Painting your Front Door – It doesn’t have to be complicated…..

Achieving a high quality, painted finish on your front door does not have to be complicated.   In fact depending on the condition of your door, it may not even be that much work.  However, there is a process…… and if followed correctly you’ll have less trouble and will get great looking results.

This article will not be a chemistry class on the various types of  paints, finishes and their compatibility which each other.  There is tremendous amounts of information readily available on this subject and I will not repeat it here.  Rather, I will describe a Process you can follow to get the desired result.

Lets dive in………

Step 1…….    Identify what type of paint and top coat you should use. The top coat being an optional layer of finish to go over the paint, such as a glossing product.  Generally this isn’t needed but in some cases it is used to achieve a desired result.

Again, this isn’t a chemistry class so I won’t give advice on what product should be chosen to ensure compatibility with the existing finish on the door.   Rather, I suggest you visit your local paint store (Sherwin Williams, Lowes, etc) and discuss your project with a qualified professional.  You are purchasing the paint there any way, so take advantage of their expert advice.  If you can scrape off some paint chips from the existing door, do so and take them into the paint store.  The paint expert will be able to determine what type of paint is on the door and make appropriate recommendations.

Here is an example of product compatibility gone wrong.   Notice the before picture and the yellowing, bubbling of the finish.  The previous finisher used incompatible products.


Before Picture

Here is the after…..     notice how smooth and pretty the finish is….

After picture of painted front door.



Step 2……         Prep the door….

In this step the surface is prepared for receiving the new coat of paint.  A common misconception is that all the previous paint must be removed before applying new.   Not true…. if you follow Step 1 correctly and get a compatible product you do not need to remove all the previous paint.   Rather, the work you do in this step is a function of how smooth you want the final painted finish to be.   At a minimum (for any door you are repainting) you lightly sand the entire surface with 150 grit sandpaper before applying a new coat of paint.  This sanding of the surface in essence cleans and scratches the surface allowing the new coat to adhere better.

If you have extensive layers of old paint and/or are looking for an extremely smooth finish (similar to what is shown in the above after shot), then the sanding process becomes much more intensive.   In the example above, we took everything back down to the bare wood.  These doors were from a home on the Historic National Registry and we were looking for an extremely fine finish.

To remove all the paint (or enough to get the smoothness you want) use a combination of sand paper, heat guns or paint stripping chemicals.  For most applications a thorough sanding is more than enough.   Start with an aggressive sandpaper (80 grit) and sand/level the surface.  Then move up to 150 grit paper and sand again.  Finally, go over with 220 grit paper.   For most applications this is more than enough to get the desired smoothness you need.

In the example shown above we begin by using a combination of 80 grit sandpaper, heat guns and paint removing chemicals to get all the paint off.  After the paint was removed we then sanded back up through 220 grit sandpaper   (started with 80 grit, then 150 grit then 220 grit)   Further,  we actually used carving chisels to get into all the nooks and crannies of the carvings.  By removing the countless layers of paint we were able to once again see and enjoy the carving details which were hidden by the thickness of the paint.

Using heat gun to remove paint.



Step 3…… Applying the paint……..

Now that you have the appropriate product selected and the door is prepped – the fun part begins.  Painting!   In this step make sure you use the correct brush for the type of paint being used.  (latex brush with latex paint – for instance.   Again, use your paint expert when choosing the brushes!)

To achieve a smooth blemish free painted finish sand in between coats of paint!!!   Apply the paint in thin coats, don’t slop it on……   Then lightly sand with 220 grit paper in between coats.  Once again, this levels the paint and removes brush struck lines,  etc…   After about three coats I’m generally able to get the smoothness and coverage that I like.   But don’t be afraid to do more.  Remember, thinner multiple coats are better than thicker few coats!!!

Here are some more pictures of the doors for the historic home we did.

Funderburk Home Door IMG_0823


Not just your ordinary Dining Room Table…

Recently I had a client commission me to build a table that would be used for playing board games, card games etc.  However, while gaming tables can be cool they are a bit unpractical when not in use.  Not everyone has the room to have a large stand alone table that isn’t used every day…..

Sooooo…. got my wheels turning.   Why not kill a couple birds with one stone..?  How about a table that when not being used for gaming looks and functions as a dinning table???   The trick is that the table should be self containing  (i.e. hold or store all the components that are needed) and really look like a dining table.

