When purchasing doors for your latest project, many people choose to opt for unfinished doors. Purchasing an unfinished door gives you the freedom to choose the finishing colour, varnish or stain at your leisure, and is particularly beneficial if you haven’t yet decided on the interior decorating colours and styles of your home at the point of purchase. Here at Door Superstore we’ve created a quick guide on how to finish your door with paint, varnish or staining products.

If you’re repainting or varnishing an existing interior door, you’ll firstly need to strip the door before applying any paint or varnish. If your door is new and unfinished, you can move straight to how to paint a door, or how to stain and varnish a door.

Table of contents:

Stripping a door

There are a number of different ways to strip a door, but the most common method uses chemical stripper. When using a chemical stripper, it’s really important to read the manufacturer’s instructions carefully, and wear protective goggles and gloves – the chemicals can be abrasive and cause reactions to your skin.

Use an old paintbrush to apply the chemical stripper to the door

Ensure it gets right into any cracks, corners and crevices. Once you’ve applied the stripper to the whole door evenly, leave it for the recommended time – when the chemicals begin to react you will see bubbles forming on the surface of the door.

Test a section of the door with a flat bladed scraper

Once the recommended time has passed, the paint should come away from the door easily to reveal the wood underneath. If it isn’t coming off very easily you may need to leave it for longer. Start by stripping the paint from the flat areas of the door, and then use a shave hook to scrape the paint away from corners, crevices and mouldings.

Neutralise the door surface

When all the paint has been removed, use water or white spirit to neutralise the surface of the door – the manufacturer’s instructions will inform you of the most suitable substance for your project. If you do not neutralise the surface of the door, the paint, stain or varnish may struggle to bond with the surface, and the chemical stripper may leach out of the door in the coming months or years.

Painting a door

When painting a door, it is best practice to paint the door before it is fitted. However, if the door is already fitted, take it off the hinges if possible to ensure you are able to create an even layer of paint on all sides of the door.

Fill cracks, splits and crevices

Before painting the door, any cracks, gouges or crevices need to be filled in. This can be done using a wood filler. Once you’ve applied the wood filler into any cracks, leave it to dry and then sand down any rough or raised edges. Then sand down the whole door – this can be done using an electric sander if preferred, but ensure you do not damage any decorative mouldings.

Painting a flush door

If you’re painting a plain faced or flush door, it is important to ensure that the paint is spread evenly across the surface. Any blemishes or areas of thin or thicker paint are more obvious on a plain flat surface, so if possible, using a small roller may be helpful. We’re recommend starting by dividing the front and back door into sections, typically we’d divide them into 8 sections. Then paint each section individually, from left to right with vertical strokes, and try to blend each section together before the paint dries. Leave painting the edges until last to finish the door.

Painting a panelled door

If you’re painting a panelled door, we’d recommend painting the panels first, and then their surrounding mouldings. Then move onto the central vertical piece of the door, followed by the cross rails – paint the top one first, then the middle and then onto the bottom cross rail. Once this has been done, paint the outer vertical pieces of the door, followed by the door edges.

Painting a glazed door

If you’re painting a glazed door, it is important to use masking tape, or an equivalent material to protect the glass from paint. Lay the masking tape around each glazing panel, so that you can paint the edge of the door without getting any paint of the glass. Then start by painting the mouldings around the glass, followed by the top cross rail, then the middle and the bottom cross rails. As with a panelled door, paint the outer vertical pieces of the door, and finally paint the edges of the door.

When you have painted all the surfaces evenly, leave the door to dry in a ventilated area, do not attach any door hardware such as handles and hinges until the paint has completely dried.

Staining and varnishing a door

Applying a wood stain to a door colours the wood in an enhanced yet natural way, penetrating the wood to provide a long-lasting effect. Depending on the stain you choose, it can help to enhance the grain of the wood, provide the appearance of a certain species of wood, and in some cases it can help to protect the wood.

Test the wood stain before application

It’s important to test the wood stain on a piece of wood similar to the door before applying it to the whole door – wood stain can create a slightly different appearance to that on the tin, depending on the species of wood it is used on.

Remove lost dust and debris

Before applying stain, ensure you brush the door down, removing any loose material or dust. Then use a paintbrush to apply the stain. If staining a panelled door, we’d recommend starting to stain the panels, followed by the mouldings and then the rest of the door. For best effect, try to follow the grain of the wood with the paintbrush wherever possible, and avoid overlapping strokes.’

Remove excess stain

Once the wood stain has been applied, but before it has dried out, use a lint-free cloth and rub it over the door, to remove any excess stain and even out the layer of stain.

Ensure you are in a well ventilated room

Once the wood stain has dried, the next step is to apply the varnish. Make sure you’re in a room that is well ventilated, not only to help speed up the drying process, but also to avoid any health issues that can be cause by fumes from varnish.

Apply the first layer of varnish

When applying varnish, we’d suggest wearing protective gloves. Typically, a door will require two or three coats or varnish to create a sufficient level of protection. When varnishing a door, start at the top and varnish in stages down to the bottom of the door, unless you are varnishing a panelled door, in which case varnish the panels individually first, from top left to bottom right, before varnishing the centre vertical panel, the cross rails from top to bottom, and then the outer edges.

Use fine sandpaper on the first layer of varnish

When the first layer of varnish has been applied, allow it to dry and then rub the door down with fine sandpaper. This will help to create a surface to which the next layer of varnish will adhere more easily, but it also helps to remove any rough patches or bubbles. Once you’ve sanded the varnish down, remove the loose dust with a damp cloth and allow the door to completely dry. Once dry, you can apply the next layer of varnish and repeat the above steps.

Don’t forget, as with painting a door, allow the door to dry completely before attempting to fit any door hardware or accessories.


If you have any questions about the best door for your latest project, or how to finish a door, feel free to use the live chat in the bottom right hand corner to chat with our team of experts, or give them a call on 01752 548 471 and they will be more than happy to help.

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