Updating a deteriorating 100-year-old wood front door

The front door on our century home is amazing. It is solid wood with beautiful paneling and almost three inches thick. However, time has not been kind to the door. It had several large cracks through which you could see sunlight and the panels were pulling out of the door frame (see photos below). The wood also just looked a bit sad. It was dry and lacked luster. We believe the door may have been painted and stripped at some point in the past as well. So we decided to do our best to restore and update our deteriorating 100-year old wood front door.

Before and after our front door update
Before and after our front door update

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The restoration process

Restoring a deteriorating wood door is a lot of work. Because the damage to the door was so severe, we decided early on that no amount of sanding and wood filler would be enough to restore the luster and shine to the century-old wood. As a result, we decided to strip the door down, repair it, and then paint it. It turned into a much bigger project than originally expected. Because much of the sanding had to be done by hand, we spent about 16 hours on each side of the door. The first thing we had to do was to use a chisel to remove the loose and largely ineffective wood filler that had been used in the past in an attempt to repair the panels . 

The damage and deterioration of the front door
The damage and deterioration of the front door

Our next step, sanding, was the most time-consuming. We started with 120 grit sandpaper to remove what was left of the existing finish. It was very difficult because of the decorative paneling, tight corners, and residual wood filler. After the original finish was stripped off, we used a 220 grit sandpaper to smooth over the surface. Once the surface was prepared, we used a high performance wood filler to smooth over the transitions from the panels to the frame and to fill in the large cracks. This was a difficult product to work with because the wood hardener results in a very quick dry time and it has a pretty strong chemical odor. However, we were very pleased with the end result which was very smooth and should be quite durable due to the wood hardener. Once it was applied, it too had to be sanded down.

Once the wood filler was sanded, we painted and primed the door over two days. We used products recommended by our local Sherwin Williams store. They recommend an oil-based primer and their Resilience Acrylic Exterior Latex paint. We chose SW 6991 Black Magic for the color. It is a nice true black that we used on the railing of our basement remodel.

The steps to updating the front door
The steps to updating the front door

Finally, we decided to polish the door knocker and door handle back to their original shiny brass color. We thought that the bright metal would pop against the newly painted black door. Using Simichrome polish and my Dremel worked really well. (For more details on polishing metal, check out my post on restoring antique brass light fixtures.) 

Tools and products used

  1. Wood chisels
  2. Sandpaper
  3. High performance wood filler
  4. Primer
  5. Paint brushes (I recommend Purdy brushes)
  6. Exterior paint
  7. Simichrome polish
  8. Dremel rotary tool
  9. Dremel metal polishing tips

Overall, I really like the way the door turned out. I think the color looks nice against the light grey siding and it no longer appears to be deteriorating. Our next step is to work on the screen door. Stay tuned for that upcoming project.

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