How To: Restore an Antique Door

This is a Guest Post by Mike Zook. Mike has been writing about home improvement topics for many years. Click here to find out more about door retrofitting.

As anyone who’s ever owned or loved an antique home knows, their beauty and uniqueness are only exceeded by one thing – the number of problems that need to be fixed. This can be tough and costly enough in a modern home, but at least you know there’s probably an assembly line’s worth of replacement parts out there.
Not so if you’re trying to properly restore an antique. Even if it’s not one of a kind, you’ll still have far fewer options available to you, and many professionals may not even know the best ways to help.

So, here’s the low down on restoring an antique door.

Repairing an Antique Door

An antique door is a unique problem, because it’s a small enough job that it seems fairly easy but important enough that you don’t want to mess up since doors are so highly visible. The most common repair that needs to be done on antique doors is usually patching old hinge gains and latch holes with a wood Dutchman. Here’s the easiest step-by-step process:

  • Remove paint from the area you need to repair so that you’re dealing with only bare wood.
  • Measure the repair area.
  • Cut a block of wood that is slightly larger than the area you measured.
  • Place the new block of wood over the area you need to repair and trace the outline on the surface of the door.
  • Following the outline you created, carefully chisel out the bad wood that you need to replace. This will make a “pocket” where the new block of wood can be attached. The goal is to make it a snug fit.
  • Using wood glue, press-fit the replacement block of wood into the pocket. Most of the time this will succeed in holding it in place, but if not, you may have to clamp or tack the block.
  • Work the surfaces of the replacement block with your chisel or a sharp plane until they become flush with the rest of the door and it’s all one smooth piece.

Other jobs for your antique door might include replacing or polishing up hardware like the knobs, locks, and keyhole covers. Luckily, there are salvage yards and other places that specialize in antique hardware. If they don’t have exactly what you’re looking for, chances are they will at least have something very close. And if you’re moving the door to a new space, you may also find that you need to build the door up or cut it down so that it fits in the new frame.

Refinishing an Antique Door

This can be quite a process to do correctly, so it’s probably worth your while to check the area and see if there’s a professional carpenter who can at least do some of the work for a reasonable rate.

  • Stripping – The first thing you’ll probably want to do is strip the paint. If you’re lucky, there will only be a few layers, but far too many people simply slap on more paint when they want things to look new and fresh, so you’ll likely be dealing with quite a few. Methyl chloride is VOC solvent and is probably the best way to remove those layers, but it’s not fun to use. Besides not being very green, the chemical is harsh and can be dangerous if you’re exposed to a lot of it for a long time. You’ll also want to use steel wool to help scrape away the paint and sand paper to smooth it out as much as possible.
  • Staining – The next step is staining the wood, and you’ve already helped yourself if you used the steel wool. Why? Because that raises the grain of the wood, making it easier for it to take the stain. If possible, you want to apply several coats of stain and leave about a day in between each one so that it can dry.
  • Finishing – For a truly classical look, avoid the plastic look of polyurethane finishes and go with something like Tung oil. Because it naturally polymerizes itself, Tung oil both helps the wood to breathe and protects it from the elements. This, too, should be applied several times, and for best results, you want to use fine 0000 steel wool to scuff the finish between coats.


Get the latest posts emailed to you!

by Scott Sidler

I'm a historic preservationist and licensed contractor. I help old house lovers understand & restore their homes so they can enjoy the history and character that surrounds them more everyday! When not working, writing or teaching about old houses I spend most of my time fixing up my own 1929 bungalow with my wife Delores and sons Charley and Jude.


  1. karthy on said:

    i got them replaced via Canglow door and services to energy efficient doors and windows 😀 I should have known about these before I even got them replaced!!

  2. Erin on said:

    Thank you for this, although, I am dealing with a craftsman that the upside the wood is unpainted, the downside is someone did a sh*t job trying to make it look good again by messily using polyurethane or shellac or something with hard drips everywhere, uneven tones and even what may look like watered down brown paint in some areas. I think all I can do is strip and re-stain because it’s such a disaster. Most of the internet talks about stripping paint and not stripping stain and other things. My front door is a mess. Would love an article about stripping stain. Also my door has areas that look like the veneer may be buckling if that’s possible. Not sure if that is a repair for a amateur.

    • Erin stripping stain and poly is much the same as paint using the same chemicals and techniques. As for the veneer that is something over my pay grade. Other than gluing it down I’m not sure how to repair veneer.

  3. Kurt on said:

    I have a family heirloom door that I just had shipped from Germany. It was the front door on our family home possibly since the late 1700’s but for certain since the late 1800’s. It is super solid but appears to be quite a few years since it was last painted, and it’s extremely dirty. I’d like to find out how to at least clean it up, and possibly have it coated with a clear protectant. Any suggestions?

Leave a Reply

(Don't worry, we won't publish your email address.)