The front door on my parents' house is as far as I can tell, original. It's
a brick attached townhouse, built in the thirties, and at one time all of
the houses had similar doors; many still do.
Here's what it looks like from the inside:
With the exception of the horizontal gouge at about handle height - caused
by the handle of a closet door that opens into the same vesibule - it looks
pretty good from the inside.
I don't know how this door was constructed. While it's intended to look as
if it were composed of seven vertical boards, I suspect there's some sort o
f substrate underneath, on which "face" boards perhaps 1/4" to 3/8" thick w
ere attached. Here's what the edge looks like:
The problem is the outside. Many of the neighbors have installed storm door
s of one sort or another, but my parents never did. The outside looks like
That second photo might give a clue as to the construction. But I'm pretty
sure there isn't just some thin veneer on the door.
I'm wondering how to refinish the door. I assume the basic procedure would
be to sand the flat sections and scrape the grooves, then apply some sort o
f finish. But I have some questions.
Firstly, what grit of sandpaper would you recommend to start with? And end
with? I have a couple of ROS's and a pair of 60's vintage 1/3-sheet finish
sanders. I assume I'd at least start with a random orbit sander.
Next I'm curious about any stain that may be on the door. I seem to remembe
r that at some point in the distant past the door was much darker on the ou
tside. It must have been stained. If there's still some stain on it I assum
e I'll have to sand enough to get to bare wood. I'd love for the outside to
be a reasonable match for the inside, color-wise, but I don't even know if
the inside was stained.
Then I wonder what sort of finish to use. We're slowly cleaning out the hou
se for eventual sale. I'd like the front door not to be a blemish on what i
s a reasonably handsome house, and I'd also like to be kind to the eventual
buyer and use something durable.
On Friday, May 12, 2017 at 10:35:20 PM UTC-5, Greg Guarino wrote:
y sure there isn't just some thin veneer on the door.
It doesn't look like veneer. But it is difficult to tell with those old "c
raftsman" built doors. You might get you step ladder out and take a look a
t the top of the door edge. Since you will be refinishing, you could even
sand a part of the edge bare and no one would know. Check the hinge side a
s well, as no one will be studying that, either.
Regardless of your findings, most likely a door of that vintage has plenty
of veneer thickness to work with in you renewal efforts.
d be to sand the flat sections and scrape the grooves, then apply some sort
of finish. But I have some questions.
All refinishers have their own methods, and mine is a mix of trial and effo
rt as well as being part of a refinishing community online. At one time th
ere was good money in refinishing due to the advent of one part catalyzed c
onversion finishes and affordable HVLP systems. I did well with it until t
he economy tanked, then to "refinish" a front door I powerwashed it, sanded
it and painted it.
To refinish, it isn't as hard as people make it as long you are are prepare
d and dont' try to rush things. Also important, good stripper and the corr
ect tools. So..... a trip to Harbor Freight or some other discount store i
s in order, as well as the big Orange Box.
I use Keen Kutter in the orange can (K3?) or the SavOgrain heavy duty, both
easily available. For a door like that with one or two coats of finish, I
would get two quarts. While at HD, but a small box of painter's plastic a
nd come cheap plastic putty knives. Get some cheap painter's rags if you d
on't have old jersey "T" shirts or something similar. Get some 2" wide chi
p brushes to spread the stripper.
At Harbor Freight, buy a package of those little black cleaning brushes mos
tly used in the auto industry, and one of those in brass as well. Get some
blue nitrile gloves (you have to get a bunch, but you will be surprised ho
w handy they are!). Get some good quality, blue painter's tape. Get a quart
of the cheapest lacquer thinner they sell.
Take the hardware off the door. Take it out of the frame, and put it on som
e saw horses that are sitting on your painter's plastic (remember, don't ge
t the dry cleaing bag stuff). Take the hinges off, and put a piece of tape
on the hinges (both sides of the butt) and the hinge pin as well, or simpl
y put them into the frame as you remove them. Don't mix up the hinges or h
ow they were installed.
With your gloves on, soak a rag with the lacquer thinner, and wash off the
exterior surface of the door with the LT. Do not sand. On the hinge edge o
f the door, use a chip brush and apply a liberal coat of stripper at the bo
ttom inside edge of the hinge side. Be careful not to put so much it drips
to the back side. Time the treated area and watch for bubbles. After abou
t 10 minutes, try lifting up the finish with one of your plastic putty knif
e. Try this until the finish comes up easily, keeping note of the time need
Wrap the edge of the door with your painter's tape, making sure you have a
good bond. Apply a thick coat of stripper with your 2" brush. Get some he
lp at this point, and put a piece of your painter's plastic over the door w
ith the stripper on it. This will keep the solvents from evaporating and a
llow the stripper to work harder. Once you have the door covered, get a cu
p of coffee and wait (guessing... 20-30 minutes) to a little longer than yo
ur test area time. Carefully pull up a corner of the plastic and see how w
ell it is working after the wait time. If it needs a little more time, cov
er back up and drink more coffee, another 10 minutes.
