How to Restore Your Old Wood Front Door





Introduction: How to Restore Your Old Wood Front Door

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A wood front door is a great feature when it comes to your home’s curb appeal. However, years of exposure to sunlight, rain, snow and frost can significantly damage an exterior wood door and leave it looking worn out. With regular maintenance, your wood door can last for decades. But if your exterior door has been neglected for some time, it may be time for some serious restoration.

Step 1: Remove the Door From the Hinges and Lay Flat on a Pair of Sawhorses

The first thing you’ll need to do is remove the door from its hinges. Solid wood doors are extremely heavy so you’ll need some help for this step. Open the front door and lay some wood blocks under the bottom edge in order to help support the door. Remove the hinges by taping the pins upwards with the help of a flat head screwdriver. The door should now slide out from the hinges. Lay the door flat on your sawhorses.

Ideally you should work outside in the shade as you don’t want to expose the door to the sun while staining or applying varnish.

Step 2: Remove All Door Hardware

If the door is still in fairly good condition without significant deterioration, you may be able to get away with just re-coating with some spar varnish. Otherwise your best bet is to strip down the door completely before refinishing. The first thing you need to do is remove all the door hardware, including the handle, deadbolt cylinder, mail slot, knocker, kick plate, etc. Sure, you can get away with leaving the hardware on, but you’ll be disappointed by the finished look. After all, if you’re going to do all this hard work, you might as well do it right.

Tip: if you have an antique mortise lockset, you can remove the deadbolt cylinder by first unscrewing the 2 small screws situated on the face plate on the inside edge of the door (no need to remove them completely, just unscrew 3-4 full revolutions), then insert a heavy duty flat head screwdriver into the key hole and turn counter clockwise to unscrew the cylinder.

Step 3: Sand Down the Door

Now that the hardware is removed, it’s time to sand everything down. You can use a power sander for the flat surfaces, but you’ll need to sand the woodwork details by hand. The more intricate the carvings, the more tedious this process will be. Start with 60-grit paper and work your way up to 180-grit paper. Make sure you strip off all the previous finish.

Tip: Be careful when sanding wood adjacent to glass as sanding will scratch the window (I learned the hard way). Use painter’s tape to protect the glass. This will also come in handy when it’s time to stain & varnish.

Step 4: Remove All Traces of Sawdust & Apply Stain

Next, you can apply a stain of your choice, if desired. But first make sure to vacuum away all the the sawdust and then wipe down the door. Use a paint brush or rag to saturate the wood with the stain, then wipe it off with a painter’s rag. I used Varathane “early american” stain, as it was similar to the original door color. Apply a second coat if desired.

Step 5: Apply Exterior (spar) Varnish

After letting the stain dry, the most important step is to coat the door with exterior varnish. Exterior varnish (sometimes referred to as spar varnish, although it’s not real spar varnish like used on boats) is different from interior varnish as it has special additives that help protect wood from UV rays and from the elements. You’ll want to apply at least 2-3 coats of varnish. I went with a satin finish to give the door more of a mat look, but you can get varnish with a glossy finish if you prefer.

Step 6: Reinstall Hardware and Hang the Door

After letting the varnish dry according to the instructions, reinstall the door hardware. It’s also a good time to polish any brass fixtures if you have some, like my door’s highly tarnished brass kick plate. I used Brasso metal polish to restore the kick plate. Don’t be fooled however, restoring brass to its original shine is hard work and requires a lot of elbow grease, and then some. Nevertheless, the final result is highly satisfying.

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    9 Discussions

    Lovely job. Why is your door handle, or is a door knocker, so far down the door, on the bottom left side?

    1 reply

    If I had to guess, I would say that the door is at the top of the stairs without a porch. You can open the door from a few steps down to walk right in. Very nice restoration.

    thank you for this very informative guide. how do you clean the frame?

    Beautiful - you are very lucky to have such a nice oak door to start with.


    Putting in the effort and taking no shortcuts, certainly pays off. Excellent result. How long did it take from removing the door to hanging it up again?

    1 reply

    That's a great question! The truth is that it took me 3 days in all (day 1: sand and stain, Day 2: varnish 1st coat, and Day 3: varnish 2nd coat - the varnish required 24 hours between coats :(.) I hung the door after the varnish dried at the end of day 1 and planned to take it back down to varnish... but I ended up cheating and applying the varnish with the door hung. Turned out great anyways :)

    Wow, what a difference. Nicely done! :)