Here is what I came up with…. This is the final product (when not being used for gaming) and set up as a dining table.

Dining Table Game Table

Table with all leaves set up as Dining Table


The next picture shows what the table looks like with two leaves removed and set up for fewer players or smaller games.

Game Table Dinning Table

Table set up for smaller games with two leaves removed.


Here’s the full version….all leaves removed.

Dinning Table Game Table

Here is the full gaming table set up with all leaves removed.


Each seat has a hidden pull our shelf surface and cup holder.  This keeps all drinks etc. away from the playing surface.

Pullout shelf and cupholder

Pullout shelf and cup holder for each player.


The end seats have pull out drawers for supplies and two cup holders for the extra people who gather around the table.


End seats have pull out drawers and two cup holders.


The table was made using walnut and maple.



Beautiful, late 1800′s wardrobe restored

1800's wardrobe restored



Why refinish a piece this old?

Generally speaking you don’t want to refinish or modify a piece this age as it can have a very negative effect on the value.  However, the client had already begun to strip the piece before contacting me so that made us all in!  We had to refinish and restore it.

What to do?

The client had attempted to sand on one side and had sanded through the paint to what was a  yellow/golden color.  Initially, we thought they had sanded through to a layer of milk paint.    However, after working on the piece a bit, we discovered this wasn’t a light coat of milk paint.  Rather it was the color that the underneath poplar had aged to. I have never seen poplar turn this beautiful golden hue…  I guess it was the mixture of painted top coats, age of the wood and the environment that made this happen.    As such the color was chosen…we were going to leave it natural.

The Steps…


1.)  We sanded with 120 grit sandpaper (very lightly to remove the paint) then moved on to 220 grit paper.  Being very careful to eliminate all swirl and sanding marks.

2.) Sprayed 4 coats of satin lacquer over the entire piece, top, bottom, front, back etc..   You want to do this to seal all the surfaces and keep the wood stable.

3.) I also reworked the hardware (hinges, knobs, etc.) to get them back in working condition.



Before refinishing the wardrobe


Make your project look old and distressed in 5 easy steps!

Making wood look old

The Bench Project

I recently was asked to make a small bench for a client. In this case, we wanted the resulting end look to be very rustic, distressed and aged.   So – when I picked out the lumber I chose pieces that had lots of dents, scratches, nicks and saw marks.    (Also, I picked Oak because the finishing steps described below work best on open grain woods like oak, pine, etc..)   The rest of the aged appearance I achieved during the finishing process.

Here is how I did it 5 easy steps….

Step 1.)  Sand the wood to the desired surface texture.  I recommend starting with 150 grit.  Keep in mind that the object is NOT to remove all the imperfections, but rather to make a smoother surface, while still feeling all the imperfections, undulations, etc.  Notice in the the above picture I left lots of saw marks, scrapes etc..    For  frame of reference – I may have removed about a third of  the marks that were originally on there.

Step 2.) Rub on lots of Black Grain Filler!   Don’t hold back here.  Lay it on heavy and make sure you work it down into the grain, holes & imperfections as much as possible.  As a result your entire piece will become black.  Let dry for the recommended time.

Step 3.) Sand the black off the surface.  Using 220 grit sand the entire surface.  This removes the black grain filler from the surface but leaves it in the pores, indention’s and grooves.   Keep in mind that each time you sand, you are removing imperfections, so keep an eye out so that you don’t remove to much.  You’re just trying to get most of the black off the surface.

Step 4.)  Stain the piece your favorite color. Pick your favorite color stain and let it rip!   Wipe on the stain and after sitting a few minutes wipe off the excess.  You’ll notice that any of the black residue left on the surface blends with the stain adding beautiful shades and patina.  Let dry for the recommended time.

Step 5.) Apply the clear Top Coat.  Pick the clear top coat you like (lacquer, polyurethane, etc) and apply it to the project.  Let dry the recommended time and apply additional coats as necessary.  I always sand lightly with 220 grit between layers of the topcoat.  This gives a much smoother, silky, professional finish.

The end result! 

reclaimed lumber



Convert old unsused armior to display/storage bathroom furniture

Armoir Restored

Giving new life to an old armoir.

