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I'm finishing a very rough piece of scrap wood for use as a tabletop and to practice applying polyurethane. I've since found that the holes and gaps aren't really "filled" by the material and that I should have used wood putty first.

I've already applied multiple coats of polyurethane. How can I address the surface to smooth out the gaps, gouges, deep scratches, and holes, before applying another coat?

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  • Could you please include some closer photos of the defects you're trying to improve? – SaSSafraS1232 Nov 10 '18 at 0:53
  • I've updated my question with photos of various defects on the tabletop. These photos are after the fourth coat (still drying). – Zhro Nov 10 '18 at 6:00
  • It's much more common to address surface defects in wood before the first coat of finish goes on, although you can repair voids, dings and scratches in a completed piece, most or all of the above are definitely in the class of things better dealt with before finishing and not during or after. So, in short, for this I think you should accept that it's a rough piece of scrap wood you started with and leave it. You'll know better for next time. – Graphus Nov 10 '18 at 8:57
  • One other thing, you might benefit from learning about wiping varnish. There are numerous mentions of it here in various contexts so worth a search and doing a bit of reading, but this Answer will give the most comprehensive info. – Graphus Nov 10 '18 at 9:00
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    @Graphus, I think your comment is actually the correct answer for this question. What's done is done seems a reasonable answer here! Four coats of finish is pretty hard to walk back from. – jdv Nov 12 '18 at 18:03
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Apply several coats of polyurethane in the recessed areas, using a small brush.

It will take you an obscene amount of time because you will have to wait for it to cure between coats. You will need to sand it back some between coats. Then when you are done, you will have to sand some of it to match the surface transition over the gaps. The final result should look good, though: it will have a transparent, epoxy-like finish.

This is a good example of why the unevenness should be addressed before applying the finish, much like how you want to put body filler on panels and sand them smooth before applying the paint, because paint does not fill holes very well (too thin).

Keep in mind that around the longer gaps, the height of the surface on either side of the gap might not be the same. Use a straightedge to quickly check for flatness across the gap.

Alternately, you can sand off some of the finish in the gaps and fill with colored epoxy or plain wood filler. You will not have to put as many coats to achieve desired flatness.

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