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How We Restored Our French Doors: A Step-by-Step Tutorial (UPDATED)

How We Restored Our French Doors: A Step-by-Step Tutorial (UPDATED)

the French Doors long Before our work began ...

the French Doors long Before our work began ...

October 2018 update: So, we’ve learned some stuff since posting this! We learned our doors are likely Miracle Doors, and they’re probably not solid oak. In fact, they are a mix of solid softwood and hardwood veneer. You can read more about Miracle Doors in our post here. But our process hasn’t changed! Keep scrolling for the tutorial - thanks for reading! - Katie

One of our (Pat’s) latest projects was restoring the wood doors in our living room. There are 4 doors in total: a pair of French doors, and two doors to our screened-in porch.

Wondering what they looked like before we started? There aren't many clear pictures from our updates, but I found a picture from when the previous owner was selling.

First things are the basics: removing the doors from the hinges and carefully moving them to our workspace downstairs. We also removed all the hardware. We stripped the paint from them using the crockpot method.

The Crockpot Method for Restoring Hardware

For those who are curious, the “crockpot method” is super simple. Also, I didn't make it up but I found it somewhere on the internet. It goes as follows:

  1. Get an old crockpot that you don’t use for food anymore (because lead paint and chemicals and whatnot)

  2. Put in any hardware that's covered in paint and needs a cleanup

  3. Put in enough water to cover for 1-2 inches

  4. Set crockpot to high

  5. Boil covered until the paint starts to bubble comes off.

You’ll still need to scrub and chip away the remaining paint, but the boiling water does most of the work for you. I recommend using the scrubby side of an old sponge or a plastic blade.

Prepping the Work Space

Once you have your doors free of hardware and in your workspace, use a couple of wood pieces covered in towels. This elevates the door off the work surface and protect your doors from the hard surface of the wood. The last thing you want is to dent the wood from pressure on the work surface.

STEP 1: Get That Paint OUT OF HERE (aka stripping paint)

Tools we used:

  1. Heat gun

  2. Citristrip

  3. Mineral spirits

  4. Putty knives

  5. Small biology dissecting kit (I feel needs an explanation. I found one of these kits in a box of Pat’s old high school stuff. I saved it thinking that the small tools would come in handy. They did. In fact, we had to order another one.)

First, Pat used a heat gun on every surface of the door except for near the muntons and the glass.

Once that heat gun work was done, he applied Citristrip to the entire door. Here’s how he did it:

  1. Apply Citristrip to entire surface

  2. Wait at least an hour

  3. Scrape off Citristrip (along with the paint and shellac) using a putty knife for main surface and dissecting kit for the nooks and crannies and around any muntons.

  4. Remove remaining Citristrip using mineral spirits to prevent staining and damage. For more stubborn spots, he also used steel wool.

  5. Let dry for a few days, because the mineral spirits raises the grain on the wood.

For the porch doors, we only restored one side. For our french doors, he restored both sides - so this process happened twice per door to get both sides.

The latch at the top of the doors. We cleaned the hardware and screws using the crockpot method.

The latch at the top of the doors. We cleaned the hardware and screws using the crockpot method.

STEP 2: Repair and Patch

Tools we used:

  1. Wood filler

This is pretty simple. Repair any holes with wood filler. Our doors has a few holes from where curtain rods and other coverings had been screwed or nailed into the wood, so all of those needed filling.

STEP 3: Sanding

Tools we used:

  1. Sandpaper (120 grit and 220 grit)

  2. Towels

  3. Vacuum

  4. Tack cloths

  5. Compressed air (for final cleanup)

Now you need to sand down every part of the surface to get rid of all the old paint, shellac, and stain. You want to end up with as smooth a surface as possible.

Pat sanded with 120 grit sandpaper, then moved to 220 grit. Occasionally he just went straight to the 220 grit.

Once he was all done sanding, he vacuumed the entire surface, wiped it down with a tack cloth, and finished with compressed air to really make sure all the dust was gone.

Once sanding was done, there were always little imperfections left behind. Any little spots that he couldn’t pick out, Pat just used use a dark brown paint and a small paintbrush to touch up the white and light spots. We got a small dark brown paint sample made up at our nearby Home Depot.

Pat also used some antique glass we had from an old window to create a new windowpane.

The original hardware. skeleton key is from  house of antique hardware .

The original hardware. skeleton key is from house of antique hardware.

STEP 4: Staining and Finishing

Tools we used:

  1. Frog tape

  2. Minwax pre-stain conditioner

  3. Minwax stain in Honey* (see note at the bottom of this post about stain color)

  4. Minwax Polyurethane in satin finish

  5. Clean brushes and sponges

Staining is pretty straightforward, if time consuming:

  • Apply pre-stain conditioner

  • Wait 20 minutes

  • Apply honey Minwax stain and quickly wipe of excess stain. 

  • Dry for at least 24 hours, sometimes more depending on humidity and weather.

  • Apply satin polyurethane finish - starting with vertical surfaces, and then flat surfaces

  • Wait 1-2 days

  • Lightly sand with 220 grit sandpaper to remove any air bubbles

  • Use a vacuum, tack cloth, and/or compressed air to remove dust

  • Apply final coat of satin polyurethane

STEP 5: Hang and Enjoy!

Finally, the clean hardware went back on, and the door went back on its hinges.

With every single door, Pat had to adjust and reset the doors. There were tons of tiny adjustments, taking the doors on/off the hinges, and lots of shimming. But in the end it all looks great, and the doors open, close, and lock better than they did before.

If you found this tutorial helpful, tag us in your project on Instagram @saltandrook - we'd love to see how your project turned out!

*A note about staining ...

While we did use the "honey" color, these doors are approximately 100+ years old, so the wood has aged. What you see on the finished product is MUCH darker than the tests we did on scrap wood. If you use this tutorial, you'll probably get a different result, too.

We chose a medium/light stain knowing that the doors wouldn't come out exactly as we expected on the aged wood. We looked more at the undertones of the stain to make sure the final color didn't go too red or too ashy/gray. The color also changes once you apply the polyurethane, so keep that in mind, too.

We're incredibly pleased with the final color on this project, but it was much different than what our stain tests showed. If you have old doors and you plan to restore them, you will not be able to control or predict with 100% accuracy what color will turn out. You can only make the most educated guess and hope for the best.

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