Staining the front door

Oh the door, the long awaited door. We ordered a new front door from Home Depot about 3 months ago, when they were running a 20% off all special-order doors sale (currently a 15% off special until 7/7/10). If you wait around long enough, you can get really good deals at HD. I’m waiting now for a special that allows you to upgrade any interior door to solid-core for free before we update the interior doors (happens 2-4 times a year).

We went with a solid wood door, because I like the way they look, and nothing compares to the sound they make when someone knocks, or the door closes. I know, silly, but it’s the little things.

I also went with the traditional craftsman look – a three panel door, with matching glass lites, a large dentil ledge, and a full sidelite in the same style. The door was manufactured by Orepac, from their IMC “Craftsman Clear Beveled Glass” line, creative branding, eh?  The millwork specialist at HD helped me customize the door, so we could have a full sidelite instead of just a ¼ lite – it took some mixing and matching from different door models to accomplish this.

The door first arrived in May. When my dad got here with his truck to help me pick it up, we discovered the door had been made wrong – it had two sidelites (one on each side). I loved it, but it just wouldn’t’ fit in the opening without some major reconstruction. So we sent it back, and re-ordered. Home Depot ended up being pretty good about it, even though it was the vendors fault, not theirs.

I bitched explained that I didn’t have a truck, and couldn’t install without my dad’s help, so this was really an inconvenience to have to find another time for him to come help me. After some negotiation, they offered a $150 credit, half the cost of an installation. Combined with the original 20% off, we ended up getting the door for about 45% off, plus we’ll get a tax credit because it’s energy efficient. WIN!

With the door finally in my hands, or garage really, yesterday morning I went to Rockler to get some advice on how to best stain it. I’ve done some wood staining in the past, but I’ve never had the best results. Since a front door is the “gateway to the home” I wanted to make sure it turned out perfectly.

The manager gave me some good advice on what type of stain to use for the door. Since it’s fir, a relatively soft wood, he recommended using a gel stain to prevent blotching.

He also told me I probably wouldn’t need to use a wood conditioner because most doors come pre-sealed in some way or another. He then gave me two pieces of advice, “Never believe what anyone tells you about finishing wood, including me, and always make your wife or girlfriend pick the color.”

I poked my head out the door to grab Helen who was reading in the car, and brought her inside. We went with a “Prairie Wheat” gel stain made by General Finishes, per the managers recommendation. I’d never heard of General Finishes before, but when I opened it up and started using it, I was glad I went to Rockler. I’ve used Minwax gel stains in the past and they are miserable – they’re too thick and set up too fast to be able to wipe them off nicely, which results in the blotchiness you were trying to avoid.

Then, taking his other piece of advice, I went to Home Depot and bought a Minwax Pre-stain wood conditioner, because I knew my door wasn’t pre-sealed and I wanted to make sure it didn’t blotch.

When I got home, I started by unpacking the door from its shipping materials.

Then, because I wanted to be able to stain the door and the frame separately, I took the door off of its hinges. I started by using a punch and a hammer to carefully loosen the pin, then when the top of the pin poked out of the top, I could pull the entire pin out.

The door was then loose from the frame. At this point, I unscrewed the hinges from the door and frame as well, so I could stain and seal behind them. Then, using my jimmy-rigged saw horses (coolers with Styrofoam insulation on top for padding), I laid the door face down so I could easily stain it.

With the door down, I started by staining a few test pieces of wood to make sure the color would be right. I took the pieces of wood that had packed the door (extra pieces of fir from the door jamb itself) and then selected a piece on the back of the brick molding that wouldn’t show. I treated part of each section with wood conditioner, and another part without, and then stained both portions.

The pieces without the wood conditioner showed a bit of blotching, so I knew I made the right choice by going with the conditioner.

I took one of the sample pieces to the front porch, where the door will be, to make sure the color looked good there – and it did, in all of its golden perfection.

Since I knew I had the color I wanted, I started doing the prep work on the door. There were a few rough spots on the wood, and a few spots of glue that had dripped onto the face during manufacture. I sanded using 150 grit paper (the highest recommended on the can of stain) to make the front of the door perfectly smooth. I then used the vacuum with a dusting attachment to suck up all of the dust, being very careful not to scratch the surface.

With the door sanded and cleaned, I started by applying the wood conditioner with a foam brush.

Followed by the stain, applied with a white rag.  You can use pieces of old t-shirts or buy bags of white rags at a home store, just make sure they don’t have any pigment or the mineral spirits in the stain can cause them to leach into the wood – bad news!

After the entire door was covered by stain, I then went back using a clean rag to wipe it off, in the direction of the grain. According to the man at Rockler, the reason you go with the grain is that it helps push the stain into the wood and highlights the grain, rather than just sitting on the surface.

With the front of the door complete, I moved onto the frame, following the same steps. I chose only to do the interior of the frame at this point, because after the door is installed, the exterior portion is going to have quite a few nail holes to fill, so I’ll stain and seal it after installation is complete.

The front side of the door had been drying for about 2 hours while I did the jamb/frame, so after the frame was done, with Helen’s help, I flipped the door over, grabbing a beer out of the cooler saw-horse during the process. For the interior of the door, I plan to use a wax pen to fill all of the nail holes after it’s been installed – this was recommended to me by a few people. It creates a better match, and if the door ever needs to be re-stained, it’s easier to replace. For the exterior side of the door, however, because wax obviously melts with heat and is not permanent, I opted to use a permanent wood filler. I filled the holes on the dentil ledge and around the windows using Famowood Wood Filler (Claims to be the no. 1, but try Googling “No. 1 Wood Filler” and the options are endless ;)).

After waiting about 15 minutes for the filler to dry, I sanded and then repeated the steps on the backside and edges of the door – sanding, vacuuming, conditioning, staining.

The door looks perfect – from the color to the uniformity of the stain. I’m so glad I went to Rockler to get advice instead of just heading to Home Depot and grabbing what called to me from the shelf.

Today I’m going to be applying the sealer – 4 coats to be exact. Wish me luck!

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