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How to Restore an Antique Door

Ask This Old House General Contractor, Tom Silva, helps two homeowners meticulously restore their original, 1918 front door using a paint stripper, mahogany veneer, and a polyurethane finish.

In this video, Tom Silva restores an antique door that is believed to be original to a 1918 home. The door has charm, but it is fading from the sun, chipping from the original veneer over the door, and has lots of issues with the current door hardware. The homeowners wanted to sand it down and refinish it on their own, but they were afraid that they would ruin the intricate detail in the moulding.

Tom warns that working on doors like theirs can be a ton of work. The beading detail alone will take a long time to strip down properly. Also, making the proper adjustments to the hardware—especially if they opt to replace it—can be both expensive and time-consuming. On top of that, applying a finish also takes a while. Still, the homeowners decide to forward with the project, and they get to work.

Steps for Restoring an Antique Door

1. Remove door from hinges.

2. If you are working with an old door, test the paint and/or varnish for lead.

3. Remove hardware and glass.

4. Carefully pry off moulding using a chisel and hammer.

5. Use a utility knife to remove silicone around the window.

6. Pull the nails from the moulding. Pull from behind so you don’t damage the face. Keep tight to the wood and roll gently.

7. Strip the old residue from the moulding using a paint stripper. Generously apply with a small paintbrush. Make sure you wear gloves and have plenty of ventilation.

8. Wrap in plastic and let the pieces sit for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

9. To repair the hole from the old deadbolt, Tom did the following:

  • Cut a hole in a scrap piece using a hole saw the same diameter as the deadbolt.
  • Apply fast-setting epoxy glue to the patch.
  • Place the plug into the hole and let the epoxy set.
  • Using the same scrap piece of mahogany, Tom cut out a dutchman to fill the space on the striker side of the door.
  • Tom cut a hole on the side of the door to fit the Dutchman.
  • Glue the dutchman into the side of the door.

10. Sand the door with fine sandpaper.

11. Apply the veneer to the door. Tom chose a mahogany peel-and-stick veneer, but it is possible to apply your own adhesive if you chose veneer without an adhesive backing.

12. As if you were painting a door, start with the panels and work your way out to the stile and rails.

13. Measure and cut the veneer into strips for the panels, stiles, and rails using a straightedge and utility knife. Leave each piece a ½ inch longer than needed to trim later.

14. Peel a small portion of the veneer and line it up to the desired area of the door. Do not push down until you feel you are perfectly centered. Once you feel confident, press down the unwrapped portion and slowly unpeel and push down the rest.

15. Starting from the middle of the veneer, roll out any bubbles. Be careful rolling off the edge as laminate can snap easily.

16. Cut the excess off with a knife.

17. Once all the veneer is on, take a sanding block to smooth.

18. Apply sanding sealer, and let it dry for 1 hour. Double-check the manufacturer’s instructions to ensure proper drying time.

19. Put a bead of an exterior window sealant in the window frame to set the glass in place.

20. Gently place the glass in the frame. You can use a rubber mallet to help set the window. Do not hit too hard as you could shock the glass.

21. Reinstall the moulding to the door.

22. Hang the door back up on the hinges.

23. Apply finish. Tom used a polyurethane finish using a soft brush. Start in the middle, working outwards, and follow the grain of the wood.

24. While the first coat is drying, install hardware.

25. Wait for both sides of the door to dry for about 24 hours. Sand it lightly with 220 paper and wipe with a damp rag and apply another coat. Repeat this step one time.


Resources

To restore the original 1918 front door, Tom used a variety of tools and techniques:

To strip the trim detail of its old finish, Tom applied paint & varnish stripper by Max Strip. The stripper is eco-friendly and low VOC, which makes it safer to use indoors than a traditional paint stripper. The brass scrub brushes used to actually remove the finish can be found at any home center.

To repair the door and smooth out imperfections, Tom applied a few coats of Bondo Wood Filler, which is manufactured by 3M. He then sanded the door smooth using a random orbital sander ETS EC 150/5 EQ-Plus, which is manufactured by Festool.

To resurface the door, Tom applied a sheet of khaya mahogany peel-and-stick veneer from Boulter Plywood. The veneer can be cut with a utility knife and applied evenly using a roller, which can be found at any home center.

Tom replaced the old hardware with a full mortise Harrison entryset with a Providence knob in an oil-rubbed bronze finish, which was provided by Emtek. The tools required to replace the hardware, including the screwdriver and chisel, can be found at home centers.

Materials

Tools