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Door Painting Simplified

Taking the Door Off its Hinges Saves Trouble and Makes Work Easier for the Amateur.
By Ray Lewhite

The method I adopt when painting a door may not be recommended by any professional, but when one craftsman saw the finished job he said he rarely did work up to that standard these days people just could not afford to pay for the time he would have to spend preparing the surface. That is exactly where the householder scores! He may not have the skill or equipment of the qualified man, but he has almost unlimited time to give to his work, and the time spent in preparing always shows up in the final result.

Remove the Door
Door Painting Simplified

When the sitting-room or bedroom door of my ordinary semi-detached house needs repainting I do not simply rub it down and paint it as a decorator would. I start by taking the door of its hinges and carrying it outside. This is not nearly as drastic as it first may seem. It saves an awful lot of mess in the house and, in my opinion makes the job quicker. There are times of course, when the door may not be removed; in those cases I leave it till the whole room or landing is to be done, or else cover up everything to save some of the cleaning afterwards. Those doors which have what are often called rising hinges are simply lifted off the fixed half of the hinge and taken away. With most doors, however half a dozen screws must be removed. Choose the largest screwdriver that will fit in the slot, remembering to clean the slot of all paint. I always make a point of taking off the lock at the same time to clean and oil it, replacing it when the door is refixed.

Cleaning Down
Door Painting Simplified

After the door is off its hinges it down on a pair of trestles if you have them (as shown in Fig.1), or on a couple of boxes or old boards, where the water will drain away. The cleaning now begins by washing off the top dirt with ordinary household bar soap and water, warm water if possible. For a grimy door use one of the washing powders intended for use with cold water will be found better than common soap. When the door has been varnished or is very dirty sugar soap should be used and the door propped against a wall or post, a spot where water may be splashed without causing to much mess (Fig.2).

Sugar Soap

Sugar soap liquid is prepared by mixing a powder with hot water, stirring well till dissolved; always follow the makers directions. The liquid will be found more efficient when used hot, besides saving time waiting for it to cool. An old scrubbing brush is fine for the job, and equally suitable is the black-lead type of brush with a handle on the back. It is most important when using sugar soap to start at the bottom and work up. If you start at the top the liquid will run down the dry part of the door, and where it has run a mark will be left and this mark is most difficult to remove. Starting at the bottom and moving upwards avoids this risk (Fig.3). Simply scrub the door with the liquid, then rub it over with the wet type sandpaper. When you have done it all thoroughly, wash off the door with plenty of water, several bucketful, making sure none trickles down the back of the door where it is not wanted. As soon as the door is washed off go over it with a rag that has been damped with vinegar, then wipe the door as dry as possible with a sponge. Those who have cuts on their hands or tender skin must take care with sugar soap as it effects sensitive skins A weak solution of ammonia in water can be used instead of sugar soap.

Door Painting Simplified

If you think the door is too bad for simple cleaning and feel, because the paint is bad in places, it must be stripped off, you may find it is not necessary. Also, the spots where the paint has been knocked off or bruised may probably be filled in. It is therefore, well worth trying with a mixture Tetron or some suitable filling preparation. Mix the powder with just a little water to give a very thick paste, then work in some of the paint you will be using for the door to make it a smooth paste, not to thin. Spread this paste with a filling knife over the chipped paintwork and bring it to a dead smooth finish with the knife. The less sandpapering of this filler the better. This gives a good, smooth surface hiding all the dents and faulty places. With a very light rub of the finest glass paper, in two hours or so (depending on the paint), the door is ready for painting. Using some of the same paint in the filler ensures that no sign of patching will be noticed on the finished door (Fig.4). A landing floor badly pitted and chipped was filled with a mixture filler and paint and then painted over. The surface has been walked on daily for several months and shows no sign of wear.


