How to Paint, Varnish & Stain a Door




The easiest way to prepare for painting a door is to lift it off its hinges and lay it flat, preferably at a workable height- to save your back. Whatever you lay it on maybe an old table or a couple of workbenches that can be moved around, cover everything with dust sheets or plastic sheeting to protect them and the floor.

It is much easier to paint a door with it flat as the paint is far less likely to run and the work will be quicker.

Then you should remove the door handles, any locks or other door furniture as you want a nice bare door to work on.  

The door may well be dusty and dirty so at this point wipe or wash it clean, maybe using a sugar soap solution to get it squeaky clean.

The next stage will be to sand and smooth the door with sandpaper or if there are any old lumpy bits of paint you will need a scraper to get them off. It is advisable to wear a dust mask whilst doing the sanding down. Also if you are working with old doors and there is a chance the old paint could be lead-based, you will need to use a special remover to get the paint off safely.

There are likely to be bits of thicker paint if the door was painted whilst still up on its hinges last time, but these should come off and leave the door smooth again. If there are any damaged parts to the door like cracks or splits in the wood, now is the time to use some wood filler to make repairs. If you are planning to stain or varnish the wood instead of painting, then choose a wood filler the same colour as the wood as the stain or varnish will not absorb as well over the filler.

If the door has panels make sure you sand those as well so that the whole door is smooth and looks like a shabby chic project. If you are starting from scratch with a new, unpainted door, your preparation will be minimal, just check the door is smooth and dust free before you start painting or staining. You may well need to use a sealant if the wood has any knot holes otherwise these can leak resin after the painting is finished and spoil all your hard work.

Primer and paint

If your door has got an old layer of wood stain on it or you want to change from a darker colour to a new lighter colour, then you will need several layers of primer or undercoat to cover the old colour so you can make a fresh start.

The next stage is to start the painting, you should paint the panels first. Always follow the grain of the wood in an up and down direction for the best finish. You could use a brush or a roller to do this, a brush is easier for the smaller sections.

Then you can carry on and paint the main part of the door, using a small paint roller is probably the easiest. Starting with the centre sections again going with the grain of the wood, up and down the door. Next, you would do the horizontal sections at the top, bottom and middle of the door, these are painted from left to right or vice versa. Then finish off by doing any recessed parts of the door, following the grain of the wood.

Leave to dry before getting ready to apply the second coat. Next sand the door again, this will remove any bubbles or bumps. You will need a finer sandpaper for this, as you only want to sand lightly.  

Once you have the door nice and smooth make sure the door is free of dust, maybe by using your vacuum cleaner with the brush fitting to hoover up the fine dust. Then you are ready to apply your second coat in exactly the same way as the first coat.

Once this is dry your door should look amazing, refit the door furniture and finally rehang the door.

Wood stain

Wood stains are available in many colours to compliment your decor, but the final colour may be different from the picture on the tin because of the colour of the wood you are applying it to. It is a good idea to try the stain on a spare piece of similar wood first to get an idea of the shade you will achieve.

You should start with a freshly sanded door exactly the same as applying paint. Make sure the door is free of dust and dirt by brushing and wiping it down.

Apply the stain to the mouldings first using a small paintbrush, always follow the grain of the wood. Working quickly cover the door with the stain evenly and without overlapping.

Once the door is covered take a soft lint-free cloth and wipe the door to make sure the stain is evenly applied and any extra is removed.


After the wood stain has dried you may wish to apply varnish as well. Make sure the wood stain is completely dry and then dust the door down to remove any dust. Using a nice clean brush apply the varnish to the door following the grain of the wood as before, making sure you wipe the excess varnish from the brush back into the tin as you go.

Once this first coat is thoroughly dried, then go over the door with fine grade abrasive paper to ensure it is smooth. Dust the door down after this and you are ready to go with a second coat, for a really strong finish you could go for a third coat as well.