How to Restore a Wooden Door

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One of the main focal points of a Victorian property is the door and entrance area, which often showcase the period’s ornate elegance and styling. It’s not surprising then, that many wish to retain these features during a refurbishment or restoration project. So here’s a step-by-step guide on how best to go about restoring a Victorian door to its former glory.

Exterior or Interior

To begin with, do you have an exterior or interior door? Exteriors doors require more attention due to their exposure to the elements which can wreak havoc with most wood finishes. For the sake of this article, we’ll assume that you have an exterior door.

Remove the Door

Take the door off its hinges and rest it flat on a pair of sawhorses, covering the floor with protective sheeting. Any hardware such as hinges, latches, letter-boxes and numbering should be removed. Glass should be covered with masking paper.

How to restore a wooden door.

Remove the Paint

Due to its age a Victorian-style door will probably be plastered with numerous coats of paint. So you’ll need to decide how to remove the coatings. This is important because most paint used before the 1960s contained lead. To protect against any health hazards, you can go one of two ways: have the doors dipped or stripped. There are plenty of companies that offer dipping services and the turnaround times are usually pretty quick. The other option is stripping. While it’s safe for non-specialists to perform this task themselves, provided precautions are taken (respirator, disposable coveralls), it is often a good idea to leave these kinds of jobs to professionals.

Lead-free Paint Removal

If you’re certain that the door’s paint is lead-free then remove as much of the original finish as you can with a pull-scraper. Scrape both sides of the door, taking care not to apply too much pressure – over-eager scraping can mar the wood. You can remove the rest of the old finish with a chemical stripper such as methylene chloride. Apply a thick coat to one side of the door and then scrape it off once the finish has softened. Once the first side is complete, rub it down with a rag or duster soaked in mineral spirits – this helps to neutralise the chemicals contained in the stripper solution.

Sanding, Staining and Top Coats

Sand the door down to bare wood and then apply wood stain. Use a standard paintbrush, removing any excess as you go. Apply a top-coat on to the door – for exterior doors which will be exposed to the sun, a spar vanish can prove very useful as it provides a strong degree of protection against UV rays. Once the first coat has dried, flip the door over and paint the other side.


After you’ve finished sanding and painting re-attach the door’s hardware. If some parts are beyond repair consider replacing them. There are numerous hardware and DIY outlets that stock period door accessories so you should be spoiled for choice. Also be sure to look at salvage yards. Alternatively, you could take the contemporary route and purchase modern door fittings although proceed with caution and look for fittings that compliment rather than clash.

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