Shut the Front Door


You have no idea how long I’ve wanted to use that title, although it’s, perhaps, a line that’s a little overused now (to the point that I heard a spin-off line in which a woman exclaimed, “close the front door!”).  Hm, not quite the same effect.

Moving on… our front door was in sad shape.  The stain had worn down to nearly the raw wood and the rough North Texas weather had started taking its toll on it.  In my excitement over starting the project, I failed to take before pictures but managed to scrounge up this picture from Halloween.

So, although the spider and it’s enormous web are probably the most exciting thing you’ve laid eyes on lately, the door is not.  I imagined if the door was alive, it would sigh a lot and look downtrodden like Eeyore, not exactly what we were going for in terms of curb appeal.

See the resemblance?  We needed to inject this baby with some happy pills-  that’s right, it was time to get our stain on.

So while Chris will walk through the steps of refacing a stained door in his post, I would like to take this chance to exclaim to the world how awesome my husband is!  If this outburst of affection seems random, it is.  This is me STILL groveling my way out of making him stain the door Dark Walnut then proceeding to hate the color and make him refinish it in a different stain.  Oops.

I continue to remind Chris that with a first house comes first-time projects comes trial and error.  Well, it’s not my fault that this house has been a full series of trial and errors… mostly when it comes down to selecting a color.  Chris jokes that the entire house has been repainted twice and I’m starting on the third round.  Which is NOT true.  The living room, guest bedrooms, kitchen, and dining room have all only been painted ONCE (although I may want to repaint 3 of those 5 rooms already).  Hey, live and learn, right?

Round One.  We used Minwax Dark Walnut stain from Home Depot which we used on a pair of shelves we built in our bathroom.  It looks amazing in the bathroom- a rich, dark walnut color that really compliments the rest of the bathroom.

On the front door, however, it was WAY too dark.  It lost all of its rich walnut color and instead looked like an uneven coat of black.  And while I am obsessed with black-painted doors right now, it wasn’t the look I was going for.  See?

Needless to say, a redo was in store.  I let Chris have some time to recover from the first round before we started on the second round.  What I originally thought was going to be 2 weeks became 2 months.  Finally, I couldn’t take the agony of an ugly front door any longer.  The time had come.

Round Two.  This time we used Minwax Early American stain from Home Depot.

Don’t be fooled by the picture of the stain on Home Depot’s website.  The stain has more red in it than the picture shows.  The results are fantastic!  Our sad, depressed door went from sad Eeyore to an even more sad black hole, to a beautiful, rich, welcoming entrance.  The color really compliments our oil-rubbed bronze door handle as well.

Isn’t she a beaut?  Now it’s time to do the inside!

Oh, but first I’ll let Chris have his turn to whine about detail each step of the process.


I absolutely love Texas, but I have to admit that the summers really are the worst.  I grew up in South Texas where it’s hot and humid, and now I live in North Texas where it’s hot and dry… and it’s affected the way I think. For example, I took a few courses in materials science in college and when we discussed the various properties, all I could think was “yeah, but how does it stand up to the Texas heat?” It’s a climate that influences every decision you make- what kind of car you buy, what color clothes you wear, even which direction your house faces- which also why you learn how to refinish a front door.

If you’re smart, enjoy the outdoors, and live in Texas, you’ll make sure your backyard is shaded in the afternoon, which means your front door gets the worst of the summer sun. I refinished my parents’ front door a few years ago, but the door was only a few years old and really just needed a fresh coat of urethane; maybe half a day later, I had it back on the hinges looking as good as new. My door, however, was another story: it had been neglected for decades, and it looked like 100 miles of bad road. Something needed to be done but this being Texas, I’d only have a small window in which to do it.

Ah, springtime in Texas: the most beautiful time in the most beautiful place (most of you probably consider this time of year to be late winter). Also, the time when you’d better get all of your outdoor projects out of the way, because in 2 months you’ll be stuck inside until Thanksgiving. I had an excellent Saturday planned: hit the trails on my mountain bike with a friend for a few hours, recover with a few beers, and then back home to begin my summer lawn prep (if you want a green lawn in the summer here, you better start no later than March). Well, I was half right: I was greeted by Julie who announced that I was “just in time to help with the front door,” which meant that she had the camera ready to take pictures of me redoing the door by myself.

