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Super finish for front doors
By Ray Lewhite.

The focal point of your house exterior is the front door. Not only is it visible to the passer-by it will also be viewed close up and handled, so for these reasons a first class finish is well worth the extra time and trouble.

Briefly the job involves applying extra coats of paint or varnish with some wet rubbing work between coats, and there are three systems which may be used. First for pale colours, the use of extra coats of the finish gloss paint : second for strong colours, a finishing coat of varnish : and third for doors in natural wood left unpainted, there is a varnish system. All these processes correctly carried out, will result in a front door which looks good and which will have extra durability and protection against handling.
To get the depth and body associated with a really first class finish, some form of treatment either before the finished coats are applied or during the coating work, is necessary. This is because the ordinary paint coating is normally no thicker than a cigarette paper when applied over the natural undulations or waviness of timber plus the grain markings, a paint film applied in the ordinary manner will follow the wood and take on its surface characteristics.
Primer and undercoat applied in normal exterior painting will effectively stop the suction of the timber so we will ignore that aspect of painting and concentrate on achieving a level surface to get gloss and depth.
On some well painted woodwork, the grain markings may be detected as a pattern even through numerous paint coatings Fig.1 shows that coat after coat will repeat a given grain pattern or surface unevenness, and that only by wet rubbing of intermediary coats will we achieve a level surface where final coats will be both glossy and full of depth.

Rubbing down

Super finish for front doors
It is possible to carry out the levelling operations when the work has reached the finish gloss paint stage but it is far better if this preparatory work is done with paints of flat and fairly porous nature. Gloss paint films can either be very hard or very soft depending on how long they have been applied. If they are soft they will tear easily while being rubbed, and if they are hard the surface will be difficult to break down.
Bearing in mind that we are dealing with exterior paintwork, we must not lose any of the protective qualities of the paintwork merely to improve the appearance. Normally extra coats of paint put on over a fully adhering groundwork system lead to extra durability, but if during the work necessary to get a more beautiful finish, we impair the adhesion of the entire system then the results may be very disappointing
When dealing with front doors which are already painted, a decision about paint removal or rubbing down must be made at the outset of the work. Where paint already on the door is adhering well and is not showing signs of cracking, hair cracks, blisters or peeling, the work of getting a good finish will be much speeded up. Let us consider both circumstances, namely decorating from bare wood after burning or stripping off, and treating a previously painted surface.
After burning off or removal of the old and perished paint by means of paint removers it will be necessary to sand the wood using abrasives of coarse grade first and finishing off with papers of fine or "flour" grade. As with all paint work of high quality the better the surface preparation, the better will be the finish.
Prior to burning off, all fittings should be removed from the front door so that there is complete freedom of movement during the work, and a neater appearance when the fittings are replaced

Take it off

It will seldom be possible to have the door removed for the painting work but if this is feasible then the paint can be applied under cover in conditions free from dust. The first stage is to rub primer in very well after sanding and dusting off. This should be left at least overnight for proper drying. I do advocate at all times the rubbing in of primers rather than a simple laying-on, for a solid looking coat at this stage is of no value from the protective point of view. Our object is strong adhesion.
Next comes the filling of deeper defects. The obvious choice is one of the proprietary fillers made up with water to paste form and these are of course excellent for the job. However, readers may find that these fillers, being made with water, will not readily spread with ease on paint surfaces which by nature are oily. Overcome this by mixing the filler with a thinned undercoat or primer instead of water, and you will get perfect adhesion.

Prime first

Super finish for front doors
It is not advisable to apply a water bound filler to bare timber, for the principal of applying primer as a first coat is somewhat destroyed if filling is done first and primer is applied on top. The alternative is to fill some defects with filler after priming is hard dry, and use this filler again after the first coat of undercoat, which will be wet-rubbed to get a level surface.
Most undercoat paints posses a great deal of "body" and one or two coats of an undercoat will give us the paint thickness we need prior to final finishing. After priming, and filling deep defects with filler paste made up and applied with a putty knife, proceed with the application of a coat of undercoat.
For this work almost any undercoat will do provided the colour is not wildly different from the finish paint. For example don't use red undercoat for "bodying up" if the from door is to be finished in white. The risk of some "bleeding" would be far too great. The reverse of course would be quiet in order. When the first undercoat is flat-dry more filler can be applied to deep defects and left to harden and dry out. Then apply another coat of the same undercoating paint. By now we should have a paint film on the wood of sufficient weight and thickness to rub down to a reasonably level surface but the surface will probably be full of brush marks and possibly a few runs and sags in places.
In view is what to follow the applied coatings must be left for some days to harden thoroughly before the rubbing down.
From this stage, the procedure will be the same for new and old work so i will continue with a description of methods used to get a first class finish on a previously painted front door that is in good condition
Preparation involves cleaning down the paintwork to remove all grease and gloss, and a thorough rubbing to put a reasonable surface on the paintwork before improving it even further. A patent rubbing block will be quiet effective for this job but it should be used with caution on new paint
It might be better to do the rubbing down with a waterproof abrasive of suitable grade. This will be required for later stages of the finishing work, so make this purchase before starting the job. There are two grades of glasspaper in which we are interested at the moment, with two or three alternatives if supply is not easy. First for the rubbing of the old paintwork, 180 grade with 240 or 280 grade if 180 is not obtainable. Anything coarser would rip the paint to severely. For wet flatting of the finer coats grade 320, 400 or 500 in that order should be bought.

