Can You Save Rotted Wood?

Can You Save Rotted Wood

There’s a difference between rotted and rotting.

One of them means it’s probably too late, the other means it’s more salvageable. There are ways you can save tons of different wood, regardless of their weather exposure.

The most common that’s seen is dooring and roofing. Water wreaks havoc on anything made out of wood, and for more reasons that mold or rot.

It forces the wood fibers to expand and contract past the point of what it normally would.

When wood is gathered from trees, there’s what’s known as a 100% moisture content in that wood already. However, when you add water, that’s completely different.

Moisture exposure wrecks wood, so how do we fix it?

There are some tips and tricks here to salvage almost any rotting wood, and a full checklist to determine if that’s actually the problem you’re facing.


How to Know if Your Wood Has Rotted

To know how to fix it, first you need to know how to identify it properly. There are a few ways to do this:

Signals of Fungus

This happens in dark and damp spaces where moisture continually grows, such as in a roofing leak or when water gets into chipped wooden siding.

If moisture can get in and not necessarily evaporate, it’s likely to produce a nasty fungus.

There isn’t too much of an odor, but you can spot white patches of what looks like chewed up mushrooms all over the wood.

You might see the presence of a snow white film appearing on certain areas of it: that’s fungus, and it’s going to eat away at the wood. It’s fairly easy to spot.


Waterlogging is when wood expands to the point that no more water can be stored inside. It’s when something is saturated with water, and it’s very visible.

The coloration and shape of the wood will change depending on how long the damage is.

Waterlogging only occurs when the entire piece is ridiculously saturated, so if you can’t see signals of moisture or wet patches on the exterior of your wooden beams, then it’s safe to assume it isn’t waterlogged.

There could still be moisture trapped inside, but the problem hasn’t gotten this bad.

Malleable to the Touch

Before wood is ever used on roofing, siding, or just about anything, it’s cured for up to a year.

That’s why you get that tan/beige wood color instead of what it looks like when it is first collected. We all know what lumber looks and feels like, and how sturdy it is.

If you can put your fingers to the side of the wood and feel it depress from light pressure, then that’s a really bad sign.

You’ve got wet rot on your hands, and it’s eating away at the glue-like materials that are naturally found in the wood fibers.


There’s a distinct smell when wood begins to rot, one that’s hard to describe properly.

It’s as if the scent of general mustiness and undefined body odor were put into one, but it’s usually only detected from close up.

If you suspect wet rot damage, get close and smell the wood. If it still smells like you just walked into a Home Depot, then you’re in luck; it’s likely salvageable.

You could probably fix the problem in no time. If there’s a strong odor, it’s likely rotted out, and you’ll need to figure out just how bad the damage has gotten.

Telltale of Mycelium

Mycelium is a very distinct fungus. It’s not like the general white, wet fungus we described earlier. This appears and acts more like a white powder, and it can get just about everywhere.

This is a signal of dry rot as opposed to wet rot, and when you see this in the corner of your floors or on your walls, it’s probably too late.

Mycelium spores in colonies and is nearly impossible to get rid of. These spores also grow quickly, meaning a good amount of damage has probably already occurred.

This can happen when the moisture content in wood has gotten far too low (it should be around or slightly above 7%), and it has created the perfect environment for mycelium to grow.

There’s a lot that can go wrong, but we’re not just going to leave you high and dry like that. You’re about to find out every way to repair rotted wood, and make it nearly as good as new.

Tips on Saving Rotted Wood

No matter what, rot needs some level of oxygen to breathe and continue to produce bacteria and microorganisms that degrade the quality of the wood—we’re going to put a stop to that, and so much more.

Polyester Filler

To suffocate the source of the rot, we can use a polyester filler in place of wood.

You’ll find cracks or splits in the wood (once it has dried), and those are basically openings right down to the root of the problem.

A bit of filler is going to encase any remaining rot, and ensure that there’s no oxygen to feed off of.

Polyester filling is also fantastic to repair the stability of wood. It sands well, and paint sticks to it just as well as it does to wood or sheetrock.

Just be certain that there’s air circulation to expedite the drying time.

Chip and Salvage

This isn’t the most ideal way to approach the subject, but it is brutally effective and will ensure that there’s not a single spot of rot left.

You’re going to use a mallet and a wood chisel. Start with the largest chisel, and begin to chip away the rotted areas.

The chippings will be absolutely no good to you, but you’ll be able to see just how deep the rot ran in the first place.

The news might not be the best, but at least you won’t be using rotted wood in a project that you were planning on relying on.

Belt Sand It Away

Belt sanders do a tremendous job at shaving down layers of wood extremely quickly. Bring your belt sander over any rotted areas (with a face mask on, of course), and just grind it down.

Like our second option, it’s going to show you how deep the rot went, and let you know if it’s salvageable.

Keep in mind that this method can use up your belt sandpaper pretty quickly, so if you’re trying to salvage a lot of potentially rotten wood at once, stock up before you start.

Use an Epoxy Sealant

Remove what little bits of rotten wood there are, and apply an epoxy resin over the rest of the area.

When you mix epoxy with a bonding agent, it hardens a bit better than wood, and actually grasps onto the wood fibers in the remaining lumber.

That way, it doesn’t feel like a separate segment that’s just hanging on; it actually becomes part of the wood.

You have to let it dry for a long time and chip away any remnants so that it becomes uniform with the rest of the wood.

You can run it through a wood planer to get it down to size if you wish.

Wood Patch

Wood gets expensive, especially when you’re shopping for 1” thick boards or over. You don’t have to throw it all away, or simply chip bits off.

You can use a wood patch, which is similar to how you make a cutting board. Designate an area that’s slightly larger than where you believe the rot to be, and cut it out with a circular saw.

Using those measurements, get a perfect piece of wood to replace it. You’ll want to apply a heavy amount of wood glue.

Don’t just put one stream of it on the surface; coat it evenly, and use a clamp to apply it to the rest of the main board. Chip away excess glue when dry.

How Much Rot is “Too Far Gone”?

Old Rotten Wood Frame

If it’s soft to the touch (wet rot) and you can remove wet wood gunk with a simple pass of your hand, then it’s not likely to be salvageable.

If your wood has rotted over about 20% then you have a tough choice to make.

You can either remove the rotted part and salvage what is left of the board, even though it will be smaller, or you can simply replace it.

When rot moves through wood instead of manifesting in one corner or area, it makes the damage harder to detect, and likely worse than first anticipated.

Five Ways to Fix It

Apply any of those five previously mentioned methods, and you’ll be able to either fix your lumber, or at the very least stop the spread of wet and dry rot.

Once you’re done, just be certain that the wood is properly sealed and treated to prevent this from happening again.

It’s hard to prevent wood rot, but with these provisions, it makes it a little bit easier.

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