Finish an Exterior Door – Home Decor Online Tips

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Finish an Exterior Door - Home Decor Online Tips

How to choose and apply a long-lasting transparent finish.

What do you like? Do wooden boats and beautiful wooden entrance doors have in common? Both need a clear finish that can truly stand up to the elements. Sunlight, water, extreme temperature changes and abrasions are bound to occur in both situations. Most clear coatings can’t stand that kind of abuse and will fail in a year or two, causing discoloration and damage to the wood.

Transparent paints for exteriors

Finish an Exterior Door - Home Decor Online Tips

1. Saturate the raw surface with distilled water to eliminate a possible catastrophe. Moisture (from rain or wet footprints, for example) that inadvertently penetrates the surface leaves invisible marks that appear as ugly stains when the stain is applied.

Spar paints are formulated to be resilient in outdoor conditions. They are more elastic than regular paint, so they are less likely to crack as wood continually expands and contracts with changing external conditions. Some side member paints also contain very effective UV inhibitors. Finishes with the best track record for outdoor use come from the marine industry, where the paint for spars originated.

Finish an Exterior Door - Home Decor Online Tips


Spar paints are generally glossy. A glossy sheen looks good on a wooden boat and also tells the owner when it’s time to apply a new finish coat. A loss of luster indicates that the finish is starting to degrade and it is time to repaint. Some brands offer a lower gloss option, usually recommended for application as a topcoat over multiple coats of polish for best results.

Finish an Exterior Door - Home Decor Online Tips

2. Remove factory sanding marks by carefully and thoroughly sanding with hand grit, using 120 grit paper. These factory sanding marks are especially problematic on tracks, where scratches run through the grain.

Most side member paints at hardware and paint stores will work well on an exterior door hidden under a front porch, where the sun and rain are kept away. But for a door that will be fully exposed year-round in a harsh climate, a high-quality, oil-based marine side member paint will provide both good looks and a long life before it requires maintenance.

Finish an Exterior Door - Home Decor Online Tips

3. Install hardwood dowels to create temporary legs to support the door for finishing. Fill the holes with epoxy putty after the finishing process is complete.

Tung oil and phenolic resin are the key ingredients in many marine grade spar paints. The most technically advanced marine spars paint formulations also contain ultraviolet (UV) light inhibitors. UV inhibitors reduce the effect of the sun’s rays by transforming the energy of the UV light into heat, which can then dissipate without damaging the finish or the underlying wood. These are expensive ingredients and are reflected in the cost. A quart of the good stuff can cost $ 40 or more, but that’s a small price to pay when compared to a finish that fails after a year or two.

Finish an Exterior Door - Home Decor Online Tips

4. Stabilize the door upright with additional anchors and a wall bracket, so that both faces and all edges can be finished at the same time. Coating every surface is important for protection and is required by manufacturers’ warranties.

Unfortunately, it is almost always impossible to identify ingredients by reading the label (or even the MSDS), because they are rarely listed. Some brands list ingredients on their websites or other literature. Please note that labels may contain misleading claims, such as “maximum UV protection” or “UV stabilized”, even if the product does not contain significant UV inhibitors. That’s why the side member paints I trust most are specially designed and time-tested under the most extreme conditions. These high quality paints are also formulated to level well (reducing brush marks) and to allow for ample working time. Finding such spar paints usually requires purchasing at a marine supply store or advertising pages or nautical magazine websites.

Paint application for side members

Finish an Exterior Door - Home Decor Online Tips

5. Apply the stain, starting from the bottom, including the bottom edge. Work on one side and the adjacent edge, across the top and down to the other side and edge. Then move to the other side and repeat the process.

I’ll start by prepping this new front door for the finish by wetting it to get rid of hidden marks (Photo 1), sanding it to eliminate unsightly factory sanding marks (Photo 2) and resting it, so that both sides and all edges can be finished at the same time (Photos 3 and 4).

Finish an Exterior Door - Home Decor Online Tips

6. Marine spar paint developed and tested for use on boats provides the most beautiful and long-lasting clear exterior finish. You’ll pay a premium price to buy it, but it’s worth every penny.

Next, I will apply a dark brown oil based pigment stain (Photo 5 and Sources). The pigmented spot adds more than the color – the pigments also provide some UV protection for the wood.

Finish an Exterior Door - Home Decor Online Tips

7. Load the brush with paint and dab the excess on a clean, lint-free cloth to prevent dripping and running. I prefer a 2 “brush with natural porcelain bristles.

When the stain is completely dry, I’ll apply three coats of Epifanes Gloss Clear Varnish, my favorite premium marine varnish (Photo 6). To give the door a hand-sanded look, I’ll switch to the matte wood finish of Epifanes for the final coat.

Finish an Exterior Door - Home Decor Online Tips

8. Brush the panels first, starting from the bottom of the door upwards. This door has only one panel at the bottom. Start by dabbing the finish in the corners and brushing the field surrounding the raised panel. Then brush the raised panel.

This five-layer finish will provide many years of protection before requiring maintenance.

Finish an Exterior Door - Home Decor Online Tips

9. Switch to the tracks. Again, start at the bottom of the door (including the bottom edge) and work up to the top (including the top edge). Brush the paint a couple of inches past the joints with the posts.

I’ll use a 2 “natural bristle paint brush and small round brushes to apply the paint (see Sources, below).

Finish an Exterior Door - Home Decor Online Tips

10. Brush the styles and edges from bottom to top. Be careful not to touch the tracks; stop at the seams. Check for drops, then move to the other side of the door and repeat the brushing process.

The 2 ″ brush will do most of the surface (Photo 7-10); the sash brushes provide better control over the moldings around the raised panels (Photo 11).

Finish an Exterior Door - Home Decor Online Tips

11. A round sash brush closely follows the shapes of the molding and facilitates the neat sealing of the glass to the wood, as recommended by the door manufacturers.

They are also the best tools for removing drops (Photo 12). Avoid multiple cleanings by soaking brush bristles in paint thinner between coats.

Finish an Exterior Door - Home Decor Online Tips

12. Check for drips using a light held at a low angle and remove them by stippling with a small dry sash brush. Most drips come from paint scraping off the brush on raised moldings or panels, or from puddles in the corners of the panel.


Epifanes transparent paint

Epifanes Woodfinish Matte

General finishes Antique walnut color gel

2 “Natural Badger Style Chinese Bristle Brush

Round sash brush with olive-shaped bristles Escoda n. 2

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