I got to work removing all the hardware. I got the handle and deadbolts off and popped the pins out of the hinges. Once I had the door free, I set it down (outer side facing upward) on two sawhorses. I got a chemical stripper that I brushed on to pull the old varnish off. Using a paint scraper, I worked my way down through the varnish and lightly sanded the wood to get a smooth finish. Since Julie and I decided we liked a dark walnut stain, there was no need to go any further. I applied the new stain as evenly as possibly and it was dark. Like, black. At this point, I was running out of daylight and hesitantly applied one coat of urethane to prevent further deterioration of the wood, knowing I’d just have to strip it off later. What a waste of time!

Fast-forward a few weeks, and I was running out of nice weather. I decided it was time to re-refinish the front door, but this time I was going to do it right. I got up early (for a Saturday, anyway), set the door up, popped in my headphones, and fired up the sander. Again.


The first order of business was to strip off the varnish using Jasco Premium Paint and Epoxy Remover from Home Depot. Surprisingly, this is pretty easy. I applied a chemical stripper that brushes on as a gel (or non-Newtonian fluid, if you prefer). I let it sit for a few minutes before using a paint scraper to turn the old varnish into little piles of goop that I sucked up with a shop-vac before smoothing it over with a sander.

Some tight corners required a sanding block.

Now, let me show you where the two projects differ:

The first time I applied the stain, I didn’t want to go too dark. I tried brushing it on and wiping it off, but this turned out really uneven because it relies on a uniform amount of stain and soak time before wiping in order to be even, and it’s really difficult. So now it was uneven… and still too dark.

After the stain.

After the varnish.


After removing the varnish again, I had to strip off the old stain. I didn’t have to do this the first time around since we were going with a darker stain (and the wood was so faded, anyway), and I didn’t want to do it this time around… because it’s a LOT of work. I started sanding with 60-grit sandpaper, and when I wore that out I moved up to 80-grit, then 120, then 150… and finally 220. About three hours later, I had clean wood with no “dark walnut” junk on it. And my head was rattling from that stupid sander.

This time I decided to use wood conditioner (Minwax Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner from Home Depot), which supposedly makes the stain go on more evenly or something. Given how terrible the last round looked, I was willing to spend a few bucks and give it a whirl. It definitely came out more even, but I also used a slightly different method of applying the stain itself.

Finally, it was time for the new stain. I was a little nervous at this point because I really didn’t want to do this again, but I also didn’t want a door that looked like it was refinished by a rookie. I decided to stain one section of wood at a time, hoping that the joints would hide any unevenness. I also decided that this was a naturally lighter stain, so letting it soak longer would give it a really rich color. Not wiping it off at all would allow for a more even finish.

After the stain.

Applying the varnish.

The finished product.

After letting everything dry and doing a few touch-ups, I was finally satisfied with the finish. There are a few places where different types of wood were used and therefore absorbed the stain differently, but there’s really nothing I could do about that, so I’m not too worried.

Two coats of satin urethane later, I was hanging it back up and reinstalling the hardware. We had one brass deadbolt, but some faux oil rubbed bronze spray paint solved that dilemma. And the finished product:

The best part of this project is that Julie can’t saturate it with pictures of the cat. Right?


It seems our little Chloe the cat is becoming quite the celeb.  Did you spot her cameo in one of the above shots? If you missed her, never fear, you know I took a dozen close-ups of her supervising us from the window.



Filed under Before & After, Front Yard

6 responses to “Shut the Front Door

  1. Erica

    as always, i love it!
    and re chloe- i had to go back to find her but i like the where’s chloe game you started!

    • DO or DIY

      She always manages to sneak into pictures… she’s become a little camera hog. So, of course, I eat it up but it only increases Chris’ annoyance of her. 🙂

      – Julie

  2. Charlene

    Love the door – reminiscent of Holly Street door – I feel at home!

  3. Pingback: Our Baby’s One Today! | DO or DIY

  4. Pingback: Furniture Flip Friday: Wake Up and Smell the Coffee Table | DO or DIY

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s