Stripping and Refinishing Stained and Varnished Wood Doors

Technical Procedures Disclaimer

Prior to inclusion in GSA’s library of procedures, documents are reviewed by one or more qualified preservation specialists for general consistency with the Secretary of Interior Standards for rehabilitating historic buildings as understood at the time the procedure is added to the library. All specifications require project-specific editing and professional judgement regarding the applicability of a procedure to a particular building, project or location. References to products and suppliers are to serve as a general guideline and do not constitute a federal endorsement or determination that a product or method is the best or most current alternative, remains available, or is compliant with current environmental regulations and safety standards. The library of procedures is intended to serve as a resource, not a substitute, for specification development by a qualified preservation professional.


We’ve reviewed these procedures for general consistency with federal standards for rehabilitating historic buildings and provide them only as a reference. Specifications should only be applied under the guidance of a qualified preservation professional who can assess the applicability of a procedure to a particular building, project or location. References to products and suppliers serve as general guidelines and do not constitute a federal endorsement nor a determination that a product or method is the best alternative or compliant with current environmental regulations and safety standards.

Stripping and Refinishing Stained and Varnished Wood Doors



A. This procedure includes guidance on removing varnish build-up on wood doors and refinishing. This includes removing and storing all hardware from doors and reinstalling after the doors have been refinished.

B. Read "General Project Guidelines" along with this specification. These guidelines should be reviewed prior to performing this procedure and should be followed, when applicable, along with recommendations from the Regional Historic Preservation Officer (RHPO). The guidelines cover the following sections:

1.  Safety Precautions

2.  Historic Structures Precautions

3.  Submittals

4.  Quality Assurance

5.  Delivery, Storage and Handling

6.  Project/Site Conditions

7.  Sequencing and Scheduling

8.  General Protection (Surface and Surrounding)


A. The intent of refinishing is to restore the color, finish and overall surface uniformity of the historic doors, consistent with the original design intent. A like new appearance is neither expected nor desired.

B. Splotches, streaks, runs or other inconsistencies caused by improper application of finishing products will not be accepted.

C. Regulatory Requirements: Comply with municipal and Federal regulations governing the refinishing operations, chemical waste disposal and scaffolding.



A. Submit sample of wood stain and finish for approval of Contracting Officer.

B. Prepare a sample refinishing area for review of color and finish.


Determine that surfaces to which finishes are to be applied are even, smooth, sound, clean, dry and free from defects affecting proper application. Correct or report defective surfaces to Contracting Officer.


A. Projects involving removal of coatings or use of hazardous chemicals are subject to employee safety and environmental laws governing lead paint disposal and use of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Specified products may not be permitted or appropriate for all locations.

B. Products containing chemicals known to present health or environmental hazards should be used only as a last resort, where permissible, in accordance with manufacturer's directions and government requirements. Test milder formulations for effectiveness before proceeding to stronger alternatives.

C. Protect adjacent materials from damage or discoloration by cleaning run off. To avoid discoloring stone or driving stains deeper into porous stones, use the products and techniques described herein only for the combinations of dirt/stain and stone specified.



A. Epifanes N.A., Inc.

B. Sherwin-Williams

C. Scotch-Brite (The 3M Company)

D. W.M. Barr & Co.

E. Samax Enterprises, Inc.

F. The Spic and Span Company


NOTE: Chemical products are sometimes sold under a common name. This usually means that the substance is not as pure as the same chemical sold under its chemical name. The grade of purity of common name substances, however, is usually adequate for stain removal work, and these products should be purchased when available, as they tend to be less expensive. Common names are indicated below by an asterisk (*).

A. Commercial Stripper such as "KWIK Superfast Paint and Varnish Remover" (W. M. Barr & Co.) "Rock Miracle" (Samax Enterprises, Inc.) or approved equal.

B. Stain: Penetrating, permanent oil-based stain such as "Wood Classics Interior Oil Stain", "Deckscapes Exterior Semi-Transparent Oil Stain" (Sherwin-Williams) or approved equal, colored to match existing interior and exterior wood.

C. Varnish: tung-oil modified phenolic spar varnish such as "Epifanes High Gloss Clear Varnish" (Epifanes N.A., Inc.) or approved equal.