Roll back the plastic about 1/4 of the way. Take your putty knives and cle
an off the lifted finish and stripper. When you are removing large wads of
gunk, put them in a small cardboard box you have sitting on your covered a
rea. Put about an inch of sawdust in the bottom of the box to keep the moi
st finish from soaking through. For larger areas of a door, I go to the do
llar store and buy a large, heavy duty stiff scrub brush and it will make s
hort work of tough remnants of finish. Scrub away!
Use your brushes to clean the grooves, the dents, scratches, and any other
feature or defect that is holding the old finish. Add more stripper if you
need to (remember those gloves...) and clean the 1st quarter. Work your w
ay up the door, not exposing more than you need to as you DO NOT want the s
tripper to dry out before you get to it. And remember, you might have to s
trip it twice, and if so, the second time will probably be a walk. At this
point, do not sand.
After you have pulled all the finish off that you can at the first attempt,
look closely. Can you see the exposed, bare wood in most places? Have so
me tough places like dents or molding profiles that are holding finish? If
you do, put some stripper in a small container and dip the brush into the
stripper and get on those spots. You should be able to remove 99% of the f
inish if you are doing the removal correctly, leaving only small amounts in
the features like grooves, ogee edges, etc. Remember, you may have to str
ip twice, but looking at the pictures, not likely.
When the door is clean, SOAK a large rag with your lacquer thinner and wash
the stripped side. The LT will remove most of any last little bits, but m
ore importantly, the thin film of finish left behind will be distributed ac
ross the surfaces. Let the door dry, and it should look bare when it is co
mpletely dry. Still, no sanding.
So, when do you sand? Me, almost never. If I have to remove defects like
dog claw marks that are deep in the grain, water stains, lifted grain from
moisture, or most usually when finished is ladled on in corners of windows,
etc., and you just can't get it all out. Mind you, I use toothpicks, doll
ar store tooth brushes, brass brushes, etc., so I have an arsenal of tools
handy. Sandpaper is my least favorite.
When you strip, the stripper dissolves the finish under it. It leaves behi
nd a tiny bit of colorant, a tiny bit of resin, and no telling what other c
hemicals. When you strip as I described and faithfully wash with LT, then
the left behind film is consistent across the whole door. That means 1) yo
u stains/glazes will look the same when you recolor as they will absorb the
same with the remnants acting as a conditioner (pretty cool, right?) and 2
) your final coating will be uniform in appearance with less high and low s
I will sand, but mostly as little as possible to mitigate damage to the sur
face. When you sand a door to refinish, you NEVER, EVER get all the finish
off, and the stuff left behind can and most usually will foul your colorin
g or clear coat. We've all seen it, part of a large piece has a different
sheen, or different colors since the sanding technique wasn't 100% perfect.
I can't sell blotchy; you can't easily sealcoat and expect your efforts to
match the resins left behind on a decades old surface. And when you sand,
it is impossible to get in all the nooks,crannies and profile edges that y
ou can with stripper and the right brush. Stripping is much less messy, to
So for me, with some small qualification, no sanding. My clients pay for a
s good as I can get, and I practiced plenty before I came up with the metho
d that works for me. As always, YMMV!
ouse for eventual sale. I'd like the front door not to be a blemish on what
is a reasonably handsome house, and I'd also like to be kind to the eventu
al buyer and use something durable.
Are you a fluent sprayer for top coat applications? Do you prefer brush? F
I spray anything that can't run faster than me if possible, but have had gr
eat luck foam padding some long oils. My choices of finish will make some
blush here, but they have stood the test of time, so I stand behind them.
Let us know what your application preference is, and you will get a flood o
f opinions. Just remember, exterior finishing and interior finishing of pr
ojects are two completely different animals. The good news is that good to
p coats are plentiful.
On 5/13/2017 2:57 AM, firstname.lastname@example.org wrote:
I'm sorry I haven't gotten around to thanking you for this very detailed
response. It sounds more complicated than I was hoping though. This is
after all the entry door of the house. I was hoping for a method that
would allow the door to be reinstalled in the same day, even if it would
of course need more coats of finish afterward.
I may have to rethink it.
This email has been checked for viruses by Avast antivirus software.
From what I see I'd be inclined to take the door down, put it on tall saw
horses, remove all hardware, then use scrapers to remove the finish... card
scrappers. Yes they need to be sharpened, but they don't clog up like
sandpaper does when removing film finishes and it's actually faster than
sanding. I'd scrape the grooves too. Then give it a light sanding with the
ROS and 100 grit disks... hand sand the grooves. Wipe it all down with paint
thinner or naphtha to clean off the remaining sanding dust, dirt, etc.
I'd see what you have after sanding... It might need filling if the surface
of the wood is cracked or has wide open pores. Check with your supplier
regarding an appropriate filler in regards to the stain you pick. Regarding
the stain, keep in mind that the original finish was probably sealed with an
oil based film finish that "ambered" over the years.
I'd go with an oil based brush on spar varnish or polyurethane.
I'd think that over the course of a long day this could be done through the
first coat of finish. You'll have to wait for filler to dry if needed, and
you'll have to wait for the stain to dry, so it's not constant labor! You
generally need to wait overnight to recoat so overall it's more than a 1 day
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