Time: (2) Afternoons
Skill Level: Medium
Project Cost: $150-$250
Professional Cost: ~$300
how to refinish wood door video coming soon
how to refinish wood door person with orbital sander
Tools you Need

Do you have a wood door that needs a little love? Learn how to refinish a wood door.

We are going to follow a 3-part process to refinish our wood door.

  • Scrape and sand. Remove the existing finish by scraping and sanding to expose the natural raw wood
  • Stain – optional. Apply a dark color stain to change the color of the wood
  • Protective Finish – Apply a finish that will protect the door from wear and tear

So many wood refinishing products – what to pick!

There are tons of product lines out there and it can be very confusing for the DIY’er to know the difference. Stains and protective finishes are like artist tools to professionals, so each opinion you get will be very personalized. You have the products sold in big box stores, specialty stores and those sold directly to professionals. So how do you know the difference? Bauen has a series of articles breaking each one down helping you make an informed decision.

How to Refinish Wood Stairs Power Sanders Link
How to Refinish Wood Stairs Floor Stains Link
How to Refinish Wood Stairs Protective Finishes Link

DIY or Hire?

You might be wondering if you should DIY or hire a professional. If you are interested in learning how to do sanding projects, a door might be a good place to start because it is much smaller than a floor or stairs. In terms of return of investment, this project won’t make or break your home, however, if you change the color of your floors to something that contrasts with your doors, you will want to refinish the doors to match.

Bottomlineottom Line. Refinishing a wood door takes some elbow grease, but so


Assess your door prior to starting.

1. Does your door have an existing finish on it?
There is a good chance your door has an existing finish. If you have a newer home, it is most likely a polyurethane finish with a stain underneath. If you live in an older home, you might have a wax finish applied over a stain.

There are two ways you can test for wax. One is leaving some drops of water on the door. If the finish turns white, then you have wax. Another way is to start sanding with the roughest grit of your sequence. If the sand paper gums up quickly, then it is highly likely you have wax. It is possible to remove a wax finish using sandpaper but you will notice quickly the paper gums up pretty quickly. The heat from the friction causes this and you will go through plenty of sandpaper. We recommend scraping with a carbide scraper to remove the top layer of wax.

bauen logoottom Line. We highly recommend testing for a wax finish. Scrapping off the wax saves a lot of sand paper!


Protect Yourself. We recommend wearing proper protection for all parts of the process.

1. Sanding Protection. Wear a NIOSH approved particulate respirator when sanding. You will need a NIOSH approved VOC specific respirator for staining and protective finishing. Work gloves are optional if you want to protect your manicure. Ear plugs and goggles are also advisable if using power tools.

2. Staining and Protective Finish Protection. Staining and protective finishing protects can have high VOC contents. We highly recommend wearing a respirator that has a carbon filter. The mask you see in the above right image is a carbon filtered mask. It might seem overkill, but these gases can give you headaches, an irritated throat and long term exposure is just no good. Also, if you invest in a half mask, you can switch out the filters and use it for every other project that needs a respirator. So in the end you will be saving money. Who doesn’t like that ?! We also recommend wearing gloves.

ALL ABOUT RESPIRATORS – Click to learn more.

Prep your door. We recommend working outside for the scraping and sanding process – if you can.




Remove all hardware from the door and keep it in a safe place.



Wipe down the door using a microfiber cloth. Sanding is most effective on a clean surface. Microfiber cloths are great because dirt and dust sticks to them like glue.



Apply tape to protect any metal or glass in the door. The sand paper can scratch these surfaces.

bauen logoottom Line. Don’t skip protection. There will be a lot of dust and fumes around you!


1. Scrape (if you have wax). Scrape along the direction of the wood grain using your carbide scraper. Scrapping against the wood grain can push the wax deeper into the wood grain. Use a carbide scraper that has replaceable cartridges. This one has a rough and fine option. We use the rough side to insure we get the top layer of wax off.

