How to: Strip, Prepare and Paint a Door

This weeks’ how to guide is split into four parts: in part one, we’re focusing on how to strip and paint/varnish a door. In the second part of the guide, we’ll tell you how to prepare and paint/varnish a brand- new door. The third section will look at painting while the fourth will look at staining and varnishing.

In all cases, we’ll stress right now that the preparation is always key and will dramatically affect the final finish. we would always advise giving yourself adequate time to prepare. In both, it’s also better (if possible) that you remove the door from its’ hinges.

Image shows a hand in a black plastic glove holding a yellow sanding block onto a wooden door

An Older Door                        

Before you do anything to an older door, we would always recommend stripping it before applying any new paint or varnish. This will give you the best possible start.

There are a number of ways to do this, including heating and scraping, sanding and chemical stripper. All methods have their own pros and cons and we would always advise that whichever method you’re using, you have the correct equipment, correct PPE (such as gloves, masks and eye coverings) and that you follow the manufacturers instructions at all times. Also ensure you’re in a well-ventilated room, or if the weather allows, work outside.

Once you’re left with a blank door, you should neutralise the surface of the door with either water or white spirit. This will help the paint or varnish to bond with the surface of the door.

fill in any gaps, splits or crevices with a good quality filler. Leave that to dry and then sand down any rough or raised edges. If you’re using an electric sander, be careful not to damage any decorative mouldings the door might have.

Then you should clean the whole door down with warm soapy water to get rid of any dust or debris.

It’s very important as well that you test any stain or varnish before you apply it to the whole door. The appearance of different stains or varnishes can vary depending on the type and age of the wood, so it’s vital to ensure you have the shade and finish you want before you put it on the door.

A New Door

When it comes to new wood, the preparation is equally important. Firstly, clean the wood to remove dirt, oil, grease and wax with an appropriate cleaner de-waxer. Inspect the wood carefully for any openings or holes and fill these in, then sand the door along the grain of the wood with a sanding tool or sandpaper. You should never use steel wool as small pieces of this can get trapped in the wood and can cause rusting as it corrodes.

Next, just as with the older door, you need to clean the wood again to get rid of any dust or debris.

Again, test the stain or varnish before applying it to the whole door.

Image shows a hand in a clear plastic glove holding a paintbrush coated in white paint. there is a wooden door at the bottom of the image and the paintbrush is resting on it.


The most important point here is to take it slowly and give yourself enough time to do it properly. Follow the grain of the wood in long strokes, and if possible don’t overlap. If the wood needs more than one coat, allow the first coat to dry thoroughly before adding a second and again, take that second coat slowly.

Staining and varnishing

Using a paintbrush, apply the stain sparingly, taking it slowly and following the grain. It’s also best to avoid any overlapping strokes which could cause a bumpy finish. Once the whole surface is covered, use a lint-free cloth to remove any excess and give an even finish.

Once the stain is fully dry, you’re ready to apply the varnish. Again, ensure you’re in a well-ventilated room and that you have adequate PPE. Once again, use long strokes and try not to overlap.

You’ll find you’ll probably need more than one coat of varnish and once each coat of varnish is dry, you should gently sand the varnish down with fine sandpaper to give the next coat something to adhere to. Always ensure that you wipe the surface down to get rid of any dust before you apply any further varnish.


Finally, whether you’ve painted or varnished, allow the door to fully dry before you put any fixings on or attempt to re-hang the door.



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