Home Reprovement

I’ve spent a lot, a lot of time recently stripping the paint off of an old door, with an eye towards either (1) ending up with a nice, finished, wood-grain door or (2) ending up with a surface I could repaint. It has turned into a colossal waste of time, and now I have a door that may not be repaintable, and looks like ass. Let me tell you a little bit about that.

First of all, I object to painting latex over wood. I think wood is beautiful, and can be stained, varnished, whatever, but to actually use latex paint? Ugly. You obscure the grain; it may look fine, but really, you’re trading away the chance at something better. I’ve scraped, heat gunned, solvented, wire brushed and sanded this door, and in those meager spots where I’ve been able to achieve wood grain are great.

But most of the rest of the door is a fucking disaster.

This is not my fault.

Here is a list of things that you put on a door.

  1. Paint.

Here is a list of things that you don’t put on a door.

  1. Tile grout.
  2. Silicone bathtub sealant.
  3. Toothpaste
  4. Your filthy fucking hands, if you thought any of those last three things was a good idea.

A stark contrast! And somebody, to fill in the seams in the panels, had used all three of these products on my poor door. The tile grout comes apart in gravelly chunks, if you’re interested. The silicone doesn’t dissolve under the chemicals or the heat gun, doesn’t come off in one long pull-off strip and totally screws up the sandpaper it gets on to. The toothpaste isn’t harmful per se, but it’s really a fine topping on the whole process. Sometime in the past this door was refinished by somebody who couldn’t give a flying fuck at a rolling donut about doing a good job, and I submit to you that the toothpaste represents the sprinkles on said donut.

I’m going to have to do exactly what I didn’t want to do, and repaint it anyway. What a waste of time. Angrifying, because under all those stupid decisions this door was a nice piece of wood. Could have been, should have been, etcetera.

A few bright spots in this process:

  • I’ve been doing this indoors in the winter, and the heat gun and the chemicals are supposed to be well ventilated, but weren’t. An activated-charcoal fume mask, though, makes the process totally bearable – the fumes aren’t a problem at all. A clear win.
  • The fastest way I’ve found of getting the old paint off has been heat stripping the flat parts, and using chemicals on the details. Everything else I’ve tried takes longer and doesn’t work as well.
  • Once you’ve cleared almost all the paint and need to sand down the surface, a power sander is a clear win, provided you do not sand over any silicone. I was briefly using a circular wire brush in a cordless drill to do some of the seams in the door, but this doesn’t work well if you use too little force, and damages the wood if you use too much; one of those little toothbrush-looking ones is the way to go. It’s not a bad way to prep for the chemical treatment, though.
  • Trying to wipe off chemical paint strippers with paper towels is a waste of time. Tear up some old shirts.
  • Having a big, dry brush around to sweep off dust and detritus is a good thing to think of ahead of time.
  • Safety glasses, of course.


  1. Jamie
    Posted December 24, 2005 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

    Is this your main door (I assume not since you had to deal with fumes and are doing this in the winter? If not, perhaps getting a new door is in order? Also, if no old shirts are available, cotton diapers are great for both cleaning up solvents, oils, and cleaning the car (not at the same time).

  2. Mike Hoye
    Posted December 24, 2005 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

    No, just a door in the upstairs hallway.