Remember how the old armoir’s were built very deep to house  large TVs?  Now that TV’s have gotten so slim these things are not as useful and can be purchased everywhere for little cost.

The Need:

My client needed a storage/display area in a bathroom.  I could have built something from scratch, however reusing one of these seemed appealing.  So – I hunted one down on Craigslist, bargained for a good price and off I went!

The Furniture Project:

  • Essentially, we cut the piece in half (depth wise) using a skill saw.
  • We rebuilt some of the framing that was cut through and reattached a new bead board plywood back.
  • Removed all the doors and made a new shelf for the upper portion.
  • Sanded the entire piece and prepped for the spray finish.
  • Sprayed with a dark brown color.
  • Clear coated with several coats of satin lacquer.


Our client now has an awesome storage/display area in their bathroom at an affordable cost.  Additionally, we recycled and old unused piece of furniture


Old Dining Table, Chairs and Buffet Refinished and Restored

unfinished table top


Notice how the leaves in the middle don’t match.  In this situation I had to strip off all the old finish and gett down to the bare wood.  Then I had to sand through the color (as much as possible without going through the veneer) to get back to the original unstained wood.    Then I restained all of it together to get a much better matching base coat of stain color.

Table Refinished

In order to get the leaves to match more closely:  I first stained then applied a clear coat of lacquer. Then I applied a thin coat of glaze that was the same color of the stain.   This smoothed out the color variations and gave the appearance a much more even look, with a nice aged looking patina.

Buffet Refinished


Here is the final picture of the Old Buffet!   This had a small 1/2 divot in the top that had to be repaired.  While making a veneer patch is never blemish free, it does go a long way toward hiding the damage and making it stand out less.

Hope you enjoyed!

Brendan Carpenter

How to make different colored wood look the same!

When finishing furniture, one often finds that the piece may be made from several different types of wood.  Because woods take stain differently, it is helpful to know a few techniques that allow you to color the wood (across different species) and achieve a uniform and pleasing color.   Additionally, not all projects can be made from mahogany and walnut.  However, just because you have a piece made from pine you are not prevented from creating a dark wood, fine finish similar to what you might find on a more formal piece.    See the steps below which were adapted using techniques and materials readily available to the DIY person.

Display table

This is the wood before finishing.    Notice how the poplar has green throughout and other variations in shade.  When following the steps outlined below much of this can be removed and a great looking finish developed.


DSCF0497Color variations in wood

1.) Start sanding the bare wood with 150 grit sandpaper, progressing through to 220 grit sandpaper.   You want to remove all the scratches and rough spots on the natural wood.  This step is where you apply the elbow grease and the work you put in here pays dividends later in the project.

2.) Brush on light coat of Zinsser’s seal coat shellac (available in quarts at your home improvement store).  Let dry for an hour.    This is an important first step when dealing with pine and poplar.  This seal coat will fill some of the more open pores in the wood and allow the base color stain to absorb more evenly.   Without doing this the wood can appear splotchy with very dark areas and spots.

3.) Lightly sand the surface with 220 grit sandpaper, sanding with the grain. This removes most of the “fuzz” that settles into the seal coat while drying.  It also removes some of the shellac from the surface while leaving it in the more open pores, thereby reducing splotchiness described in step 2.

4.) Wipe on a base coat of stain, let settle for a few minutes then wipe down the entire piece with clean dry cotton cloth.  The wiping down removes any excess stain not absorbed into the wood.  I chose a dark mission brown color.   This first base coat neutralizes most of the green in the poplar and provides the entire piece with a dull brown base color that is the starting point to build the ultimate color you desire.  You can use any of the pigment stains in your home improvement store, Minwax for example.  Read the label on the can for drying time before next coat.

5.) Spray on first coat of lacquer.  While I use professional spray equipment, the DIY person can purchase spray lacquer in aerosol cans at their local home improvement store.  When using an aerosol lacquer can it is applied in a manner similar to spray paint.  However, apply light coats.  (Think of fogging a mirror with your breath).

Note to more experienced finishers:  I use a vinyl sealer for a few coats prior to pre cat lacquer.

