Wood door refinishing, clear coating, top coating and varnishing as it's sometimes called is the process of striping (if needed) then refurbishing your doors.

To do so one would need to repair, sand and finally apply a protective finish over top of your stained (or un-stained) door surfaces.

Most interior woodwork in time needs to be re-coated especially where moisture is an issue (e.g., bathrooms).

No mater what your specific door (and trim) refinishing project is below you will find how to instructions from stripping to finishing. Including choosing the best coating product for the job at hand along with selecting proper tools and procedures so that your handy-work can be done correctly and in a timely fashion.


Wood door refinishing, may for you, require striping of the old paint or clear coat (varnish) from the door itself.

Veneered hardwoods (a thin plywood type wood layers) on most interior doors are difficult to strip, stain and re-coat properly. Veneered doors that where made in the last 10 or 15 years have very thin top surfaces and do not sand well when refinished.

Due to the doors thin layers of wood, replacement, applying a new clear-coat (see below) or painting the door itself are usually your only re-furbishing choices.

With that said, some older doors may have thicker verniers so sanding tends to work better in such cases. You will need to decide what's best in your particular situation.

Wood door refinishing that involves solid wood (full thickness of the door) will have good results though. Solid wood doors like solid wood furniture can be striped with electric sanders and a chemical striper (one recommended by your home improvement retailer).

Do not expect to bring your doors back to their original like new condition though, unless of course you intend on paying a furniture restorer to do the work for you. I'm not saying it's impossible for you to get the doors the way you want them but due to lack of proper tools, knowledge and access to materials you might want to lower your expectations or have a Pro do the job.

By expecting less you will either be pleasantly surprised or looking at a door that needs painting or possibly replacement.

If you do strip your doors use the door staining link, the above door painting page or this refinishing book to help you out.

All other doors that just need a face lift can be re-coated (varnished) by following the instructions below.


Here's a list of supplies for your door clear-coating project. If you prefer to rent or buy a sprayer you might want to use this door spraying page to help you get the job done quicker.

Otherwise read the list that follows then decide on items that will work best for your particular project.

Wood door refinishing products, tool, & materials

  • Paint roller & a very low nap roller cover
  • Paint tray
  • Good quality 2.5", 3" or 4" sash brush (as needed)
  • Clean paint can or bucket
  • Sanding sponge (medium & fine grit)
  • Saw horses or tables (e.g., picnic/banquet)
  • Drop cloths
  • Painters plastic & tape
  • Wood filler same color as the door or stain applied
  • Small putty knife
  • Electric palm sander (100/120, 220/320 grit sand paper)
  • Clear coat (plus cleaning solvent or water)
  • Multi screw driver
  • Rags
  • Good quality sash brush 1" or so wide
  • Table for tools to sit on

Amazon is an on-line retailer that most people know and trust. Due to Amazon size they tend to have better prices than your local stores just as long as you use the free shipping option (when offered).

Amazon also has a large selection of top quality painting and decorating products. Such supplies include roller frames and low nap roller covers the 4-Inch wide brush you will need and even your coatings required along with a number of other items for you to get the job done.


Wood door refinishing has the best results when you re-apply the doors original top coat (or product). Easier said than done of course since most people don't know what coating was used in the first place.

To save yourself some grief test one side of a door by sanding then applying your coating of choice prior to finishing all of your doors. Otherwise you might end up with a larger pealing, bubbling or fading issue to deal with.

Oil or alkyd based coatings (urethanes), in most but not all cases, can tend to have a harder finish than waterborne's, even so, a waterborne is usually a much better choice of product do to clean up, faster drying times, much lower VOC's (better for environment less smell) and ease of application.

Since I prefer waterborne's for brushing the instructions you see below discuss the application of a waterborne coating. Even so, the process that follows can be used for any type of brushed on top coat.

Sprayed lacquers are in my opinion best suited for the Pros or very handy type and I discuss them on the spraying interior doors page mentioned above.

Wipe on polyurethanes or brushed lacquers are great for small jobs they are quite smelly though. Keep in mind to that wiped on clear-coats have a very thin viscosity and will require multiple applications.

Other finishes like waxes, rubs, or tung oils etc., are not recommended for door surfaces. There are also combination stain and varnish products that can be used in the same way as a brushed on clear-coat but they lack depth in my opinion and have few colors to choose from.

