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How To: Restore an Antique Door

How To: Restore an Antique DoorThis 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.
This is 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.
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20 thoughts on “How To: Restore an Antique Door

  1. My 100-year-old front door and frame need refinishing/repair/restoration. It has come off the hinge and the closer doesn’t function easily.
    The restoration company is booked until May 2024. I’m seeking a cost-effective way to get the door working better. My thoughts are to do the above-mentioned repairs to tie me over until May. Just curious if anyone has any other thoughts on the matter. Thank you.

  2. I have a 100-year-old door and frame that need to be refinished/rebuilt. Because of damage, the door doesn’t open easily and the restoration company is booked until May 2024. The door has come off the hinge and the closer has issues. I’m thinking of fixing the hinge and closer for function. I want a cost-effective solution that will allow the door to function better until May. Any thoughts?
    Thank you!

  3. The entrance to my 1950s house is a stile and rail wood door which has a “fan light” incorporated into the top 1/3 of the door. It’s called a “fanlite,” or “sunburst” door in the U.S. In the UK and Australia, it’s known in the industry as a classic “Carolina door.” I can’t find out how/when the “Carolina” name originated. Does anyone know the answer? My research on the Net has been futile. Thanks!

  4. Do you have a way to get an old water damage stain out of my antique front wooden door. It shows up at a blackened splotch near the top under the glass window panes.

  5. I am trying to restore a 1934 arched 36×83 inch front door. The inside is very good, but the outside lower portion looks like it is laminated and the lamination is coming apart.
    The outside also appears to have a 1/2 inch trim around the whole door.

  6. I was given a door from my aunts 1906 farm house in Ohio. I brought it to Florida and the humidity has bubbled the few layers of paint. What is underneath is a beautiful stained with it looks like poly or some other clear layer which has some bubbling. I would love to keep the stain and just remove the rest of the paint and the clear coating. Should I use a heat gun for the paint then sand the clear coat? And suggestions would be appreciated.

  7. I would like to restore the interior wood doors of my craftsman bungalow house. Removing the door panel from the hinges is fine. My question is do we need to salvage and keep the interior door frame? The door frame is caked on with paint and might be hard to salvage. Is having the original frame with the orginal door crucial

  8. My door is tongue and groove 2×6’s covered with 1/4″ plywood. The problem is that the plywood is worn beyond repair but every square inch of it is glued down Is there an easy way to remove it? Right now I’m placing a wet towel down and heating it up with an iron with so-so results. Any advice would be appreciated. Thanks.

  9. I’m wondering if I need to oil the door is real dry should I oil it before I stain it and then put on a varnish or just oil and stain

  10. I have bought Antique Spanish Fountain for my Backyard from Pittetarch.com, Their services is quite impressive and product quality is really unbelievable. Customer support excellent.

  11. I have two antique entry doors that have oval windows that are held in place by a small rounded piece of wood strip. I need to replace this strip of wood because some of it is broken. Do you have an idea where I can purchase it?

  12. got perfect entry door for my 1911 brick bungalow. want to keep old look. been cleaning and evening out the stain with antique cleaner/ nourishing restoring stuff I got at antique store. maybe give a stain and wipe, then rub in lot’s of tung oil???

  13. I am trying to restore old door. Has old repair/change from knob on left to right which leaves hole on left side. Would love to just cover with decorative plate but not sure where to find one. Original plate is about 2×5 inches.

  14. 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!!

  15. 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.

    1. 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.

  16. 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?

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