Exterior Door Needs Refinishing

Answered by Jeffrey ~ June 14, 2010 ~ Comments

I have an exterior door with side lights that need refinishing. Can you recommend the kind of stain and finish I should use? I would like to keep it water based. The door and sidelights are protected with storm doors.

Martin ~ Mokena, Illinois

Jeffrey Anderson

Hi Martin, I am assuming that you plan to paint the door frame and the frames around the sidelights. Most of the time the frames aren't stain grade and painting them helps accent the stained exterior door. Any good exterior latex paint should work fine for the door frame and sidelights. I am a firm believer that you get what you pay for when it comes to exterior paint.

Just about every paint manufacturer has several grades of exterior paint to choose from and the best grades usually seems to hold up the longest under extreme conditions. I would classify your climate in Mokena, Illinois as somewhat extreme. Even though you have a storm door to protect your front door you still have the cold temperatures and wind that Chicago is known for, and the moisture blowing off Lake Michigan doesn't help either.

I know you want to use a water based product but I don't recommend a water based stain for the front door. You may even have a tough time finding a water based exterior stain that is suitable for an exterior door. I would use a gel stain that is rated for exterior use. Most of the major stain manufacturers have quite a few shades to choose from. Gel stain is not as prone to dripping and running as regular stain which makes it a little easier to use when restaining a front door. Even though it isn't water based it is still fairly easy to clean up after you are done restaining by using mineral spirits.

If you are planning on doing the refinishing yourself, please take some time to review the manufacturers recommendations for applying the stain. They should be on the can and it wouldn't hurt to do a little additional research on applying stain before starting. The reason I say this is because I have seen many beautiful wood and fiberglass exterior doors ruined because the home owner or painting contractor doing the staining didn't know what they were doing. Most of the time the problem was too much stain on the door or very apparent blotches in the stain finish.

I would recommend using a marine spar urethane finish over the stain to protect it. Marine spar urethane is designed to protect the woodwork on boats, I would imagine that many of the boats you see on Lake Michigan use it. It should protect the exterior door's stained finish from the sun's rays and any moisture that happens to get past your storm door protection.

You should use a couple of coats of the urethane to protect the stain; again follow the manufacturer's recommendations. Most of the time the urethane is available in a satin, semi-gloss, or high-gloss finish which allows you to decide on what sheen you would like on your door.

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