You will need to decide on what type of clear coat works best for your particular situation.


Most coatings come in a flat, satin, gloss and ultra or a high gloss finish. I always use satin but you might prefer something a little shinier.

If you do want a glossy look keep in mind that a gloss is easier to clean but at the same time enhances any imperfections or blemishes that your wood may have. Poor staining, along with any bumps, scratches or grooves will be quite visible once a gloss coating is applied.

Flatter (or mat) finishes on the other-hand can tone down older beat up doors for example but tend to grab the dirt a little easier.

Using satin is a compromise between flat and glossy giving you durability, wipe-ability and in most cases a better look. You will need to decide what works best for your specific needs.


The amount of coating you use while wood door refinishing depends on the product and process being implemented. In most cases and this is a very rough estimate you can usually depend on 300 to 600 sq ft of surface area covered per gallon of coating.

That would mean after applying one layer of top coat to between 8 and 10 doors you will have used about a gallon of product. Since I recommend applying at least three or more coats then 8 to 10 doors would require 2 to 3 gallons of clear coat (give or take a gallon of course).


Flooring should be covered and your saw horses placed in the middle of the room on top of your drop cloths. Situate the saw horses so that they are perpendicular and a couple feet away from each other.

Check the tops of your saw horses making sure they are smooth and won't scratch the doors. Laying a sheet of plywood (2' wide x 4' long) onto your rough saw horses and draping a new clean drop cloth over-top of the plywood should do the trick though.

You want your plywood/saw horse set up to be sturdy yet small enough under the door that the draped cloth won't get coating all over it. Now place your door on the draped plywood.

Be sure to tape and mask off (paper) all the glass in the doors (if they have any). Tape needs to be flush and not onto the woodwork. Also, remember to remove any knobs or hinges if there are any.


Wood door refinishing requires filler to be placed onto all the holes, groves or scratches that you may see (using a spot light helps). Wait for the filler to dry (refill and let it dry again if needed) then electric palm sand your doors.

When sanding do so with the grain while using 220 to 320 grit sand paper and a fine sanding sponge. You want to remove imperfections along with any glue, old runs, sags and other markings.

Remember to keep the face of your sander flush with the doors surface otherwise you'll create gouge marks in your wood. Furthermore, as you sand remove as much wood filler as possible (it may not coat well) while at the same time keeping everything smooth flat and level.

Once your door is looking good remove dust with a brush or cloth then follow up by applying stain if needed.

Your now ready to test the sanded doors surfaces by brushing on your chosen clear coat.

Do only one side of a door to try your test. After the first layer goes on and it's dry sand it out. Three to four applications of coating are usually needed for the best results. Remember to sand and dust between coats.

If at any time during your wood door refinishing process the original coating starts to have issues (bubbling or pealing etc.,) you will need to stop.

Follow up by sanding (electric palm sander) the problem surface and then using a different type of clear-coating product on the doors. An oil-based or alkyd type urethane would probably work best at this point.

Keep in mind, stripping a door of clear coat and especially old darker colored stains can prove to be a challenge. If your door on the other-hand is made of solid wood the process of interior wood door refinishing can be much easier to accomplish.


When I say door trim (or woodwork) I'm referring to the wooden stops jambs and casings the door is hinged or latched onto.

Trim that's still hung would have to be sanded then brushed (when the door is off, while watching for runs and sags).

Un-attached door trim though can be placed onto your saw horses in the same fashion as your doors.

Once the woodwork is laid out follow all instructions as per wood door refinishing including stripping (if needed), staining, filling, sanding and clear-coating.


Doors with panels, molding, indents, inserts or grooves will need to be brushed (instead of rolled).

To do so use a 2-1/2" sash brush and partially filled can of clear-coat. Never dip your brush directly into the full can of product otherwise you will contaminate your coating. I like to fill a paint tray (or another clean can) first (then cover it with plastic/lid) while leaving a 1/3 to 1/4 of the coating in my can for brushing.

Doors are either flat or built in sections of molded pieces of wood including rails, stiles and panels. So what I'm saying is, when your wood door refinishing, use the doors joints as guide lines and coat each section (rail, panel, stile etc.,) as if it were an individual piece. Don't brush into the top rail section when coating a stile for example, stop where a rail and stile join together.


