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DIY Tales: Front Door Refinishing

By 1914 Foursquare on Sep 18, 2010


I was going to wait until I finished stripping the exterior paint to do the front door. But I changed my mind. While I was using the heat gun to remove paint on the front exterior wall trim, I couldn't help but remove some of the peeling black spray paint from the front door. Then, after giving up on my porch ceiling project for this season, I switched focus to the door instead. I used Peel Away 7 to remove the rest of the paint, inside and out, while the door was still hung. This is such a pain to do around all the detailed work. It took me a couple weekends of applying Peel Away 7, scraping, reapplying, more scraping, etc. Then I finally removed the door, laid it on a couple sawhorses, and began sanding.


I had to sand through the remaining stain which is dark on the outside, lighter on the interior side. I was afraid to start with 80 grit and considered using 100 grit instead, with a palm sander. But I already had 80 on the sander so I went with it. I ended up sanding the same spot for hours before deciding to go down to 60 grit. The grain is raised and the wood is so hard that it takes FOREVER to sand down to the recessed grain in order to get all the stain out. I spent an entire day sanding with the palm sander using 60 grit sandpaper and didn't even get 1/4 of the exterior of the door done. In total I think I spent about 3 months sanding the door. In retrospect, I shouldn't have sanded all the stain out of the grain and all, and just did the surface.


I then used Minwax gel stain (since it is the only stain rated for exterior) and it came out like crap. The first problem was that the stain brought out sanding marks that I hadn't seen, especially since I began this project by using a palm sander which was a big mistake because I missed the low spots. I did not like the way the stain was coming out, the color was nothing like the sample at the store and the door did not want to absorb the stain. I ended up putting 3 or 4 coats of the gel stain on in an attempt to make it darker but it just wasn't happening.


I sanded the door back down again and switched to Sherwin Williams oil based stain. I still saw some sanding marks so I sanded the door again which took almost all the stain off the surface again. Then I applied another coat. I was finally happy with the surface and applied a few more coats in an attempt to make it darker. For some reason it just really did not want to get darker and would barely accept the stain so I finally decided to just be happy with it.


I then applied a coat of Helmsman Spar Varnish in gloss. Despite my best effort to keep crap out of it, there was a ton of fuzz, hairs, and I guess air bubbles in the surface. I sanded the entire door again with 320 grit. I then applied a 2nd coat of the gloss spar varnish. It wasn't as bad as the 1st but still a lot of trash. I sanded it again with 320 and switched to Satin spar varnish (didn't like the high gloss). There is still crap in it but I will wait at least a few weeks (or months) for it to cure completely before sanding it with very fine sandpaper and buffing it out. I also cleaned 100 yrs of gunk off the brass hardware and polished it. This project took over a year of on and off work to finally complete and I'll never do it again. But if I were to go back, this is what I would have done:

  1. Take the door down and put another in it's place (I rehung this door so many times I lost count and it weighs a ton and the struggle to get it on and off caused the screws on the hinges to loosen up in the holes which I had to fix later).
  2. Sand the entire door BY HAND with 100 grit just to get the stain off the surface.
  3. Stain with liquid oil based stain.
  4. Apply 2 or 3 coats of gloss Spar Varnish sanding in between each. I'd build a makeshift paint booth to keep crap out.
  5. Apply a final coat or 2 of satin Spar Varnish. Wait for it to cure completely. Sand and buff it out to perfection.

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