Exterior Door Installation: How To Stain And Finish A Wood Door

Recently I won my bid to install a new rear entry door on an older house. The homeowner loved the door she already had, but it had so many problems, it was highly impractical to try and repair it. It needed a new threshold, an entirely new jamb, and the original installer had cut the top of the door out of square to make it fit his make-shift jamb. I quoted to install a brand new, pre-hung wooden door and was able to find the exact same door she previously had and fell in love with. This article is the first of three articles on installing a new door, this one is on how to stain a wood door. Check out my other articles on doorway preparation for a new door and installing a pre-hung door  which cover the other aspects of this same project.

The new door was stain grade fir (meaning it was milled accurately and with finer wood, requiring very little sanding before stain is applied). It has gorgeous grains and came nearly ding-free. The cost of the unfinished door was in the $350 range and special ordered from Home Depot. It came with hinges, weatherstripping, a primed jamb and a threshold. Actually, that was far more for the money than I expected. The threshold is the adjustable kind and the molded plastic piece was manufactured to look like cherry or mahogany. This wasn’t the first time I ever had to stain a wood door, but it may be the most pleasant experience I’ve had. The final result was awesome.

brand new wood door still in the package
The old door that this one will replace was stained with “golden oak” stain and finished with shellac. Shellac yellows over time, and since the door is off the kitchen, it aged and became way darker than it’s original finish. Rather than use the “golden oak” stain, I chose to go with “golden pecan” stain, which appears red in the can, has less of a honey colored look and is slightly darker. I really getting ready to stain this wood doordidn’t want to match the old faded door, but the darker, redder stain compliments the aged golden oak the homeowner already has throughout the kitchen, which was not replaced.

cleaning the dust from a fresh sanded new door

Compressed air was used to clean off the fine dust before staining.

To start, I needed to get everything out of the shipping container and remove the door from the casing. I used 150 grit sandpaper and lightly sanded all the surfaces. Because I wanted to keep the aged look, I didn’t really need to spend a lot of time…maybe 20 minutes total on the sanding.

I purchased a cheap natural bristle brush to apply the stain followed immediately behind the brush with a Golden pecan stain for my new wood doorclean shop rag for wiping and color continuity. Once the rag was saturated I was able to work the stain easier and achieved the color I wanted after about 30 minutes of brushing and rubbing on each side. I used 2 clean 5-gallon buckets to lay the door on so I would have access to the edges. No worries about turning the slightly wet door over to work the other side, and once I finished both sides, I leaned the door on it’s end against the cardboard the door came in, which I leaned against the wall. I buffed both sides of the door with a clean rag before letting it set overnight to dry.

For the finishing coats, I used a UV Polyurethane. One quart gave me 3 coats on each side of the door. The first coat I applied with the same cheap brush I used for the stain to make sure I got it in all the corners. I brushed the polyurethane while the door was still leaning against the wall. After a day, when the first coat was dry, I went over the entire door with 150 grit sandpaper on all the flat parts and “0” grade steel wool over the trim and harder to reach areas. Then, I applied the second coat.

After the two coats were dry (another full day) I used the same grade steel wool over the entire door, looking for 2 things while I worked: a dulled surface and no bumps. For the final coat, I used a Preval sprayer filled with thinned down polyurethane. Paint thinner works great for thinning. It doesn’t need much thinner to get it spray evenly, maybe 1 part thinner to 4 parts polyurethane. I used the 5 steel wool used on this new door for fine sandinggallon paint buckets again so that I could take advantage of gravity and eliminate any worry over sagging. A “Preval” sprayer works great for one door and I only needed one aerosol can for each side. The Preval sprayer is less than $5 at home depot so the price is well worth the investment for the final product. Of course, if refinishing doors was afinished door ready for installation at the new site mainstream part of my business, I’d get a good spray rig for the job.


The final product turned out really beautiful. My next article, “Exterior Door Installation: Preparing The Doorway For A New Door” is a continuation of this project if you want to check it out and follow me through not just how to stain a wooden door, but also how to prepare the doorway and finally hanging the new door.


  • Never set the can of stain on an unfinished door. It will make a ring that you’ll see after applying the stain and it won’t go away without a lot of sanding.
  • Don’t worry too much about dings and nicks in the raw wood, especially if the door is an exterior entry door. if it’s really bad, return it for a new one. Small imperfections will virtually disappear once everything is applied.
  • Be aware that even though the process is fairly straight forward and not difficult, that there is a lot of drying time involved. Be patient and you’ll reap the reward.
  • Do not mask off the edges of the glass. Allow at least 1/8″ of the glass to show next to the wood trim pieces. That way, the polyurethane can seep under the edges of the glass and seal the door better. I did not mask any of the glass, but wished I had when it came time to scrape the glass clean.
  • Be sure and use a brand new utility razor when scraping glass clean! a nick in your razor will score the glass and it’ll be there forever.

Letting the stain dry on a wood door

This is how the door turned out after staining and finishing with 3 coats.



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