D. Solvent: Mineral spirits, turpentine or denatured alcohol.

E. Mineral Spirits:

1.  A petroleum distillate that is used especially as a paint or varnish thinner.

2.  Other chemical or common names include Benzine* (not Benzene); Naphtha*; Petroleum spirits*; Solvent naphtha*.

3.  Potential Hazards: TOXIC AND FLAMMABLE.

4.  Safety Precautions:


b. ALWAYS wear rubber gloves when handling mineral spirits.

c. If any chemical is splashed onto the skin, wash immediately with soap and water.

5.  Available from construction specialties distributor, hardware store, paint store, or printer's supply distributor.

F. Turpentine:

1. Typically used as a solvent and thinner.

2. Potential Hazards: TOXIC AND FLAMMABLE.

3. Safety Precautions:

a. Work in a well ventilated area.

b. Observe safety rules as turpentine is flammable, and the fumes can trip an ionization smoke detection system.

c. Store soiled cloths in a metal safety container to guard against spontaneous combustion.

d. Available from hardware store or paint store.

G. Denatured Alcohol:

1. Other chemical or common names include Methylated spirit*.

2. Potential hazards: TOXIC AND FLAMMABLE.

3. Available from hardware store, paint store or printer's supply distributor.

4. Denatured alcohol should be a satisfactory substitute for ethyl alcohol for stain removing purposes.

H. Alternative solvent: A mixture of 75% toluene, 24% acetone and 1% butyl acetate.

I. Toluene (C7H8):

1. A liquid, aromatic hydrocarbon that resembles benzene but is less volatile, flammable and toxic, and is produced commercially from light oils from coke- oven gas and coal tar and from petroleum, and is used as a solvent, in organic synthesis and an antiknock agent for gasoline.

2. Other chemical or common names include Toluol.

3. Potential hazards: TOXIC AND FLAMMABLE.

4. Available from chemical supply house, hardware store, paint store or printer's supply distributor.

J. Acetone (C3H6O):

1. A volatile fragrant flammable liquid ketone used chiefly as a solvent and in organic synthesis.

2. Other chemical or common names include Dimethyl ketone; Propanone


4. Available from chemical supply house or hardware store.

K. Detergent containing trisodium phosphate, such as "Spic and Span Multi-Surface and Floor Cleaner" (The Spic and Span Company), or approved equal.

L. Steel Wool: Grade 000 steel wool.

M. Aluminum oxide sandpaper - 220 grit.

N. Silicon carbide paper - 400 grit.

O. Bronze wool.

P. Sandpaper - 80 and 120 grit.

Q. Shellac burn-in sticks.

R. Tack rag.

S. Clean cotton cloths.

T. Soft, natural bristle brushes.

U. Mild soap.

V. Abrasive pad such as "Scotch-Brite" or approved equal.



A. Protection:

1. Make sure work area is well-ventilated and wear protective clothing and rubber gloves.

2. Do not allow smoking in the work area.

3. Place a fire extinguisher for Class B fires at entrances for emergency use.

4. Change clothes as often as necessary to be effective in cleaning.

5. Daily, dispose of all used solutions, finishing products, solvent residue and soiled rags in sealed noncombustible containers to prevent a fire hazard.

6. Protect all surfaces adjacent to wood being refinished.

7. Maintain a healthy level of air circulation within the space being treated. Regularly employ and maintain exhaust fans or other air moving devices to the satisfaction of the Contracting officer's Representative.

8. Curtain off areas being treated from other trades and occupants to prevent fumes from reaching other parts of the building.

9. Wear appropriate safety devices such as respirators fitted with the correct cartridge, gloves, and other protective clothing.

B. Surface Preparation:

1. Remove all non-original door louvers, panels and transom panels taking care not to damage the remainder of the door, frame or paneling.

2. Replace the non-original elements with new wood which matches the species of the original wood and which matches the detailing of the original millwork.

3. Hardware: Remove existing hardware, door numbers, and other applied elements, and store for reinstallation.

4. Make minor repairs to doors as required:

a. Fill holes exceeding 1 inch in diameter with matching Dutchmen. See "Dutchman Repair of Wood Floorboards" for guidance.

b. Fill smaller holes with patching compound tinted to match wood. See "Filling of Holes in Wood Veneer Paneling" for guidance.


