Refinishing Oak Front Door

moonkat99September 24, 2008

I posted this in the Home Repair section, then found this area - hope it's OK to post in 2 areas....

I'm replacing my South-facing front door with a beautiful vintage oak door, & I'm looking for advice on products to fix it up.

The existing varnish is worn in places, so I need to re-do it, & I've decided I'd like to strip it & stain it to give it a bit of a reddish color.

My questions: would you just sand it down or use something to help strip the old finish off? (I'm not thrilled about using some nasty chemical, but it seems important to get it all off, yes?)

Would you use some sort of conditioner before sealing, & if so, what do you recommend?

I'm thinking a marine polyurethane would be the best finish - any thoughts on this?

Thanks for any advice!

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I recommend using a chemical stripper. Sanding is tedious, inefficient, and risks sanding through veneer.

Marine polyurethane is an oxymoron. Polyurethane is not very UV resistant and you will be lucky to have it last a year.

Here is a link that might be useful: Options and comments on

    Bookmark   September 24, 2008 at 9:21PM
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Thanks (again) bobs.

1. I sanded for about half an hour tonight, & already came to the same conclusion about using a stripper. This is solid oak, so no worries about veneer, but tedious & inefficient - oh yes.

2. Paint. Paint? Paint. Hmmmmm..... I'm giving this serious consideration.

3. Are you putting Marine Spar Varnish in the same (not so good) category as Marine polyurethane? I have & was intending to use varnish (oil based); not sure why I wrote polyurethane.

    Bookmark   September 25, 2008 at 1:45AM
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I just went thru the same process a couple weeks ago. I took quickly discovered just sanding wasn't going to cut it. So after stripping the door and re-staining it a dark charcoal, I was at a loss what to put on for a topcoat.

And then I read bobsmyuncle's recommendation/attachment above. I would have been skeptical, but earlier this year, bob pointed me to Waterlox for my walnut counters & it's great stuff - so I think he's the king of good info....

So off I confidently went to Menards - they told me I was nuts, I said - listen, I trust these guys on Garden web and I want a can of your deepest base with no color in it (oil based paint). If it doesn't work, its' my problem. Oh and can we test to make sure it dries clear before I leave - they said it wouldn't, but it did - just a slight yellow to it. They said huh and asked again where I heard this tail....then they said about a hundred times - "ain't gonna work and the paint company isn't going to back you up, it's suppose to be mixed with a tint" . I finally said, listen I won't expect them to, this is my $25 experiment and off I went with my gallon (no quarts available) of dark base.

So how did it work - pretty darn good! It left a beautiful shiny finish (mine was semi satin). The only hesitation I have is that in a couple places, if you look closely and over analyze the situation, you will see a milky, hazy look. When I was putting it on, it was a bit thick in places and I thought I had spread it out good, but I missed a couple spots that were whitish and difficult to spread out further....I thought it would dry clearer in those places than it did. So be sure to apply light coats - the thick ones will still look cloudy when they dry. Now, let's just hope it survives a good 'ole MN winter or two or three before I have to repeat the process!

Good luck - I'd probably go to a good paint store and skip the Menards. Their product might be of a lesser quality and contributed to the milky haze as well. Couldn't have been me! Ha!

    Bookmark   October 1, 2008 at 7:48PM
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Hehehe - thanks for the report dls.

I ended up going with the Marine Spar Varnish - mainly because I already had it (although I could have returned it).

In fact, I just finished the 3rd coat today.

Let's check back with each other in a year, OK? ;-)

    Bookmark   October 1, 2008 at 8:05PM
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Moonkat -

Checking in a year later sounds good - because I almost went Spar, too.

By the way, what conditions will your door be living under?

M door's conditions are: west facing with afternoon sunshine in freezing cold Minnesota. Some protection from rain and snow....

Good Luck!

    Bookmark   October 2, 2008 at 1:45PM
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"ain't gonna work and the paint company isn't going to back you up, it's suppose to be mixed with a tint"

It's my understanding the amount of pigment in most paints actually causes a problem for the binder, this is why we use primers.

Well, most people that work in paint stores don't know squat about wood finishing. If I had more time and was a meaner person, I'd taunt them more. As a friend of mine says, "This is the same person that just loaded 20 bags of mulch in your neighbor's SUV."

    Bookmark   October 2, 2008 at 6:34PM
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"This is the same person that just loaded 20 bags of mulch in your neighbor's SUV."


dls ~ My South-facing door takes a beating from the sun, but at least no snow, & freezing temps are rare (SF Bay Area). The main problem is that it's totally exposed, & while a new porch & some sort of covering over the door area are on my wish list, first I have to recover from this current new door project - which grew into tearing down a wall, which means re-doing the tile at the entry & matching the old 1" oak flooring strips that meet it, repairing all of the sheetrock, moving the electrical that was in that wall, & of course repainting the entire living room & entry area & finding a match for the very old crown molding & re-doing the baseboard, & of course a new threshold.....that's what I know about so far.

All because of finding this beautiful "bargain" door on craigslist.

    Bookmark   October 3, 2008 at 2:42AM
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Now you have me chuckling - it IS amazing how one little thing leads to another! Good luck on your projects and we'll have to compare notes in a year!

    Bookmark   October 3, 2008 at 8:35AM
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This is something I normally avoid but one of my retail clients begged me to apply some varnish to his home's front door. He's swamped at the store and time is running short on outdoor work. He said he bought some "whaddya callit, Spar Varnish" and I cringed. I ensured it was not Helmsman before I accepted. He assured me it was not, as he mailed ordered it at $50/quart (about the going price for real spar varnish). It turned out to be Sikkens so I agreed to do it. Long story short, I've prepped, glazed, and applied two of three coats and it's looking good. The door gets just a few hours of late morning sun every day, so I'll have to report back in a year, too. I reminded him that the recommendation (for boats) is an annual refreshing.

    Bookmark   October 3, 2008 at 8:06PM
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I've checked around and Lowes and HD don't seem to be carrying the oil based exterior paint base any more. It's all latex/acrylic. I really wanted to give that a try as spar varnish doesn't hold up.
I have a south facing front door and my son has sailboat wood parts to protect. What is the best choice now? is there an online source of oil based paint bases?

    Bookmark   October 13, 2008 at 2:50PM
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Checking back in almost a year door looks just like it did last October! No real deterioration at all in the top coat from the untinted deep base oil paint.

Yeah!!!! How about the rest of you guys?

    Bookmark   August 17, 2009 at 10:02AM
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Well, it's June 2011 and nearly three years since my experiment....and my west facing Minnesota door is still holding up! I haven't needed to freshen it up at all -- holding up way better than any varnish product I've heard of! So, today I'm applying it to my mother's door with the same gallon of base I bought in 2008...I'M SOLD - works for me....

    Bookmark   July 1, 2011 at 9:47AM
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Thanks for the update. Glad it worked for you. I have a feeling the guys at Menards are probably not there any more.

The original link has gone stale and 404. Below is another source, same author.

Here is a link that might be useful: Paint as a clear finish.

    Bookmark   July 2, 2011 at 9:42PM
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Just keep in mind if you wait for the finish to fail it is likely to need to be stripped before restoring it.

Water wil have penetrated and disolored the underlying wood.

Spar is still a great finish, but it should be cleaned and coated periodically to maintain an intact surface.

Only when the build becomes unsightly is stripping then required.

    Bookmark   July 3, 2011 at 2:17PM
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