Wet and dry

Super finish for front doors
Although these abrasive papers are often called "wet and dry papers" they are almost always used wet. Dry rubbing is cheaper with ordinary glasspaper, almost a third of the price per sheet.
Sheets are usually 11in. x 9in. although they may be sometimes purchased to a cut size, equivalent to quarter size sheets. Cut full size sheets into four, and in use fold again so that a rough side is against the hand when rubbing thus preventing slipping.
When rubbing paintwork, either new or old soap with the paper, for two reasons ; first with old painwork one can clean and rub at the same time, while with new paint the soap helps lubbricate the rubbing work. Use soap by rubbing a little on the paper from time to time. The water will become soapy in use and should be changed frequently. A cellulose type sponge will be required and a chamois leather for drying off afterwards.
In rubbing work, as soon as the top skin of the paint is cut away, the colour will begin to stain the water and the hands. This is quiet in order providing a watch is kept on the work so that you don't rub through to bare wood through uneven pressure at ant point.

Clear up mess

Super finish for front doors
Old paintwork is quickly prepared by this method, and because of the ease of working many readers may be converted to wet rubbing as being easier than dry papering. Clean woodwork is esential, and mess should be cleared away as soon as the rubbing is done, and before the paint residue dries. This often adheres to surrounding surfaces and will need wetting again to remove.
When the rubbed paint surface is perfectly dry, and not before, undercoat paint up to two coats should be applied. In this case bodying up is not so necessary as when working from the bare wood, but it will fill up the scratches caused by rather harsh rubbing with the 180 grade paper.
At this point we are level with the undercoating of the front door brought up from bare wood. The procedure with the undercoats will be the same as for the old paint with the exception that, being newly applied, these coats will be easier to rub down. Both methods of working now have the same treatment.
Wet rub with 180 paper (for the second time in the case of the front door previously painted) then give a final rub before drying off with a piece of fine grade paper, 320 or 400. This will minimise rubbing scratches which might show through the finish paints when these sink as they tend to do after a time
Rubbing paint by a wet operation will mean that the porous undercoats will hold water for some considerable time. As mentioned previously there is a risk of poor durability when bring work up to a first class finish, and the risk lies in moisture which may become trapped in the lower strata of the paint system. If every wet operation is followed by a reasonably lengthy drying-out period then all will be well.

Detail work

Super finish for front doors
Before proceeding any further with paint application after wet rubbing, move to any detail work at the edges of the door or around the glazing, and cut away excess paint or "fat edges" as they are called in the painting trade. If left they look unsightly and when hard are a source of easy chipping off, perhaps bringing with them part of the surface finish. Similar attention should be given to thick paint at quirks and moldings on panelled doors.
From this stage work becomes more interesting, as we see the results of our hard labour as further coats are applied.
The next coat is another undercoat, and this time it should be the correct undercoat for the finishing paint. Don't apply thickly or heavily and lay off evenly under the brush. We would naturally wish to avoid putting on extra brush marks, having spent some time rubbing quiet a lot away! This is not easy, except to those highly skilled at brushwork, but overbrushing must be avoided wherever possible and the use of paint of too thick a nature must be similarly be guarded against.
When the undercoat is dry, wet rub it, this time rather lightly and with worn out or very fine paper. The object here is purely to remove surface imperfections such as settled dust, the odd brush bristle, bits of lint, etc.
When dry, put on the first coat of gloss paint, rather well brushed out, and leave to harden at least overnight. After a very light "flatting" with wet paper of the finer grade we are ready for the final full coat of the finishing gloss paint.
Having taken considerable trouble to get a good surface and to level each coat after application, guard against any desire to rush through the work on this last stage. It is essential to spend some time cleaning out a good brush, plus a small brush of 1in. size called a "inch tool" in the trade.
Keep rags well away from these brushes during cleaning and confine the final cleaning to a rinse in clean turps plus a twirling between the hands with the brushes held in a open container to catch flying spirit. Strain the paint, after thinning, into a clean container and see that the surface to be painted is perfectly clean by wiping a tack rag over the "flatted" paint immediately prior to application. This is a specially treated cloth obtainably from paint and hardware stores.
Use all the technique you may have gained in painting to apply a nice even coat in a clean fashion on the front door. Leave the door standing open for as long as possible, shielding the wet paint from direct dust blown from the outside. Make a barrier in the hallway to prevent anyone catching the wet paint.
If you have used pastel colours your front door will now be complete. When the paint is hard the fittings may be replaced.
If you think it is hardly worth going to all this trouble to get the perfect front door finish remember this. Once done it will last for years and you will never have to go through all the preparatory stages again. In a later article I will discuss the varnishing of stronger colours and methods to be used for varnishing natural wood.

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