Carpenter Trick to Repair Furniture

Why would I shove toothpicks in a hole in my antique cupboard door, you may ask…

Well, an old timer carpenter taught me this trick,

and it really works fantastic!

What’s the trick? Old Carpenter Trick

Super simple…

When you have a loose screw, (probably should do a different treatment for the mental sense of a ‘loose screw’… I’m just talking the literal sense of loose screw today) due to the hole it’s screwed into being just a bit too big, like I did one day, I realized, when I opened the door of a very old cupboard I have in the breakfast room, and the top of the door fell off the cupboard, barely holding on by the bottom hinge!

Oops, I would recommend fixing those loose cabinet and cupboard doors before it gets to that point, or it can lead to a lot bigger problems. (which is actually true with the mental sense as well, now that you mention it) I’m lucky it was me using the door when it happened, so I could catch it and relieve the tension on the bottom hinge immediately. I’m afraid if it would have let loose when one of my grandchildren were opening it, either or both the door and cupboard could have split.

So here’s how to fix it:

(according to my old carpenter friend that taught me the carpenter trick to repair furniture) too big of hole in door

I removed the door from the cupboard and laid it on a flat surface, (it will need to lay flat overnight, so pick a spot that it can sit for a while) squirt in wood glue

Then I squirted in a bunch of Carpenter’s Wood Glue.

(in this case, I do prefer wood glue, I believe it is stronger and works better for this project) shove in toothpicks

The next thing I did was to fill the hole with toothpicks…

one at a time, shoving the last ones in as hard as I could. A couple of thoughts about this: be sure to try to get the toothpicks all the way to the bottom of the hole, this is important because one of the issues with loose screws can be the hole is too deep. And secondly, try to completely fill the hole, some of the glue will ooze back out the hole, that’s OK. For effect, I showed you all the toothpicks long at one time, snip

but in reality, it’s much easier if you snip off each one once as it’s inserted in the hole. It is important to get the top of the toothpick flush with the cupboard door so that your hinge, when placed back on it, will lay flat on the door. toothpicks and glue filled hole

Once the holes were filled with snipped toothpicks and glue, I let it dry overnight. It’s hard to define separate toothpicks in this photo, but each screw hole did take several toothpicks to completely fill it.

Basically, what you’re creating is a wood-based wood filler that will have the strength to give the screw something to grip onto. carpenter trick repair done

It’s important when you are ready to put the hinge back on the door,

that you pre-drill the holes for the screws.

This always helps prevent the screw slipping around and not going into the wood in the exact spot we’re aiming for and helps prevent the wood from splitting. Just be sure you don’t go too deep, or use too large of a drill bit, (but if you do, now you know how to fix it!)

The old screws that were holding the hinge were in really bad shape and I wasn’t able to reuse them, but these new screws work great and hold the door on really well. tv and primitive cupboard-001

All done!

This primitive cupboard is very old, and I am loving this addition of it to our breakfast room, I’m so glad that I was able to easily fix the hinge so that it hopefully will be in use for a long time into the future too.

Are you looking for a fun treasure like this cupboard to add character to your place? I love Ebay for a fantastic resource!

Did you know I now offer e-decorating? I can help you with your decorating needs via email, without having to step foot in your home. If you’re interested in more information, visit my e-decorating site: Frame and Frills. I’d love to help you with your project!

Here are more carpentry tips and ideas:

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Reader Interactions


  1. Bill case says

    This is good for a quick fix when you’re in a pinch. As an alternative and for a longer-lasting repair I’d recommend drilling out the original hole (as little as possible) to get a straight hole. Then get a small dowel the size of the hole, glue it in, drill a pilot hole and screw in the hinge. Toothpicks are tapered and so the top may be tight but space may be left near the bottom. Alternating right-side up and right-side down may not always work as the times that the big end goes down may result in the top/narrow part of the toothpick snapping off and you lose the necessary depth.

  2. Ed F says

    All good ideas, I have used many of them over the years. The only thing I noticed was that Phillips head screws were used. Not a good idea if this is an antique, be more original if slot head screw was used. I hate slot head screws but sometimes you got to.

  3. Jack says

    I think clamping the edge of the door is important because when you are forcing the toothpicks in the hole your slso spreading the crack that can be seen in this example. It looks like this occurred in your fix as the door edge looks bowed in the picture with the hinge reattached to the door.

    • Liz says

      Thanks Jack! Probably sage advice. In this case though, I actually don’t think that happened in this case… the door already was warped a bit and both places where the hinges are have cracks in the wood.

  4. David says

    If you use a dowel the same size as the outer hole take a pencil sharpener and sharpen it and shove it into the whole it should be secure enough you wont even need glue. yes I’ve even used pencils to plug the hole.

    • Lynn says

      Water putty is my new favorite product, since I discovered it last summer and used it to patch some small rotted spots on a door frame. Using super glue with it sounds genius.

    • Liz says

      The door is over 100 years old and just over time a small crack and probably getting bent too far back numerous times just led to it breaking free.

  5. Mike s says

    Another trick I’ve used with great results is saturate a cotton ball with wood glue then pack in hole. Makes a strong foundation as well.

    • Liz says

      Interesting! I’ve never heard of using cotton balls and glue. I wonder what it would be like to try to drill into… if the drill bit would get all tangled up in the cotton, it if the glue hardens it and the bit can just pass through?

  6. Chris says

    When doing this, I often put the snipped toothpicks in upside down (so the point is at the opening/surface of the hole, and the thicker / cut part is at the bottom of the hole). This way, when your screw goes in, the tip of the screw has plenty of toothpick to grab onto (most screws are tapered so I taper the toothpicks in reverse if that makes more sense?).

    • Liz says

      Thank You Jose, I have found the advantage to using toothpicks is they’re small enough and will fit in the weird little areas that have sometimes been created with the screw moving around in the hole, as opposed to trying to cut the exact size of a dowel that fit it exactly is more difficult for me. And the glue and toothpicks are extremely strong.

  7. Terry Anderson says

    I find that if you use a peace of wood thats little harder than the peace you are working on, the screw tighten lot better. I like wood shaving too that way I know what kind of wood I’m using .

  8. Roger says

    This is something i learned a long time ago. It works great. Good point on pre-drilling after plugging the holes. The one thing I would do differently is try and find a vintage slot head screw to match.

  9. Alexia says

    Wooden golf tees are also great for this trick, since they’re similar in size and shape to the screws you removed.

  10. Pagan Raven says

    Something else you can do, if you have access to sawdust is to make a very thick paste from sawdust and wood glue. Then fill each hole, making sure to really get it down to the bottom. Let it dry completely. Then do as you did and predrill holes before using any more screws.
    This also works great for patching wood pieces and can be stained!

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