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Antique Doors – They’re Not Just for Backdrops Anymore

Sep 13, 2021

Plain, plain, plain lauan door

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Reclaimed Antique Doors – A Hundred Years Later

Doors are one of those things that cost way more than they seem they should. In our effort to get our occupancy permit, we opted for the cheapest thing out there – lauan hollow core. I’m not sure if lauan is a specific species, or use, or what, but it’s wood, or a wood product that lends itself to being made into really lightweight, really flimsy, really cheap doors. They qualify as door since they’re on hinges, and restrict air flow, but they’re really not much more than glorified cardboard. Lauan doors aren’t very robust, they’re the sort of thing you’d see in a mobile home, but with the bank account empty, and the loan conversion pending, we went with the cheapest shit we could find, and we’ve lived with them for the past 12 years.

antique pine school door

I found this antique pine door at a local thrift shop. It most likely came out of a school house. It's now my office door.


$7000.00 – Chump Change

I knew exactly what doors I wanted, and had priced them out several times, and they were only like $500.00 each times 15, the number of doors we needed for the entire house, so I wasn’t too quick to move on it. Though I had defined the exact doors I wanted via the Lee Valley book, Homes and Interiors of the 1920s, but at some point happened to have found an office door – I wanted a glass interior door for the office, and they’re pretty hard to come by, but I just happened to be driving through town, and saw this leaning against the side of one of the many antique stores, most likely from a school. With my ever-present tape measure and measurements, I knew it was the right size, and even swung the right way. Five minutes and $35 later I was heading down the road with my new door in the back of my minivan, feeling slightly sorry for the guy who had looked at the door ten minutes before me. 


Reclaimed Antique Doors – Before and After

So on one of my occasional visits to Salvagewrights, a local architectural salvage store, I noticed a pile of doors that looked to be close to the right size and style and again, I had my measurements with me, and there were 12 doors in the pile, and they happened to have come out of the same house that my mudroom cupboard came out of. And Scott was unhappy that the “new” doors had different panels than the office door, even though there is no way you can see the “new” doors and the office door at the same time, this is the sort of thing he obsesses over, and even though it’s the only glass door we have, he’s convinced that everyone who visits the house will notice that the office door has three horizontal panels, and the rest of the doors have one horizontal and two verticals. And he was pretty unhappy when I came home with a pile of 12 doors that needed to be refinished, and needed to have jambs made, because even though he’s pretty good at it, he hates making door jambs.

Three antique doors

Note where the dry-cleaning bag was hung on the yet-to-be-finished door.


Finally. Window Trim

And I wasn’t sure what I was in for when I went to refinish the doors. A couple of them had been painted, and on several of them, the finish was damaged by dry cleaner’s plastic. And I wasn’t sure what I was going to use to refinish them. I tried stripping the paint, first with a heat gun, and then with stripper – the paint was coming off, but it had seeped into the pores of the wood, where it was basically impossible to remove it completely. I’d have to strip the paint, and then repaint these surfaces. As far as the finished faces, I started with simple and cheap – rubbing alcohol. It worked perfectly, though I found that the 70% was easier to work with than the 90%. Steel wool and rubbing alcohol are pretty cheap, and then polyurethane or tung oil, I can’t remember what I did. And Scott is really very good at making door frames – he just hates to do it, especially when he knows he has 12 of them to do.

painted, reclaimed door

A few of the doors had several layers of paint. This old paint wouldn't come off completely, so repainting was the only answer. And it's not a crappy paint job. It's one of the few examples of the modern farmhouse look you'll see in our house.

shellac being removed from antique door

I'm not 100% certain, but I think the original finish is shellac, since this finish is soluble in alcohol.


Knobs and other Hardware Nightmares

The doors didn’t have any hardware, but I did manage to buy back most of the original knobs, and the good thing about them is that they can go either way, so if we have to change the hinges to make the door swing the right way, the door hardware reverses as well. That’s a huge deal. But the hardware is what is called Japanned, and best I can tell there are a couple of Japanning processes, the original, and then the “updated” version or appearance of the process, circa 1930. My doors had the 1930s version of the process, and nobody calls it Japanning anymore, I have no idea what they call it now, tiger copper or tiger stripe – but it’s expensive, so I’ll keep looking for suitable door hardware.

Beautiful reclaimed antique pine door

Even without the trim, this reclaimed antique door is a step up from the Walmart curtain that used to afford our coats a bit of privacy.

If you’re interested in more of the antics and fiascos we create and endure, check out our social feeds.


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