How to Refinish a Door
A pro's secrets for rejuvenating weather-beaten wood
The years and the elements hadn't been kind to the exterior of this 94-year-old, thick, cypress door. Flakes of varnish still clung to the wood in spots, while the rest of the surface was rough and dried out from the effects of water and sun. Wood entry doors everywhere suffer from the same assaults, and many end up in the trash, replaced by low-maintenance, mass-produced metal and fiberglass surrogates. But homeowners Belinda Chase and Scott Oja were determined to save this door—they knew the value of the antique, with its oval light of rippled, mouth-blown glass and its sturdy, all-wood construction. So they hired painting contractor John Dee to bring it back to life.
Dee, who has worked on many This Old House television projects, attacked the splotchy surface with sandpaper and scrapers until the old pine door was as fresh and as fragrant as the day it was built. By mid-afternoon, the door was ready for its new finish: a high-performance, oil-based varnish to highlight the wood's rich color and grain. Three coats later, it gleamed like aged mahogany. "I can't believe it's the same door," said Chase. "It's just so beautiful."