Refinishing exterior doors is no easy task. If you're thinking about stripping paint off your doors and staining them to return them to their original glory, you won't want to miss this tutorial for how to refinish wood doors!
“I am fairly handy”. That’s what I like to tell myself before I start a project around the house.
“I’m having serious doubts if this was a good idea”. This is usually something I definitely think and most likely say to my wife while I’m in the doldrums of each said house project.
“Man, this is not the best use of my time”. A reoccurring thought as I’m making a second or third run to the hardware store
“I absolutely love how it turned out”. Finally, this is a dominant thought including a self-satisfied grin and corresponding head nod as if someone else was also admiring the results of my work.
How to Refinish Wood Doors
Alright then. If this sounds anything like you then we have something in common: we love working around our homes and sometimes bite off a big project where we could use a little help. Today I’m going to cover stripping, re-staining and sealing solid wood doors with a transom window. I’m going to call it like I saw it: the good, the bad and everything in-between. But rest assured you can do this. Trust me, if I can then I know you can.
First thing first. You should set about gathering your tools.
Supplies for Refinishing Doors:
- Paint Scrapers (size will vary)
- plastic drop cloth
- hand sander
- fine/medium sandpaper
- painters tape
- mineral spirits
- foam brushes
- bristle brushes
- rubber gloves
- weather stripping
- old rags/cloths
- Patience!! Lots of it!
TIP: the Citristrip was incredibly helpful. I ended up applying it several times to certain areas throughout the project.
How to Prepare to Refinish a Door
Now that you have your materials set aside it’s best to prepare your work site and get to it. After taping the plastic drop cloth down to protect the house and porch I removed flaking paint/stain with a paint scraper. I tried both metal and plastic scrapers-I preferred the metal. To be honest I have a favorite scraper (which makes me feel REALLY OLD). I then applied a liberal coat of Citristrip with a foam brush. You will end up throwing away the brush so there’s really no need to use an expensive, high-quality brush.
You have some time once you apply the stripper. Once you’ve waited the appropriate time (refer to your specific manufacturer instructions) for the stripper to work start from the top and work your way down. Be careful not to gouge the wood as you scrap the old paint/stain off. Tip: I cleaned up after each day to prevent the old paint/stain that was congealed from blowing around.
If you have detailed wood work you may need a smaller scraper and/or a second coat of stripper. Par for the course: I needed both!
(Another option: folks have told me that a heat gun also works very well with removing old paint/stain, but I haven’t tried it so I can’t vouch for it yet).
How to Strip Paint
Depending on the size of your project this is your first patience gut punch. It took me A LOT longer than I initially thought. I actually thought I could get this done in a weekend. I’m literally laughing right now because it took me closer to 3 weeks when I factored in things like work, kids soccer/basketball, dinner-you know life in general). On the bright side, I needed a break because my arms were sore from all of the scraping and careful paint/stain removal.
How to Prepare Wood for Staining
So let’s make a leap in the project to where we are done with the Citristrip. I used the hand sander to remove any blemishes and generally smooth out the wood. On the detailed wood
About this time in the project I had fully realized my underestimation of how long it would actually take to do the project, but had accepted that I was in to win it. Honestly the careful removal of the old paint/stain was the hardest part.
With the doors, frame and transom free of old paint/stain I conditioned the wood and let it dry.
How to Stain a Wood Door
The preparation included rechecking the tape on the windows, brick and threshold. Once complete I started at the top by staining the transom. I used a foam brush and a small piece of t-shirt to apply the stain. The foam brush helped in some of the smaller, detailed or hard to get areas while the t-shirt was useful to cover larger areas and help ensure an even stain application. Pay attention to the weather. Ideally you’ll apply the stain with low winds, low pollen and a warm temperature. (I would refer to specific manufacturer instructions for your specific stain) You’ll also want to check to ensure it isn’t supposed to rain so the stain can dry properly.
As you apply the stain pay attention to areas that may drip or run. For me those areas were around the door hardware and corners of detailed wood work. I also left the doors propped open so I could properly stain the entire door (including the areas that are covered when the door is fully closed.
Once the stain is dry and you are happy with the appearance it’s time to apply the lacquer.
How to Lacquer a Wood Door
The same weather concerns that apply to the stain also apply to the lacquer. Again, I started at the top of the transom and worked my way down. Keep a watch for drips again too. You’ll want to start with enough time for the lacquer to dry before closing the doors fully. Here’s another key time to exercise patience. After the second lacquer application I really wanted to stop. I had been at this project for what seemed like 6 months and I just wanted to be done with it. Don’t stop though. This is where you’ll turn good to great!
After wiping down the door to remove any dirt I applied the third coat. Of course I had to wait the appropriate drying times between each coat. After the third coat you can remove the painters tape. You may have small areas that either weren’t stained or lacquered properly. At this point you can touch up the stain with a Q-tip or very small paint brush. Then lacquer as necessary to seal the wood. You’ll also want to clean the glass which may require a razor paint scraper.
How to Install Weatherstripping
Once everything is clean and the doors are touched up it’s time to install new weather stripping. I purchased a dark brown weather stripping to blend in with the dark doors. This was about the easiest part of the project! Simply measure the top and each side of the door frame and cut the weather stripping accordingly. I started with the top and put once complete piece across the top. With the top installed I installed the left and right sides by pushing the stripping in securely.
Each product is different, but my lacquer recommended checking and reapplying every year. However, it also depends on where you live and how much direct sunlight and inclement weather your entry way receives. So there really isn’t a one stop answer. I recommend checking it every 6 months or so.
Enjoy your handy work!
So that’s it! Take a few steps back, grin and even allow a few slight head nods because you’ve done it. You completed the project and it hopefully looks awesome! Even though the project took much longer than I expected I really do love how it turned out. I have no idea how much it would have cost me to pay someone to do it, but I do know that every time I walk through that door way I feel good about the work I put in and the value I added to my home. I hope you enjoy that same feeling!
Let me know how it goes.