For a door where the whole surface is crazed or is in a really bad state, beyond hope of patching, the paint must be stripped off. I find Nitromores and suggest it as the quickest and best for amateurs. As I said before, keep to the makers instructions. The clear jelly like liquid is painted on the door with an old paintbrush. Lay the door flat for this operation as it is far easier, and leave the paint remover to work for a few minutes. After say, five minutes scrape a little off one corner. If sufficient paint comes off to show a good smooth surface, carry on and scrape off all the paint from the door. If however the old paint does not come off cleanly at the end of that time, try again five or ten minutes later. When half an hour has gone by, scrape away that first coat of remover and apply a second layer and in some cases a third is necessary when many coats must be stripped before coming to a good, sound base. Only in exceptional cases have I found it essential to go down to bare wood. When that has happened it has meant a priming coat before undercoat and shellac stopping for knots must be used. Of course, this makes a longer job because of the time taken between coats waiting for the paint to dry. A number of preparations are sold for removing several coats of paint at one application, and there are others which are intended to strip off one coat at a time. Personally I prefer the type that strips several coats; it may be used to remove only one layer if applied for a very short time and then scraped off. Scraping out the corners and mouldings may be difficult with an ordinary painters scraper, but when the paint is in a softened condition a common wire brush (with bristles about 1in. long) is an excellent tool for corners and grooves. All the soft paint may be brushed away with the wire brush, the brush itself being cleaned under a tap. When all the paint is brushed off a yard broom and buckets of water is the fastest way to complete the job , the door still lying down flat. It is important to make sure all flakes of softened paint are removed; new paint will not harden on top of the remover. As with sugar soap, a rag dipped in vinegar is used before the final dry down.

Ready for Paint
Door Painting Simplified

By this time the door will be ready for a final sandpapering to remove any roughness remaining. This should be done with very fine sandpaper, waterproof for preference as it saves time while waiting for the door to dry thoroughly. Wire wool too, is good for smoothing down paintwork. I always brush out the dust with a clean paintbrush when the door is really dry, then carry the door into the garage after the floor has been damped to stop dust rising and spoiling the finish. We are now ready for the actual painting, which with the door laid flat is the simplest job of all. The choice of makes of paint is the next problem. There are a number of nationally advertised brands in addition to scores of smaller manufacturers, each claiming some particular advantage for their product. The colours may decide the make for one householder; the fact that a certain brand was previously successful may decide another, while a third might wish to try something different. Some prefer a finish which is not glossy; others a flat finish which is more restful. I use one brand which is made only in a few colours, but is good value because it has great covering power, and one coat of this paint is as good as two coats of some others. I covered a very dark green with a pastel green in one coat to give a fine gloss finish with no signs of the colour beneath. Another important point was it soon dried, and the door was dry enough and refix only four hours after painting had started. You may like to try the quick-drying emulsion paints, including those now available in gloss finishes. Whichever you choose, the difference in price between the best and cheapest is not great, and quality pays.

Door Painting Simplified

The advantage of painting a door as it lays flat is that there will be no runs or sags, no draped curtains of paint spoiling the finish. You can spread the paint much more evenly without being afraid of it running down from the corners. There is no fear of splashing the wall or the consequences of upsetting a pot of paint indoors. If the door is painted in the order shown in Fig.5 it means the covering will be more even and no edge of paint is likely to be dry before the next section is covered. A two inch brush is the most popular size. These will fit in an ordinary half pint tin, whereas the two and a half inch brush does not go in all tins of that capacity. When I stir the paint I take care not it too vigorously in case it gets filled with bubbles which may be carried onto the door and not brushed out. The paint should be brushed on in one direction, say longwise on one of the panels, and make sure it is spread evenly, then brush across the panel, finally smoothing off lengthwise with strokes of the brush running the whole length of the panel. Two coats spread thinly are better than one thick one, because a thick coat does not dry as quickly and will not be as smooth as a thin coat. The shed or garage may be warmed to help drying as soon as the painting is finished. An oil stove or electric fire is a great help, especially in damp weather, to preserve the gloss surface. Dust however, is more likely to spoil the finish unless care is taken while the paint is tacky-half an hour or so after it has been applied, depending on the grade.
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