Refinishing Your Front Door – Its Inviting Look Can Be Restored

Is your wood front door starting to look drab? In many cases refinishing your front door can simple and quick, requiring just a few supplies. What you will need to do and how it is done depends on the condition of the clear finish and the underlying stain.

In this article I will show you how to “refinish” your door without having to completely strip off the current finish. Refinishing your front door this way has a few stipulations;

  • The overall condition isn’t too far gone. Your front door is faded, oxidized, with a little peeling of the clear finish but the underlying wood stain is still mostly in tacked.
  • No major deep gouges. Scratches are OK but deep gouges could require actual repair and that would be true refinishing.
  • You know the color of wood stain used. If not you will have to figure it out or go a little darker.


Maybe this isn’t refinishing your front door but more like rehabilitation. Let’s assume your door hasn’t had proper maintenance for a few years and needs a little TLC.

Refinishing a Door with Peeling Varnish or a Dull Finish

If the finish on your door is beginning to lose its luster and peel away, don’t fear. You don’t need to spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars replacing it. Refinishing your front door will freshen it up and make it look so much more inviting.

Removing the old peeling finish is the first part of this job. Fortunately this won’t involve removing all finish, just the finish that is peeling. Hand sanding using 150 grit sandpaper or sanding sponge is the best way to control what you do. If you sand too much in one spot the underlying wood stain will be removed or damaged, this isn’t what we are after. Remove what is loose and feather out the edges. Make sure to lightly sand the whole door for better adhesion of the finish later.

Remove all dust before moving on the next part of refinishing your front door- make that rehabilitating your front door.

At this point there should be a few scratches to deal with and possible faded stain. If you already know what the original stain color is- great, if not you will need to figure that out. That will involve making some stain samples using scraps of wood of the same type as your door. Don’t worry if you can’t quite figure it out. You can a stain color that is a little darker.

Now you have some stain. Wipe down the entire door surface with denatured alcohol and wipe on some wood stain. Use a combination of clean rag and brush.

After sanding away the old finish and wiping on some wood stain the door should be getting its original character back. Now that character needs some protection. Two new coats of varnish need to be applied with a light sanding between the coats. If you use a very good varnish, like McCloskey Man O’War marine spar varnish, it won’t peel when the sun comes out or it starts raining.

Just a Dull Finish

If the finish has just become dull after years of use, it is even easier to refinish and make the door look more attractive. Instead of sanding all the peeling/dulled finish away, you just need to sand enough of it that a new finish will “take” and cover the old one. This will help preserve and protect the wood of your front door while making it look inviting.

Before sanding, using fine sanding sponges, wipe the door down with a good surface cleaner/deglosser. A product called Paso is the best I have found but using denatured alcohol is a good second best.

Just like above; remove all dust and apply two coats of good varnish.

Refinishing a Scratched Door

If your front door is scratched but overall in good shape, it is even more important to refinish the door. Slight scratches may just disappear after the finish is removed and the wood is sanded down. Deeper scratches in the wood may need to be filled, for instance with stainable wood filler. However, once they are filled in, a stain and varnish can be applied. With just those few touch-ups, the door will look beautiful.

With an old wood door, many people fear that they will need to spend the money to replace it. But refinishing your front door is a relatively easy project and far less expensive. With just a bit of effort, your refinished front door will sparkle, welcoming you and guests. Peeling varnish, dull finish, and scratches will all disappear, replaced by an inviting wooden door.

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One Comment

  1. Ronald Swanson

    I’m planning on selling my home soon, and gaining some curb appeal is something I’ve been in desperate need of. I was planning on buying a new front door, and like you said it can get pretty expensive. This seems like a really easy fix to my old door, and it will save me a lot of money as well. //

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