood.
Insert a toothpick in the old hole, along with a drop of glue, then break it off flush with the surface. Insert additional toothpicks as necessary.
In a pinch, you can get by with just putting a toothpick in each hole, cutting or breaking it off flush with the wood, then drilling your new hole.
Better yet: If you have time, put some glue on the toothpick, then put it in the hole and break or cut it off flush with the surface. Ordinary white glue works fine for this purpose, but of course my old standby, Titebond, works great too. When you apply a small amount, either white glue or wood glue dries pretty quickly, and both bond readily to all types of wood.
If the hole is too big for one toothpick, use more than one. To make the repair less visible, sand the surface a bit to generate some sawdust. The sawdust will quickly mix with the glue, and when dry, it will look like one piece.
Behind a door hinge, this doesn’t matter, but if you’re fixing a hole in something that will be visible, this trick is a lifesaver. I’ve fixed screw holes in finished wood before, and after applying a bit of stain, the repair blends right in.
Why you need to patch a hole before drilling a new one
The toothpick helps keep your drill bit and your screw from wandering into the old hole when you have to drill a new one. It also gives the screw something to bite into on that side.
It’s a quick fix, but sometimes a quick fix is all you need. Not only that, it’s stronger and cheaper than wood putty.
Normally we think of toothpicks as the quick fix for a stripped-out screw hole. But they work really well to fill or patch screw holes in wood too.
Keeping toothpicks and glue in your toolbox may seem strange, but if you start, you’ll be glad you did. A box of toothpicks is cheap insurance, and when you need one, you’ll probably need it badly.