How to Clean, Strip and Refinish Oak Wood Exterior Doors

Written by brynne chandler
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How to Clean, Strip and Refinish Oak Wood Exterior Doors
An oak door adds grace and class to any home. (Front Door - Building Exterior image by evillager from

Oak exterior doors add a timeless grace to any home. Real wood makes such a great first impression, unless it is faded, chipped and peeling, that is. If your oak exterior doors have seen better days, however, don't worry. Cleaning, stripping and refinishing oak doors takes a little work, but it's not very hard to do. Oak has a visible, open grain which looks far better stained than painted. It's best to refinish oak doors when they are lying on a flat surface, so choose a weekend when the weather is temperate enough to be without your front door for a couple of days.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Screwdriver
  • Dust sheet
  • Small plastic bowl
  • Goggles
  • Painter's mask
  • Gloves
  • Trisodium phosphate degreasing cleanser
  • Sponge
  • Warm water
  • Bucket
  • Painter's tape
  • Chemical stripper
  • Plastic scrapers
  • Clean shop cloths
  • Hand sander
  • Sandpaper, 120- and 180-grit
  • Staining sponge
  • Stain
  • Exterior acrylic urethane
  • Petroleum jelly (optional)

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  1. 1

    Use a screwdriver to remove the oak exterior door. Take off all the hinges and other hardware, like the door knob or latch and the latch plates. Place them in a small plastic bowl so they don't get misplaced.

  2. 2

    Lay a plastic dust sheet over your work surface. Use a large flat surface or even sawhorses. This is best for your back and it also helps keep the stripper, stain and sealer from running as you work.

  3. 3

    Put on your protective gear and mix the trisodium phosphate degreaser in a bucket of warm water, diluting it according to the manufacturer's instructions. Clean the door thoroughly with the sponge and wipe it dry with the shop cloths. Let it dry completely.

  4. 4

    Use painter's tape to protect any glass in the door from the stain. You can also smear a thin coat of petroleum jelly on the glass, but you must be extra careful not to get any on the wood or it will keep the stain from being absorbed.

  5. 5

    Remove the old finish, following the directions on the chemical stripper package. Usually, you brush or wipe the stripper onto the wood, let it sit for five to 10 minutes and then use plastic scrapers to scrape off the bubbled-up old finish. Plastic scrapers for stripping are available at home improvement and hardware stores and come in many sizes, so that you can get into all the nooks, crannies and decorative trim.

  6. 6

    Sand the door lightly with 120-grit sandpaper to open up the grain. Work with the grain of the wood, not across it, and use very little pressure. Wipe all of the dust away with clean, dry shop cloths and then go over it again with the 180-grit sandpaper. Wipe it down thoroughly.

  7. 7

    Dip your staining sponge into the stain and apply it to the stripped and sanded door, working with the grain. Oak can be really thirsty, so apply a little at a time in very thin coats. Make sure to feather the edges where the stain overlaps, so that you don't get weird stripes.

  8. 8

    Wipe away the excess stain according to the manufacturer's instructions and then let the first coat dry thoroughly. It is not necessary to sand between coats of stain, but do make sure you start by wiping away any dust that may have settled before starting the next coat. Apply as many coats as you'd like until you have the depth of colour you prefer.

  9. 9

    Let the last coat of stain dry completely before applying the exterior acrylic sealer. This comes in both spray and brush-on formulas. It also dries quickly and has less odour than traditional polyurethane sealers. Let the first coat dry completely according to the manufacturer's recommendations before applying a second coat.

  10. 10

    Find your plastic bowl and reattach all of the hardware, then rehang your beautifully cleaned, stripped and refinished oak door.

Tips and warnings

  • Always wear your protective gear and work in a well-ventilated area.
  • Never use a stain and a sealer without making sure that they are compatible with each other.

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