Before sanding, a quick breakdown on your grit sanding sequence

A grit sequence consists of sanding passes made using various abrasive levels, starting with the roughest and moving to the smoothest. The rougher abrasives will remove existing finish and level uneven wood. The smoother abrasives will return the wood pores to a state that will accept a nice level of stain and polyurethane finish. Open coat, aka. the roughest sandpapers should be used as needed, since they can remove a considerable amount of wood very quickly. The idea is to start with the least coarsest paper possible. In many cases that will be 36 – 40 in older homes. However, each floor is different and it can be trial and error in the beginning. There is a science behind all of this but what you need to know is, DON’T SKIP GRIT LEVELS. If you start with a coarse grit, then follow up with medium and then fine. If you get antsy and skip levels, you will be left with a floor that wears easily and stains unevenly. We don’t want that!

How to Refinish Wood Stairs breakdown grit sequence


2. Power Tool Time. We are going to use our random orbital sander for the first sanding pass using the roughest grit in our sanding sequence – 36 grit. You will quickly realize power tools can’t hit all the areas, so there will definitely be some hand sanding.


3. Hand Sanding Time. For those areas that you can’t use a power sander, you will need a sanding block and corresponding grit sand paper. We like to use a rubber sanding pad that uses little claws to lock in the sand paper. Continue hand sanding with the 36 grit sand paper until all areas are sanded. Always move in the direction of the wood grain. If you sand against the grain, you will have visible scratch lines that don’t look natural.


4. Detail Hand Sanding. This door has some decorative molding that will require us to use small pieces of sandpaper. We like to fold these up in order to get in the small ridges. It might seem like this is taking forever, but we promise you it will get faster.


5. Dust. Vacuum or dust away sanding debris. Sanding is most effective on a clean surface.

how to refinish wood door draw pencil marks

6. Pencil Marks. In between grit passes, use a pencil to lightly draw squiggly lines on the door. This helps you identify what areas have and have not been sanded. Don’t worry they will go away with sanding!

7. Continue the Sequence. Continue moving up your sanding grit sequence by following steps 3-6 for each grit. These passes are much easier than the roughest grit pass. After the last pass, wipe down the door using a microfiber cloth to remove all the sanding dust.

8. Muscle Break Time. Time to give your muscles a well deserved break.


Move the door indoors at this time. We recommend applying the stain and protective finish indoors. You want to minimize the amount debris flying around in the air that could get stuck in the finishes.


1. T-shirt Time. We like to use old t-shirts to apply the stain. You can also use a natural bristle brush, but old t-shirts are free! Cut at least 4 t-shirt squares that are approx. 8” x 8”.


2. Mix the Stain. Open the stain can and mix it with a paint stick. There will be sediment at the bottom of the can that needs to be redistributed. Don’t forget to have your gloves and mask on at this time.


3. Apply the stain. Fold the t-shirt into a square and dip it in the stain can. Apply the stain evenly to the door, following the wood grain.

4. Set Time. Follow the setting time on the can, but in most cases it will say to let the stain sit for no more than 15 minutes. The longer it sits the richer the color. Come back with a clean t-shirt square and remove any excess stain using medium pressure. Follow the dry time specified on the stain can. You can apply a second coat of stain for a richer color, but again read your stain’s direction. Each stain can be different!



1. Clean. Wipe away any dust that might have settled using a microfiber cloth because the dust will be visible in the polyurethane.

2. Mix. Mix the Poly with a paint stick to distribute any sediment that might have settled.


3. Apply the poly. Apply the poly using your natural bristle brush. A natural bristle brush should be used for oil based products and a synthetic bristle brush should be used for water-based products. Move in the direction of the wood grain and evenly spread the poly.


4. Dry Time. Follow directions on the can regarding dry time. Typical dry time will be 8-10 hours. You will need to recoat at least 1 or 2 more times.

5. Sand. Between each coat you will do a sanding pass with a 220 grit sandpaper. Use only light pressure as you don’t want to disturb the finish. Your goal is to lightly remove any raised areas such as dust debris that found its way into the finish. Trust us, it’s bound to happen. You can have a pair of tweezers on hand to pull out any large particles such as cat hair or your own hair. Trust us, long hair will find its way into the finish. Just speaking from personal experience!

6. Congrats! You are done.

ottom Line. Follow your grit sequence! Make sure to wipe down the door between staining and protective finish. Dust will magically find it’s way into the finish! If you have long hair, keep it pulled back.

Done learning how to refinish and wood door and ready to get started? Time to take the guesswork out of what wood door refinishing products to buy. Purchase our project kit that includes all the tools needed for a successful painting job. You just need to supply the elbow grease.