A. Strip the existing varnish finish:

1. Wet steel wool with solvent and rub over the doors to remove varnish build-up and smooth out checked surface.

2. Replace soiled steel wool frequently with clean and continue with wiping process until a smooth, even-colored surface is achieved.

a. Use no water on wood surface under any circumstances.

b. Work only one 4' square area at a time. Work area should be within a comfortable arms reach.

c. If solvent affects the stained color of the wood, discontinue use and use an alternative solvent mixture as listed in Section 2.02 Materials.

3. Allow surface to dry thoroughly; no less than 24 hours.


1. Apply commercial stripper following manufacturer's instructions.

2. Wash the surface with acetone to remove stripper residue.

3. Lightly sand the surface with 220 grit aluminum oxide sandpaper as needed to remove carbon soiling and finish damage not removed by solvent application.

4. Wipe surface with a tack rag to remove traces of bronze wool, sand and dust prior to applying new finishes.

B. Remove shallow scratches:

1. Lightly sand, in the direction of the grain only, to remove shallow scratches, against the grain sanding, and finish damage not removed by stripper application.

2. Remove scratches using 80 grit sandpaper.

3. Finish using 120 grit sandpaper until smooth surface is attained.

4. Smooth surface sufficiently to ensure uniform stain absorption.

5. Wipe surface with a tack rag to remove traces of steel wool, sand, and dust prior to applying new finishes.

C. Apply the stain:

1. Color mix stain to match original finish.

2. Apply stain to bare wood surfaces using a soft cloth or bristle brush.

3. Allow stain to set as required for proper color match and maximum surface uniformity.

4. Wipe off excess stain by rubbing parallel to the grain with a soft dry cloth.

5. Allow surface to dry for at least 24 hours.

D. Fill deep scratches and gouges with shellac burn-in sticks tinted to match the wood stain.

E. Apply the finish coating:

1. Make sure that surface is clean, level and free of defects. Promptly report to Contractor Officer's Representative any unanticipated conditions which may affect the quality of the finish.

2. Apply 3 coats of varnish using a brush or sprayer to produce a uniform sheen and appearance. 3. Allow each coat to dry for at least 4 hours.

4. Lightly sand with #400 grit silicon carbide paper or rub with fine steel wool between coats.

5. Vacuum surface and wipe with a dry tack rag to remove all grit and dust prior to applying next finish coat.

6. After curing, lightly rub surface with fine steel wool to replicate original finish.

F. Clean hardware:

1. General:

a. For bronze and stainless steel hardware (door knobs, escutcheon plates, hinges and closers), clean using a mild soap and water.

b. For stubborn dirt and hard to clean areas, apply detergent with a Scotch-Brite abrasive pad or bristle brush. Rinse thoroughly and buff dry with soft cotton.

c. Remove grease on closers and hinges with sponge and detergent.

d. Scrape gently with a non-metallic spatula to remove paint drips.

e. See also "Cleaning and Polishing Brass-Plate" and "Cleaning and Polishing Solid Brass" for guidance.

2. If required, carefully remove adhesive residue, paint and varnish drips from escutcheon plates using a paint stripper.

a. Apply with soft cloths.

b. If necessary, apply light pressure using a natural bristle brush.

3. If necessary, remove adhesive residue from door knobs using a mild solvent.

a. Test an inconspicuous area to avoid damaging the finish.


G. Repair locksets:

1. Repair inoperable locksets, reusing original knobs and escutcheons.

2. Where locksets are missing or irreparably damaged, furnish new locksets matching originals. Replicate existing escutcheons in color, sheen, overall configuration, and detailing.

a. Conceal existing cutouts, but do not cover portions of door not originally concealed.

b. Replicate original knob's finish.

H. Install new closers where missing or irreparably damaged. Furnish closers matching originals in form and finish as closely as possible.

I. Replace glazing as required.

J. Clean glazing as required:

1. Remove adhesive residues, paint spatters, and other soiling using soft cloths and detergent.

2. Use a mild solvent and Scotch Brite pad or bristle brush to remove stubborn residues.

3. Remove paint splatters with solvent or by scraping gently with a razor blade held at a shallow angle.


K. Reinstall kickplates and other hardware as required.

L. Remove and repaint louvers to match original as required.

M. Refinish jambs and frames to match original as required.


A. Adjust door to assure proper operation. Replace or rehang doors which are hinge bound and do not swing or operate freely. Replace worn hinge pins with replicates.

B. Refinish or replace job-finished doors damaged during installation.

C. For guidance on the periodic cleaning of woodwork see "Biennial Cleaning and Stain Removal of Woodwork".