Finishing Fiberglass Entry Door


In a few weeks we are traveling to Missouri to help our son finish out his new home. Most of the task is hanging and finishing trim, and finishing cabinets he is having installed. I am pretty comfortable with this part of the job.
However, he has installed a fiberglass entry door with wood grain texture. I have heard that is is possible to put a good, wood-like finish on one of these doors using gel stains. I have also read and heard horror stories about use of gel stains in this application. In surfing the internet I also found some articles that discuss use of both gel and heavily pigminted oil based stains with a poly top coat. Several articles mention oil based as the recommended method. The process sounds a little like the old "antiquing" process that my mother forced upon me in my teen years.
Any recommendations regarding technique, materials, etc. Also, what are recommended products for "heavily pigminted" oil based stains? I'm not sure of his stain color yet but I suspect it will be in the golden oak to light cherry range.
Thanks in advance for help.
RonB
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It took me six coats of PAINT to get the right color of red on my fiberglass door. With gel stains, it never would have happened.
Good luck with the project, though. If it were me, I'd order a wooden door, if the wood grain were important. Otherwise, a good acrylic enamel.
Patriarch, understanding the balance of time budget vs. project details...
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RonB wrote:
SNIP

Ron, I do a few of these a month. It takes a little time, but it isn't too hard. If you want bulletproof, you can get the Thermatru finish kit from someone that handles Thermatru doors. They have a great, super heavy pigment stain in the kit, as well as gloves, a brush, and some nice water based sealer. They have great colors and you can get just about any effect you want with the kit.
For me, I still don't like the water based stuff compared to the solvent, but so far no complaints.
With the other fiberglass doors out there, this kit will still work. But if the people don't want to buy the kit (+/- $70) I use the Old Masters line of gel stains. I warm up their "Dark Walnut" with "Dark Mahogany" and get a really nice shade of brown with some tones in it. Unlike many though, I usually stain twice to get the right color. I put the stain in a container and thin it just a little (10%) with mineral spirits as I have found that it dries too fast for me to get the stain to pattern out like wood at the "joints". I put on two coats and even it out rather than to put on one heavy coat to even things out. I do not thin the second coats, and it is only put on quickly and lightly as the gel on the fiberglass with redissolve itself making it blotchy.
When I do lighter colors like you are looking at, I only do one pass with the thinned gel product on a clean natural sponge. Make sure if you cannot find a natural sponge that you find a sponge that does not have an oil treatment on it to make it soft. If you cannot find one without the oil on it, wash the sponge out with mineral spirits before use. Staining will go really fast with a small sponge.
You can put just about any finish on the door you want after the stain dries (don't be fooled by the label - wait 24 hours on the stain). For the most part I use conversion lacquer but I have also used a lot of DEFT brand polyurethane at client request. The DEFT finish is really easy to handle. You can pad it, spray it, or brush it with great results. Most of today's polys are pretty good.
DANGER: If you use a gel stain, you should be aware that like any other stain, it will not really penetrate the resin. It simply sits on top, just like most stains do. However, it will not bite into the resin, so when you brush or pad a solvent based finish on the door over the dried stain you can lift off the stain (hence the waterbased finish in the Thermatru kit) with your paintbrush or pad. If you use solvent based clear coat, I would strongly recommend spraying.
Here's a tip. Keep up the clear finish on the door as a fiberglass door is almost impossible to refinish. I have tried a couple of times and won't do it anymore. If the clear coat is in good shape I will sand and shoot, but if it is in bad shape, forget it. The stains used in the original finish can't be touched up without it looking nasty. If the finish is shot on a fiberglass door, I sand all the loose stuff off it, seal it with sanding sealer, and two-three coats of good exterior enamel.
Robert
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Robert: Thanks for taking time to prepare this great description. If I am understanding you correctly you apply the lighter colors with the natural sponge?
RonB

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RonB wrote:

My pleasure, Ron.
I put on the lighter finishes with the sponge. It will flex and follow the contours and profiles of the door, hold a decent amount of stain, and with the sponge you can work the stain into the grain pattern on the door. You won't need much pressure at all, and the correct technique is to get a covering coat on an area, and then work like you are taking most of it off with the sponge. Leave behind the color you want, and any coloration (I like to leave a long streak of color here and there like you would see on real wood) to make the door look like it could be something other than a big slab of resin with coloring on it.
Dark stain is a different technique, but for the lighter colors you are looking at it will work great. Try it on a piece of plywood or a board before you start and you can judge how much stain your particular piece of sponge will hold before you start. If you put a lot of stain in the sponge it will be hard to handle and it will streak. It goes on so fast with the sponge that you don't need to load up the sponge with material, so resist that urge. And you will be surprised how far that Old Masters will go. You will literally be using about 2 -3 (yup.. 2 -3 ) ozs per side if you are doing it correctly.
The Thrematru kit comes with a little six ounce can of stain in it, and doing both sides, depending on the color saturation, I have never used more than 75% of the can to do both sides and edges of a door before clear coating.
Let us know how you do.
Robert
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