The Doors

We started the long process of refinishing our reclaimed doors a month or so ago, and I thought I’d talk a little bit about what’s worked for us and what hasn’t.

We started out giving the doors just a light sanding thinking that we’d rough the surface up a bit in preparation for priming and painting. The problem with that plan was the layer of latex paint that was improperly applied over the oil paint (no primer), leaving it to peel off and gum up the sander. We really weren’t too keen on sanding the lead paint – we got a respirator and were very careful – but the sight of lead dust flying through the air (near our garden!) freaked us out, so we abandoned that plan pretty quickly.

Our second option was to use a product called “Rinse or Peel” by Biowash, which is an environmentally friendly paint stripper made with orange oil. It’s a thick paste that you spread over the painted surface, and I hate to say it, but I really wasn’t expecting too much. Imagine my surprise when we went to scrape the door about 15 minutes after applying it, and the paint pulled off in great gummy sheets! We ended up leaving it on slightly longer the next few times (about 30 – 40 minutes) in order to remove more of the paint layers, and that worked amazingly well, taking us down to almost bare wood.
The best part about this stuff is that you can scrape off the top layer of paste and reuse it on the next door (up to 5 times, depending on how many layers you’re stripping at one time). It also kept the lead paint well contained and out of the air.

After we’d removed as much paint as we wanted (the above door was one of our first tries, so it’s got a few more of the original layers on it), we used wood filler to fill in any chips, scratches, and unevenness. After a light sanding to remove any excess, the doors were cleaned up with a couple of coats of primer.

I know it doesn’t look much different from the original photo, but in person it’s got a much smoother and more stable surface than it did originally. We’re planning to use an environmentally friendly paint on the doors (which will be applied at the house – I don’t trust us not to scratch them in transit!), but I used my favorite conventional primer on them (CIL Smart Paint Anywhere Primer) instead of the “green” stuff, because I didn’t want to run the risk of it ever peeling off (this stuff is fantastic, I’ve even used it to paint over ceramic tiles). 

My favorite tool for getting a perfect finish when painting are these little foam rollers. They leave the paint so smooth and even that I often end up going over whole walls with them after we’ve applied the paint just to tidy things up.

As for the door knobs and hardware, which were also covered in multiple layers of paint, we tried a couple of different things. At Monica’s recommendation we soaked them overnight in vinegar to soften the paint so we could scrape it off. 

This worked pretty well, but we found that it seemed to remove too much of the finish on these knobs and turned them a different color than the plates (the one on the right). So we made a run to Value Village in search of a crock pot to try the method of slow cooking them, hoping that that might not damage the finish quite so much.

This method worked really well. We let them cook for a few hours while we were out, and by the time we came home home the paint practically fell off on its own, and it left more of the original finish intact (the knob on the left, above).

The face plate sitting on the edge of the crockpot in the previous photo had so much paint on it that it wasn’t really budging after it’s long vinegar bath, but after a nice soak in the slow cooker, it peeled off all in one shot. I would definitely recommend this method for removing paint from your old hinges and hardware, but the vinegar definitely works if you don’t have a crock pot to dedicate to the job.

Here’s how they look now. I thought I liked the idea of painting them black again, but after seeing them in their natural state, I don’t think I’ll be doing that! After all this work, I think I’m beginning to understand why the original owner decided to replace these doors with brand new ones instead of refinishing them (okay, only sorta)!


8 thoughts on “The Doors”

  • I will keep the crock pot idea in mind for next time sounds like it works better than mine. Our pieces must not have had as much “gunk” on them as yours. Of course sometimes— people went crazy painting over and over didn’t they?
    Ever thought about sending all your knobs in for replating though? Of course they would be very “new” looking—which might stand out to much. Just depends on what you are trying for I suppose. We’ve never done it—I always liked how ours looked, but we had a friend who did and they were very nice.
    Glad your making progress πŸ™‚

  • They look awesome. One of the things about doing all that is you sure are learning a lot. It is great you are sharing with others. I find that sometimes you learn all the tricks, then you never do the task again. I guess that is why people get paid to do some jobs; they learn the tricks and get fast at it and can actually make money doing it.

    Great post, and your doors and knobs look great.

  • I too will be keeping the crock pot method in mind. We have a door in the basement with the old skeleton key knob and plate. I LOVE it and would like to remove it to use in our next home. It has alot of black paint on it and I think the insides are stuck with age. Maybe the crock pot method will help unstick it.
    Great JOB!

  • Monica – Ours definitely had more than just the odd paint drip on them (more like decades of colour changes).
    I have thought about replating them, but figured the cost would be prohibitive (any idea how much it was?). Luckily, I’m pretty pleased with the “antiqued” look that they ended up with.

    Dawn – That’s true, maybe I’ll have to start my own home reno company when this is all over (assuming I’ll even want to look at another restoration project ever again)!

    Steffi – Thank you!

    Heather – Thanks, I’m pretty pleased with how they turned out!

    Vicki – It is rewarding to know that these 100 year old doors will live on for another 100 or so.

    Tammie – I think it would definitely be worth a shot!

  • We have old doors that need to be refinished too, so this is great, thank you.

    As to the lead — my husband took a lead workshop for his work (weatherization) and he was told that it was only the more expensive paints that contained lead. Of course you’d need to test to be sure, but at least you don’t have to assume that all old paint will contain lead.

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