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How to Paint External Doors

If properly cared for, external doors can last for many years. One of the most common issues with external doors, especially in the UK, is that the paint or stain on them cracks and peels after prolonged exposure to the elements. Once that external coat has cracked, it will let water into the wood, which could cause it to warp or swell. Repainting your doors (and frames) every few years will keep them looking good, and help to prolong the life of the door.

Painting Solid Wooden Doors

Repainting solid timber doors is a relatively easy thing to do, since you are working with wood only. To repaint the door, you will need:

  • A flat-head screwdriver
  • A Phillips-head screwdriver
  • A hammer
  • Caulk
  • Fine grit Sandpaper (120, 220 and 320-grit)
  • Vacuum cleaner
  • Cleaning cloth
  • Two saw horses
  • A mask and safety goggles
  • A Putty knife
  • A wide paintbrush
  • A small paint roller
  • Primer/undercoat
  • Paint

The first thing you will need to do is remove all the hardware from the door, and remove the door from the frame. You may need to have someone help you move the door if it is solid hardwood, because these can be surprisingly heavy. Place the door on the sawhorses, making sure that it lies flat.

Once the door has been removed, and stripped of any hardware, you can start thinking about stripping the door down, and repainting it. In some cases, you can get away with simply painting over the top of an existing paint job, but usually you will get significantly better results if you remove the existing paint first.

  1. Scrape off any peeling paint, and sand the old paint surface until it is smooth and even.
  2. Start with some 120-grit sandpaper, and work up to fine 320-grit for a smooth and even finish. Be sure to wear your goggles and a dust mask while working.
  3. Vacuum up any dust, and wipe the surface down with a cloth.
  4. Now the door is clean, apply a coat of primer, using a wide paint brush. Cover the front of the door and the sides.
  5. Let the primer dry, flip the door, and prime the rear. If you notice that the primer is clumping, sand it to smooth it out.
  6. You may need to apply more than one coat of primer, depending on the wood you are painting and the type of paint you are using. Check the instructions on both the primer and the paint to see what they recommend.
  7. Once the primer has dried, open the paint, stir it thoroughly, and start painting the door.
  8. Work from the top of the door downwards. Use the wide paintbrush to paint corners, crevices and bevels, and the roller to paint the panels.
  9. Paint with the grain, using long strokes, and be sure to clean any visible lines using a lint-free dry cloth.
  10.  Work from painted area to painted area, at a steady pace, making sure that you do not allow the paint to dry before you work into it, so that you don’t get ‘tide marks’ with the paint.

You should aim to paint in this order:

  • Bevels
  • Panels
  • The centre sile
  • Any rails
  • Outer stiles
  1. Once you have covered the outer side of the door, let it dry, flip it over, and paint the other side.
  2. Repeat this process a second time.
  3. If you want a much brighter, more saturated appearance, then you may want to add a third coat of paint.

Once all of the coats have dried completely (the paint should not feel tacky when touched) you can replace the hardware, and then re-attach the door to the frame using the hinge pins. Carefully align the hinges while you replace the pins.

Painting French Doors and Bi-fold Doors

If you have French doors or bi-fold doors with wooden frames, then you may want to paint those frames to give the doors a new lease of life. This can be a slightly intimidating task, because people are nervous about getting paint on the glass surface of the doors.

To protect the glass, you can either cover it with masking tape, or run Vaseline around the area where the glass meets the wood. Both of these options will stop the paint from adhering to the glass.

Once you have painted the wood, let it dry completely, and then run a razor around the area where the glass meets the frame, to ‘cut’ the hard paint, then peel back the tape or wipe off the Vaseline to reveal the clean, untouched glass.

Another option is simply to paint the door as normal, again, let the paint dry, cut around the area where the frame and glass meet, then use a razor to lift the paint off the glass. This works just as well, and many people find that it is a better option, saving them the time and hassle of carefully affixing tape to the windows. As long as the windows are clean before you start painting, it should be easy to remove any paint.

Some Final Tips

Be sure to give yourself plenty of time to paint your doors. Remember that each coat will need time to dry. This is a job that is best done on a day when the weather is mild, because if it is too hot that could make the paint dry un-evenly, and if it’s too cold or damp then that will cause problems too.

To get a professional looking finish, use a new paintbrush, and wrap an elastic band over the paint tin. When you dip the paintbrush into the tin, drag it out over the elastic band to remove excess paint. This will prevent the paint from dripping or dribbling, ensuring that you get a smooth coat every time. If you do get any excess paint ‘running’ on the door, mop it up before it dries, and paint over again, following the grain.

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