6.) Lightly sand the surface with 220 grit sandpaper.  This is an important step and will be repeated throughout the finishing process.  When sanding between coats you are trying to achieve a light gray uniform haze over the surface.  Don’t confuse this between coat sanding with the sanding that is done in step 1.   This between coat sanding is simply to level the coat of lacquer you just applied and remove impurities (like dust and grit) from the surface. No elbow grease required; the technique is very light touch sanding – with  the grain.  Be careful not to sand so much that you sand through the lacquer into the previous coat of stain.

7.). Pick your favorite color in a pigment Glaze.  (Glaze can be purchased at your local paint store). When applying glaze think of a color sandwich.  Glaze is simply a colorant that lies between two coats of finish.  (Lacquer – Glaze – Lacquer).  A little glaze goes a long way.  For this step I may have used a tablespoon of glaze on the whole small piece.  Simply brush it on and buff/spread it around the piece with your paintbrush.   Applying glaze is where you begin to achieve the desired color and create color uniformity across the piece.  Read the label on the can and note that glaze typically needs to be coated with a topcoat of finish (in this example lacquer) within a certain amount of time. (Generally no longer than 8 hours)

8.) Spray coat of lacquer. See step 5.  Let dry recommended time on label.

9.) Sand lightly with 220 grit sandpaper.

10.). If more color is desired, apply more glaze. Note that you can apply glaze only in particular areas of the piece helping to create a uniform color/shade across the entire piece.

11.) Spray coat of lacquer.

12.)  Sand lightly with 220 grit sandpaper.

13.)  Once you achieve the desired color with glaze (typically 2-3 layers) topcoat the glaze with 3 coats of lacquer.  I don’t sand after the last coat of lacquer as I want the sheen that comes off the spray gun/can.

Uniform colored finish

Re using heirloom marble.

Marble Top End Tables

Recently a customer asked if I could salvage some heirloom marble that had been broken during a move. The marble was originally the top of a dinning room buffet.  A marble fabricator cut the marble into two pieces and molded the edges.  I then recreated two Sheraton style end tables using cherry. The legs were turned on the lathe by hand and also have flutes.  The drawers were made from poplar and contain hand-cut dovetails.  The color was a unique color blend created specifically for the project. The finish is lacquer.

Chest made from 100 year old doors….

Hi Everyone,

This was a very fun project.  A customer recently salvaged some heart pine flooring and old doors from an old home that was being demolished.  They asked if I could make something interesting for their daughter.   That was the extent of the guidance, which doesn’t happen often.   So  – I let my imagination run and here is what I came up with.




It all started with cutting the doors into a manageable size and then stripping off 80 years of paint.  This was a job!  It still took lots of scraping using the strongest industrial chemicals I have.



The customer also had a piece of yellow bodark wood which was taken from his family’s farm in Texas.  He asked if I could incorporate this wood into the piece –  so here was my idea.  I made these butterfly inlay and placed a few on the top of the trunk.

Butterfly Inlay

I also inlayed walnut into the old mortise holes and used large walnut dowels to lock in the halflap joints on the case.

Walnut Dowels

I found this escutcheon buried in the thick paint of one of the doors.   After scraping and repainting to match the antique trunk hardware it was used over the top of one of the butterfly inlays.

Reclaimed Escutcheon

I then stained with Mohawk’s Van Dyke Brown followed by a brushed coat of diluted Mohawk Burnt Umber.   After five coats of sprayed lacquer and some rubbing out the trunk was done.    Thanks to my brother Todd for taking the pictures.

chest made from doors

Refinishing Queen Anne Desk

A client called asking that I refinish a desk they just acquired.  The piece is a fairly nice Queen Anne desk that someone else had begun refinishing but never completed.  Here’s what it looked like when I received it.


before picture of queen anne desk

I then stripped it completely to remove all the finish. I would have preferred not to strip down to bare wood, however the previous person had sanded the top down to bare wood, so I didn’t have a choice.  Heres’s what it looked like after the first coat of coloring. I used a standard Burnt Umber – very light coat.
 After coloring…

Queen Anne Desk after base color

I sprayed a seal coat and then brushed on a very light coat of very diluted black glaze.  I then “aged” the piece by brushing black glaze in all the crevices and corners.. notice the black highlights on the leg closeup.
 Glazed crevices

Glaze used to highlight carvings and crevices

Then I sprayed several coats of the final finish….seems easy doesn’t it??

final picture of queen anne desk refinished