When we first started work on the farmhouse, we initially planned to salvage and refinish the original front door. The door had a large window and two sizeable sidelights that let in plenty of sunshine. The glass was plain and the woodwork, though covered in many layers of chipping paint and lumpy caulk, was a simple yet traditional nod to the house’s age and original aesthetics. It was charming, and we hoped that repurposing it would not only lend to the original character we loved so much but also save us a few dollars down the road.
Fast-forward a couple months into demo and all roads to refurbishing the original door led to the same answer: too much damage. We ended up rebuilding the entire door with new wood, and you know what that adds up to … a hefty chunk of change. Knowing the door wouldn’t be considered original once "repaired” and that it would cost more than a new, energy-efficient one, we buckled and decided to buy a new door for the front entry.
I knew that when selecting the door I wanted to stay as close as possible to the original style. I searched online, visited big-box retailers and small, locally owned and operated businesses looking for the right door at an affordable price—that last stipulation was the most challenging of them all! A small millworks operation in my hometown turned out to be the ticket.
They ordered an unfinished hickory door directly from the manufacturer, allowing me the flexibility to add or omit details to suit my design. To match the old door as closely as possible, I chose plain glass, left off the extra moldings that would make it a tad too fussy in comparison to the original and went with the simplest insets possible.
Buying an unfinished door can save big bucks in the buying process, as long as you’re prepared to put in the time and elbow grease to finish the door yourself. Once the door was installed, I started sanding with fine-grit sandpaper. (When sanding, be sure to follow the grain so you don’t get scratches, squibbles and rough patches!) After the initial sanding, I gave it a once over with steel wool before wiping down thoroughly with a tack cloth.
Photo by Stephanie Staton
Here’s where it gets intense: You must start with a coat of sanding sealer. This pulls any impurities and dirt to the surface for you to sand off. Sand and buff with steel wool, wipe with tack cloth, and apply the first of three coats—you heard right … three coats—of spar polyurethane. Because this is an exterior door, you need exterior rated sealant, such as spar; regular poly will not stand up the elements.
Between each coat of sealant, buff with steel wool and wipe with tack cloth to remove as much dust and grime as you can. Avoid touching the door with your skin after you’ve buffed and wiped it—the oils in your fingers could transfer to the door and leave a mark that shows up after sealing, and it stays because, well, it’s sealed in place.
As you apply the sealer, do so sparingly. Poly is thin and runny and will drip easily, which is why you need at least three coats. You want to apply them as evenly as you can and continually step back to check for runs. If you miss one, sand it out before applying the next layer; otherwise, it too will be a permanent reminder of your error. (I recommend having someone else check the door for drips, too. It seems to help if you have a second opinion that hasn’t been staring at the door and gone cross-eyed from the extreme proximity.)
One final tip: Confirm that the windows have been properly sealed to avoid water penetrating the wood’s interior, causing it to swell. If it’s not sealed, buy waterproof silicone and run a bead around the edges where the glass is sandwiched between the wood. You can use your finger to press it into the groove and smooth the silicone, or you can purchase a tool for doing the same thing.
Your door is one of the first and last things guests see when visiting your house. Be sure to think through the aesthetic, functional and energy-wise needs of your home before making the investment. If you plan to restore an old door, get quotes and advice from experts prior to committing.
Now that the door is done, I’m ready to put out the welcome mat and hang a wreath. My husband suggested I wait until we have siding, though. Have you restored or replaced an entry door on your farmhouse?
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