Thoughts on Stripping (older hardwood doors that is)

I own a New York apartment in a 1929 building, which has original interior doors. They are all solid hardwood doors with a single recessed panel in the center. They have original hardware with glass knobs.

In the ensuing decades, the doors have been covered with innumerable layers of paint. Sometimes, chunks of paint will chip off, leading to interesting archaeological about the choices my predecessors made in paint colors. Also, all of details of the door (and some of the hardware) are buried in the layers of paint.

We are working on having the metal door frames stripped down to the bare metal, and then we’ll paint them so their details will show through.

We’re thinking of sending the doors out to be stripped. We’ve gotten prices from Park Slope Paint Strippers, which seem quite reasonable, and they’ll pick up and drop off for free. We’ll have to take off the hardware, but that won’t be much of a problem.

One minor wrinkle is that one closet door has a full-length mirror set into the center panel. The mirror is old, and the silvering has worn away partly, so we may want to have that replaced.

Another wrinkle is that we’d like to replace the panel in one of the doors with either clear or frosted glass to let some light into a small room. I haven’t seen if the strippers can do this, if we can get someone to do this with our existing door, or if we’ll have to get a new door (which I would like to avoid, if possible).

So, does anyone have any experience in or thoughts about stripping pre-War hardwood interior doors?

We had our doors done by a service, and considered it money well spent. If you can get this work done competently at a reasonable price, by all means do. It’s a filthy and time-consuming job, and getting the last bits of paint out of the fine detailing takes infinite patience. As it is you may have to do a fair amount of sanding when the doors come back. Softwood like pine will come back clean but furry. Hardwood like oak won’t be so bad but you’ll still want a nice smooth finished surface.

I think you’d better count on replacing any glass. Chances are the chemicals will ruin the silvering on a mirror. Our doors didn’t have mirrors but a couple did have florentine-type glass (this glass has a bumpy raised surface that makes it translucent rather than transparent; it was commonly used on stairs leading down to basements, bathroom windows, etc.). We had to buy new and have it installed by our finish carpenter. The stripping service we used didn’t do that kind of work.

This sounds like a project for either a good finish carpenter or a custom millshop. My guess is the strippers won’t want to do it but they may know someone., a Brooklyn-based blog, is also a good resource in that respect.

Naturally you’ll want to get the hardware and doorframes cleaned up too. If the doors stick, now is the time to get them shaved down. I did most of that work myself, but I had some experience and a back yard to spread things out in. You don’t have that luxury in an apartment building unless there’s a big basement you can work in, so you’ll definitely want a good finish carpenter.

With our house, I didn’t do the stripping - I actually had no idea that there existed services that would strip the doors for you, and I simply could not face doing that much work on my own.

Our doors were lovely old doors from the 1930s with original hardware. Here’s a pic of the art deco style knobs:

Some of the doors had inset panels of hideous old 1970s wallpaper:

What I did was take off all the hardware, use a wire brush on a drill to take off all the paint and corrosion; then I took off all the wallpaper, sanded as well as I could, and filled in any holes or chips. Finally I primed and painted, and then re-attached the hardware.

I sadly lack an “after” shot, but the effect was quite startling; the doors looked really good. The details were not as crisp as if I’d stripped to be sure, but they were not bad.

Visually, the two most important things I think are (1) removing the hardware before painting - some don’t and it always looks horrible; and (2) removong the doors and painting 'em when horozontal - again, many don’t and it always looks bad.

Thanks Ed and Malthus.

I actually got the link to the company I’m planning to use at, so I’ll try them again if I need the work done. My first attempt will be to see if the stripping shop can replace the mirror (which I think is just set into the door panel and held in by molding), and install the glass, which is probably a bigger project.

The doors stick now a bit, but I think that’s mainly from the dozens of layers of paint. Once we get that off, I think we’ll be OK. Removing the paint from the frames was a big help there, so if we get the doors clean, it should do the trick.

I’m planning to take off the hardware and strip the parts that have been painted myself. I don’t see that as too big of a project, and they’re small enough to do in the apartment.

Malthus, I love that door hardware and that wallpaper is something else.


We are in the process of stripping all the molding and doors in our house and it’s an incredible amount of work. But, we priced it out otherwise – either someone else doing it or sending it out – and it was a fortune. Plus the cost of a carpenter to remove and reinstall it. With your doors, I’d say go for it if you can find a good service. Anyway, we use Multi-strip, found at local paint stores. Not cheap, but not as toxic as most strippers. Slap it on and wait for the paint to bubble off. 12 coats later, the work begins…good luck!