Advice on Refinishing 30+ Year Old Door
When my late Wife and I sold our previous home, it had a beautiful 42" solid lumber entry door.  It was a "teardown sale," so we salvaged the door and had it installed at our son's home.  By now, the door is about 30+ years old and is in desperate need of refinishing.  It now resides on sawhorses in my shop.  I am an accomplished woodworker, but a total novice at refinishing, so I desperately need guidance.

1.  The door is a 42" door with 7 raised panels.  I think it is Douglas Fir, but not sure.  
  a.  It is in good physical condition except for a couple of minor stress splits and some carpenter bee holes.  I will repair these while it is on the sawhorses.  The exterior side is up.
  b.  It is a brute to move, and requires two men, one of which is not me, to move in any direction.  I live alone and my son lives 40 miles away, so I have to schedule any movement.

2.  I plan to do the repairs and sand the now almost unfinished surfaces while it is on the sawhorses.  I don't know how to sand around the raised panels, but think steel wool might do the trick.  Then comes the hard part.

3.  I think it needs to be stripped next.  I think it needs to be in vertical orientation for this, so the stripper doesn't accumulate in the raised panels.  However, I think the stripper would work better while it is flat.
  a.  I have a hook in my ceiling which will sustain (not suspend) it in vertical mode.
  b.  I plan to set it on blocks on the shop floor and use the ceiling hook to sustain it.
  c.  The interior side is in good condition with whatever kind of exterior varnish was favored thirty years ago.  I have thought about leaving it alone, other than some touch-up, and try to match the refinished exterior side to it.
  d.  I have also thought about un-adopting my son and donating the door to the homeless.
  e.  Also don't know what kind of stripper to use.

That is how far I have gotten.  I am adrift in a sea of ignorance, so don't worry about "talking down" to me.  Questions invited and all advice will be enormously appreciated.

Merry Christmas,
Russ Walden
  Re: Advice on Refinishing 30+ Year Old Door by rwalden (When my late Wife an...)
Are the panels trapped in the frame members or are they held with moldings?  If they are held by moldings you can remove the moldings on one side and then remove the panels which will make it a lot easier to sand and refinish them.  If the panels are trapped in dados in the frame, however, you will have no choice but to refinish them in place.  

If there is almost no finish on the outside I don't see why you would need to strip it.  Just sand it all to clean wood after you have made any needed repairs.  

Is the door going to be protected from direct sun and the elements in its new location?  Longevity of a wood door is directly related to exposure and the type of finish.  

Was the outside varnished like the inside and do you want to use varnish again?  PPG Cetol Door and Window finish is pretty great stuff on exterior wood doors that get direct weather and sun exposure.  Goes on great with a regular brush.  White paint is about the longest lasting finish, black the worst choice.  

If the inside needs some refreshing perhaps you can just scuff sand the existing varnish and apply a new coat or two of oil based interior varnish.  

I would do everything flat, if possible.  Put a big lag screw in the center of each end and set those on saw horses.  No you can rotate the door from one side to the other without difficulty.  Plug the holes when you are done.  

Can you post a picture of the door?  

  Re: RE: Advice on Refinishing 30+ Year Old Door by jteneyck (Are the panels trapp...)
John --

Thanks for the reply.

The door spent its entire life in covered entries (2), so it had no direct exposure to the elements, and will be again in covered entry. The finish on the upper 1/3 is still in pretty good condition, only the lower 2/3 has badly deteriorated.  The interior side is almost pristine.  Both sides were varnish over stain, and I want to retain that as I strongly prefer the natural appearance.  (Painting nice wood seems like an unnatural act.)

The panels (there are 8, not 7) have moldings.  I will have to remove one set to check and will post.

Scuff sand and revarnish interior side sounds good.  I think that will be enough.

I like the lag bolt idea, but it kinda makes me nervous.  That sucker is heavy.  I'll have to find big lag bolts to avoid splitting.

Picture at this link:


  Re: RE: Advice on Refinishing 30+ Year Old Door by rwalden (John -- Thanks fo...)
Once you get the panels out the door won't weigh that much.  If you're still concerned use two lag bolts or 1/2" dowels a couple of inches apart on each end.  You'll get twice the load capacity and still be able to flip it w/o much effort.  

If you decide stripping the finish on the outside is the right move, do that first, before sanding.  I like KleanStrip Premium, but I don't think it's available anymore.  Sorry, I haven't had to try any of the less hazardous ones yet, so I can't recommend one.  

  Re: RE: Advice on Refinishing 30+ Year Old Door by jteneyck (Once you get the pan...)
John --
I think I will use a single large lag bolt for the bottom because I have about 8 inches of wood, then use two dowels on the top where I have only about 4 inches.  Great idea, thanks.

Still don't know about stripper, but not going to venture out until after Christmas.

Merry Christmas,
  Re: Advice on Refinishing 30+ Year Old Door by rwalden (When my late Wife an...)
To echo John, strip first, then sand. Stripping will help get old finish out of the pores and fivers of the wood whereas sanding won't unless you sand well below finish penetration. As for the raied panels, consider using scrapers to maintain the fine detail.
Thanks,  Curt
"Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards."
      -- Soren Kierkegaard
  Re: RE: Advice on Refinishing 30+ Year Old Door by cputnam (To echo John, strip ...)
re: scrapers

Thanks, good idea.


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