How Do You Finish an Exterior Door?

Exterior Door FinishEven doors that are protected by a porch or overhang can be damaged by the elements. Once the sealer or paint begins to crack, chip, and peel, the wood becomes exposed. Exposed wood begins to dry out, and then it, too, cracks and chips. Protect your doors by learning how to finish an exterior door.

Maintaining Your Exterior Door

To keep doors looking their best, you should finish an exterior wood door every two to three years. Inspect the paint or varnish on the door annually for cracking, chipping, or blistering and sand the door lightly or refinish it as needed.


To refinish your door, you will need:

  • Hammer
  • Flat screwdriver
  • Philips screwdriver, if required for removing hardware from door
  • Block of wood
  • Two padded sawhorses
  • Paint scraper
  • Electric orbital sander
  • 80-grit, 100-grit,and 120-grit sandpaper
  • Tacky cloth
  • Clean rags, for cleaning the door and applying stain
  • Mineral spirits or acetone
  • Paint primer, if painting the door
  • Exterior paint or stain
  • Polyurethane top coat, if staining the door
  • Paint brush, if painting the door
  • Masking tape

In your work area, set up two sawhorses and place padding on them to protect the door from scrapes or dents. Be certain that your work area has adequate ventilation. If you do not have a storm or screen door, cut a sheet of plywood to protect your home while you work.

Open the door and place a wood block under the free edge. To remove the hinge pins, place a flathead screwdriver between the hinge and top of the hinge pin and tap down on the handle of the screwdriver with your hammer to push the pin up. Removing the bottom two pins before removing the top one keeps the door stable. When the hinge pins are removed, pull the door away from the door frame, carry it to your work area, and lay it on the sawhorses. Remove all of the door’s hardware. If you plan to reuse the same hardware, pay attention to how it is attached as you remove it. If you plan to replace the deadbolt and lock set, be certain that measurement from the edge of the door to the center hole, or backset, of the new lock is identical to the measurement for the old lock.

Removing the Old Paint or Varnish

Use a paint scraper to remove any paint or varnish that is cracked, blistered, or peeling. If the door has a heavy coat of paint or sealant, you may need to use a chemical stripper to remove it. Next, use an orbital sander to remove any remaining finish from the door’s flat surfaces. Start with 80-grit sandpaper and finish with 100-grit sandpaper and then 120-grit sandpaper. The finer sandpapers remove the marks of the coarse 80-grit sandpaper. Sand moldings and carved areas by hand, again switching from 80-grit to 100-grit to 120-grit sandpaper. Use a tacky cloth to remove the dust of sanding from the door, and then rub the door’s surface with acetone or mineral spirits to remove any remaining oil, dirt, lint, or other contaminants. Apply masking tape to any areas of the door that you do not want to stain or paint.

Finish an Exterior Door with Paint

Use a brush to apply a coat of primer to the door. Allow the primer to dry, and then apply two coats of paint. Allow the first coat of paint to dry before applying the second.

Finish an Exterior Door with Stain

Apply stain to the door with a clean, dry rag and then remove excess stain with another clean dry rag. Continue adding layers of stain and removing excess stain until you have reached the desired depth of color for the wood. Allow the stain to dry, and then use either a brush or sprayer to apply UV resistant exterior polyurethane

Finishing Touches

When the paint or polyurethane is completely dry, carefully peel away any masking tape and then reattach the door’s hardware. If you must drill new holes, try drilling through one side of the door until the drill bit begins to appear, and then finish drilling on the opposite side to prevent the wood from splitting. Slide the door back into the hinges on the door frame and replace the hinge pins. Tap the pins into place with a hammer if necessary, according to Better Home and Gardens.

With an attractive new finish on an exterior door, your house will instantly raise its curb appeal.

Related Resource: Install Weather Stripping on a Door