How to restore wooden doors

Updated April 17, 2017

Revive the beauty of your wooden doors and save yourself the cost of replacing them by restoring them to their former glory. If your doors are less than welcoming, damaged by sun, water or wear-and-tear, painting or restaining the wood will give your room or front entrance a dramatic upgrade. To paint or to stain is the question: paint tends to hold up better outdoors, but stain brings out the natural beauty of the wood. So decide on the look you’re going for, what conditions the door will weather, and let the restoration begin.

Remove the door by taking out the hinge pins. Put your dust sheets under the sawhorses and lay the door flat between the two sawhorses. Remove the hardware.

Strip the paint with a paint stripper (follow the manufacturer’s instructions) if the door is painted. If the door is stained, use a palm sander with fine-grit sandpaper (220 or 240) and lightly sand the door. Brush off the dust with a bench brush and wipe the door with a tack cloth. If you’re staining, go to Step 6.

Scrape off the paint after leaving the stripping compound on for the appropriate length of time (follow the directions on the label) using a scraper tool. Repeat Steps 2 and 3 until the wood is exposed.

Neutralise the paint stripper as directed on the paint stripper neutraliser instructions.

Sand the door to remove the last bits of paint and smooth out any rough spots. Brush off the dust with a bench brush and wipe the door with a tack cloth.

Inspect the wood for areas of damage. Remove any rotted areas or old wood filler with a chisel or scraper and apply a wood stabiliser, following the instructions on the label.

Condition the wood with a wood conditioner (follow the directions on the label) if you’re staining. If you’re painting, apply a coat of primer to the door. Let dry. If the primer doesn’t cover well, lightly sand the door with a fine-grit sand paper (220 or 240-grit), remove the dust and apply a second coat. Let dry.

Lightly sand the conditioned or primed wood with fine-grit sandpaper and remove all the dust.

Apply two coats of enamel or stain, sanding lightly, removing the dust and drying completely in between coats.

Apply at least two coats of high-quality marine or spar varnish if you’re staining an outside door. Replace the door hardware and remount your door.


Restoring doors is a job best done outside, but if you’re inside make sure you have proper ventilation. Keep the palm sander moving on the wood at all times to avoid damage to one spot. Use high-quality acrylic enamel or stain that’s appropriate for your door, i.e., UV protection, weatherproof, easy to clean, etc. Use good quality paintbrushes. Always follow the grain of the wood when sanding or applying conditioner, primer, enamel or stain.


Always wear safety glasses and a mask when sanding or using chemical stripping compounds. Work in a well-ventilated area. Dispose of cloths and leftover materials following instructions on the label and according to local waste-management ordinances. Paint, stain and stripping compounds are highly flammable. Clean your tools following instructions on material labels.

Things You'll Need

  • For painting:
  • Paint stripper
  • Paint stripper neutraliser
  • Primer
  • Enamel paint
  • Paint brushes
  • Scraper
  • For staining:
  • Wood conditioner
  • Stain
  • Staining pads
  • Foam brush
  • For painting or staining:
  • Sandpaper
  • Sander
  • Sanding block
  • Tack cloth
  • Wood glue
  • Wood filler
  • Putty knife
  • Dust sheets
  • Safety glasses
  • Mask
  • Rubber gloves
  • Sawhorses
  • Drill with screwdriver attachment
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About the Author

Based in California, Tracie Grimes began writing in the medical field in 1984. She has since expanded her areas of expertise to include DIY projects, parenting and craft articles. She is a monthly contributor to "Kern County Family Magazine" and "Bakersfield Magazine," with work also appearing in parenting magazines across the United States. Grimes received her bachelor's degree in journalism from Northern Arizona University.