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  • by David Kranker 6 min read

    How to Refinish a Door: The Complete Guide - Red Label Abrasives

    Wooden doors are popular for a reason. Their sturdy, warm appearance is inviting, visually compelling, and conveys a sense of timeless elegance. However, exterior wooden doors are also prone to weather damage and, over time, even interior doors can be scratched up and lose their appeal. Do you have to throw it out and settle for a mass-produced metal or fiberglass replacement?

    Not at all! In this guide, the team at Red Label Abrasives shows you how to refinish a door’s worn-out appearance and make it look as fresh and vibrant as the day it was built.


    • Flat-head screwdriver
    • Phillips head screwdriver
    • Random orbital sander
    • Hammer
    • Pry bar
    • Abrasive
    • Scraper
    • Sanding sponge
    • Tack cloth
    • Finish
    • Wood filler (optional)
    • Dowel (optional)

    What Finish Should You Use?

    Its UV resistance and flexibility make Spar varnish one of the most popular clear finishes for exterior wood. Today, many different and effective formulations are available in stores. If you are refinishing an exterior door, you should choose one that is specifically designed for outdoor use and UV-protected.

    Step #1: Remove the Door

    Close and latch the door. After that, tap a nail on the hinge pin bottom to remove the hinge pins. Don't hammer the pins all the way out with the nail, as you might damage the trim. You can try pulling them free with your fingers after they've popped up an inch or so. If they stick or are otherwise stubborn, use a flat-blade screwdriver to drive up on the underside of the knuckle.

    To protect the floor, slide some cardboard under the door and lift it slightly at the knob and under one of the hinges. You can wedge a pry bar under the door if the weight of the door prevents you from separating the hinges. Once it’s off, set it on padded sawhorses or another surface that allows the door to stay horizontal.

    Step #2: Remove the Door Hardware

    To remove the door knob, start by identifying where the screws are located. In many knob mounts, the screws are concealed for a more streamlined look, so you may need to look closely. Check the top, base, and sides for openings. If you see a small slot or hole instead of screw holes, the knob has a detent, which is a type of hidden lever. 

    Hold the door knob securely in place. For standard hex-head screws, turn a Phillips head screwdriver counterclockwise to unscrew them. For knobs with pinholes and small slots, use a flathead screwdriver to push them inward. If the screwdriver is too large, you can use a paperclip or small pin. Once the latch has been unscrewed or loosened, tug on the door knob until it disengages from the base or pops out of place.

    For Door Knobs Without Screws or a Latch:

    • Find the hole beneath the shaft of the doorknob. You should be able to see a tiny slot or hole.
    • Insert the tip of a narrow screwdriver into the hole.
    • Pull the knob and it will come right out.

    You will need to remove the base separately if it doesn't come off with the knob. Insert a pin or the tip of a flathead screwdriver under the small opening between the base and the door surface. Pull it away from the door or gently pry it off.

    Step #3: Sand the Door

    Remove any old varnish and sun damage quickly using a random orbital sander with 80-grit paper. The wood should then be sanded again with 100-grit paper, followed by 120-grit paper. 

    • For corners and on the end grain of raised panels, use a small and sharp scraper- be careful to use gentle pressure when pushing downward to avoid accidentally damaging the wood.
    • To hand-sand profiles, fold a half-sheet of 100-grit sandpaper and rub it back and forth over the molding in long and steady strokes. For inside corners that are too tight for your fingers, use a sanding sponge. When done, brush and vacuum away any dust.
    • Wood filler can be used to fill in divots or scratches that can't be completely removed by sanding. Apply the wood filler gently to the scratch or divot and smooth around the edges. To even out the surface of the wood-fill repair, use a sanding sponge.
    • In the case of holes left behind by old door handles or knockers, you can fill them with a dowel. Find a dowel that will fit the hole and cut it an inch longer than the door's width. Place it in the hole and cover it with wood glue. Let it dry for a few hours. Sand the wooden door patch after trimming the dowel.

    Step #4: Seal the Door Edges

    Before rehanging the door, seal the top and bottom edges with a coat of finish. Afterward, reattach the door to its hinges before applying the first coat. Otherwise, the door cannot be rehung without damaging the finish.

    Place the door on the hinges by grasping it at the center and tipped it slightly to the right, engaging the top hinge knuckles. As the door hangs on the top hinge, work the other hinges together. 

    The first hinge pin should go into the hinge that lines up, then the remaining pins can be tapped in. The other hinge leaves may not fit together if one hinge is slightly low and the other hinge leaves are not engaging. Place a pry bar under the center of the door and lever it up until the other hinge leaves engage. For this step, close the door most of the way and hold it firmly - the pry bar may try to push it in or out.

    Step #5: Apply Finish

    Let a new bristle brush soak in paint thinner for a few minutes, then spin or knock off the excess. Pour some finish into a clean bucket and dip the bristles about a third of the way into it. 

    When you start, do the panels first, then the moldings around them. Next, apply finish to the horizontal rails, then the vertical stiles. If any finish drips on a dry surface that’s not yet ready for treatment, wipe it off immediately. Be sure to let the finish dry overnight before closing the door all the way.

    The next day, gently hand-sand the dried wood with 220-grit paper. Wipe the door down with a tack cloth after dusting it. Apply the second coat in the same order, and let it dry overnight. Apply the final coat after dusting and sanding with 280-grit paper.

    Step #6: Reinstall Door Hardware

    When the final coat is dry, reattach the door hardware. If the existing assembly is relatively new, you can reuse it, but if it’s older, you can buy another door hardware set from a residential door hardware provider.

    To ensure that you have the correct replacement size, look for a number stamped somewhere on your old latch, either 2-3/4 or 2-3/8 inches. The number indicates the distance between the door's edge and the center of the doorknob hole. Backsets for standard door knobs range from 2-3/4 inches to 2-3/8 inches.

    Once you have purchased the replacement door knob, insert the new latch into the door's edge. Make sure it is oriented correctly so that it aligns with the swinging direction of the door. Then pick up the knob with the extended rod that interlocks with the latch and the other knob.

    Place the knob over the hole in the door, and slide the rod into the latch. Center the knob over the hole, then thread in its screws and tighten them. Lock the latch mechanism in place by tightening the latch plate screws. You can test the latch spring by pushing it in several times with your fingers. If the spring is working, the latch should spring back up each time it is pressed.

    Hold the second knob in place, ensuring it is interlocked with the first knob's rod mechanism. Then lock it in place by threading in the screws. Replace the new strike plate over the latching hole in the door jamb, aligning it with the hole and any marks left by the old strike plate. It is important to align the bent edge of the strike plate with the direction in which the door swings. After tightening the strike plate screws, open and close the door several times to test the new knob.

    Get Superior Finishing Results with Red Label Abrasives

    Stripping away sun damage and old coats of paint or varnish from a wooden door is a challenging process made easier by a quality abrasive. At Red Label Abrasives, we sell sanding belts, sanding sheets and pads, and other accessories designed for stripping, shaping, and polishing wood surfaces. Our abrasive specialists can recommend the right product for refinishing your door, so that you get the timeless and elegant results you’re looking for. If you have questions or would like to place an order, call 844-824-1956 or fill out our contact form today!