Restoring a Door

Typical problems you will have to deal with when restoring a door are:

  • split panels
  • the door is warped
  • joints loose
  • the door sticks in the frame
  • paint-clogged
  • missing or inappropriate fittings such as knobs
  • broken lock
  • corroded fittings

Door Repairs

If a door is warped badly it is not usually cost-effective to attempt a repair. In the case of a front door or an unusual internal door, a carpenter may be able to solve the problem.

If there are split panels, a repair is very straightforward if the mouldings are 'applied' i.e. separate and pinned to the rails and stiles. Prize the mouldings off, remove the panels and replace with plywood or, if you are painting the door, even MDF. If the mouldings are not applied, the door will have to be dismantled.

If the top or bottom rails have come loose at the join with the stiles, dismantle the door, glue and clamp the door together, making sure that the joints are square.

If the door sticks in the frame, you need to understand the reason; either the frame has changed shape or the door has distorted. If the door sticks in hot weather then it is likely to be the frame, in wet the door. If the paint is in poor condition it will allow moisture to enter and so strip the door and allow it to dry out before planing the door. However, another possibility is movement in the wall or floor; if there are tell-tale cracks in the wall above or around the frame, do not trim the door until you have solved this.

To trim the door, it is best to remove it from the frame and use a plane. If you leave the door on or use a file or similar tool, it is harder to achieve a good result.

Stripping Paint

Remove all the fittings first. Clean and polish them as appropriate.

Remember that most doors were painted or grained; stripped pine is a modern fashion. However, it is worth stripping the door before you repaint it. Avoid door-stripping companies which use a hot dip process; these usually cause the joints to become loose and the panels to split. Cold dipping can be used but a safer approach is a hot-air gun with scrapers or a solvent-based stripper and wire wool and stiff brushes. Alkali-based strippers can damage hardwoods but can be used on pine; poultice strippers can work well.

Replacing Fittings

Door hinges, knobs and other fittings may be broken, worn or previously replaced with ones of an inappropriate style.

Locks can be repaired by a specialist; replacement keys can be made.

You can source replacement fittings from a salvage yard or from a company making modern replacements. Speak to your neighbours in similar houses to confirm the original style.

Make sure you use screws with slotted heads, not modern cross-headed ones.

Companies in our Products and Services Directory offer new and original brass and iron fittings.

Finishing the Door

External doors are best either painted or, in the case of hardwood or cottage doors, protected with an oil or varnish.

For a guide to colours, see the Design area.