Most professional painters or woodworkers for that mater will either use a brush or compressor type paint sprayer.

I myself prefer an HVLP or airless paint pump. When wood door refinishing involves only one or two doors though rolling on a waterborne in a satin finish followed by back brushing is my next best choice.

To start your rolling and brushing process stand at the doors hinge or knob side and begin by rolling (or brushing) the edges of the door first. Your doors edges will accumulate drips and runs easily so be careful not to overloaded the roller.

Keep a close eye on the underside of the door and quickly wipe away any excess coating you might see (rag or semi dry brush). Once your door edges are rolled (or brushed) proceed onto rolling the entire face of the door itself.

After your door surface is coated use a 3.5 to 4" wide brush to back brush your wet coating. To do so, starting at the farthest top corner of the door using the widest part of the brush laid flat against the doors surface pull the brush in a strait line from the top toward the bottom past the doors edge.

Also, while your brushing try to keep the first and last swaths of your brush hairs hanging (width wise) just slightly over the edge of your door (hinge or knob side) by about an inch or so.

After you pull past the bottom edge of the door remove excess coating from your brush by wiping the brush on the edge of your cut can. Start at the top again moving your 4" wide brush over by about 3"s.

You want to overlap each brush stroke (swath) by an inch or so. Keep drawing your brush down the surface of the door (in strait continues lines) top to bottom while wiping excess coating from the brush into your can.

Repeat the brush strokes until your door is completely back brushed and the coating looks smooth and even. Let the surface dry, lightly sand it (220 to 320 grit paper), then remove the dust. As you sand try not to rub through your clear coat otherwise you will remove the stain (if you stained) especially at the doors edges.

Follow up your wood door refinishing process by rolling, back brush and sanding again. At least three or more coats work best keeping in mind that each layer of coating will look better than the last one.

While brushing and rolling don't forget the door edges (they are very absorbent) and keep a close eye on the back side of your door. Also, remember to dust and sand between coats.

Another thing to keep in mind is to remove (or sand away) any runs, drips or sags before applying your final coating.


When wood door refinishing I do prefer to spray on a pre-catalysed lacquer but the easiest process would be brushing and rolling while using a waterborne product. There are die-hards who insist on oil based top coatings but I just don't agree. Waterborne clear-coats work very well as long as the proper procedures are followed.

Rolling is also not recommended when applying clear-coat due to bubbles in the finish. You will find though that quickly back brushing the wet surface will remove any bubbling problems that you may have.

If you prefer you can eliminate the rolling process but it will take longer and is more difficult to keep the surface wet when just brushing.

It's also suggested to never topcoat a solvent based product with a latex one. I have yet to have an issue after applying waterborne's over everything from lacquers to alkyds. The key is to sand the surface first and of course test on one side of a single door prior to doing all the doors in your home.

When working in a dry hot environment you may need to thin your coating by 10 to 20% (depending on label instructions). A waterborne extender works best as a thinner but water (or solvent depending on what your using) will do the trick.

If your wood door refinishing involves rolling, and it's drying to fast, roll on a swath immediately back-brushing your swath following up by overlapping and rolling on the next roller width.

As your rolling you want a nice reasonably wet surface to easily back brush without having to play with it to much.

The first coat will always look rough, each layer is better than the next. Just be sure to have a nice wet surface followed by overlapping and brushing with flat even brush strokes.

If your concerned about the waterborne drying to fast I would recommend an oil based varnish like product. Oils are smelly, dis-color over time and can tend to collect floating dust requiring a rubbing out procedure but they do dry slower.

Keep in mind to that having one person roll while the other quickly back brushes will make the job that much easier.

Last but not least, damaged doors or doors that can't be re-finished will need replacement.

For more information about wood door refinishing with a waterborne product you might want to check out the book Water-Based Finishes at Amazon. While on the Water-Based finishes book page scroll down and read the reviews or search for another wood finishing book or product if you prefer.

From wood door refinishing to the basic carpentry page

Return to the painting ideas & techniques home page

If your not in need of wood door refinishing help check out other painting and decorating information by using the home page link above.

On the home page you will find navigation buttons such as ask a question along with interior or exterior projects and ideas.

Using the navigation bar should help find what you need or project your looking for.