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Varnishing red deal doors


We decided not to go for the standard double doors between living and dining rooms that the builder provided. We wanted something with stained glass in it so we simply bought a pair of "red deal" doors with the required shape "cut-out" for glass from a builder's suppliers. It cost only about 150 quid (approx $190?) for the pair. If walking into a builder's providers fills you with dread, click here to find out what we learnt about it.

Pay particular attention to the size of the doors, measure the door frame, don't trust the plans. The vast majority of doors seem to come in only two sizes 2 feet 6 inches wide and 2 feet 8 inches wide. I have been told that other sizes can be specially made but get very costly. The height is not so critical in that they seem to vary quite a bit. The important thing is to get the doors either exactly right or a bit taller than you require.

Our Site foreman was generous enough to have a site carpenter install the hardware on the doors, cut them to height and hang them. He also performed an operation on them which he called "rabbit-ing" and which I thought was called "rebate-ing". This involved adding a thin strip of wood to the edge of each where they meet in the middle. The doors now overlap in the middle. Luckily these strips stained the same colour as the rest of the wood. I suppose the right way to do it would be to actually mill out the unwanted wood leaving a strip standing proud.

If you havn't got a handy carpenter and want to do all the above yourself, you'll need a fair few tools like chisels, drill, saws etc. remember to allow in width and height for the wood you're going to remove.


I started by carefully cleaning the door with white spirit to take off as much dust as possible. The door was quite well planed and smooth so I didn't need to worry about sanding. I was also applying a dark stained varnish so I wasn't too worried about small smudges.

If you read the back of the varnish tins, you will need to apply the varnish in something resembling an operating theatre. This is because dust and varnish don't mix. I decided to ignore this, take off the doors and move them to the garage for varnishing. The reason for this was to try and keep the smell of the oil-based varnish out of the house. However I ended up bringing them back in and living with the smell because of the amount of dust that settled into the first coat.

Stir the hell out of the varnish and keep stirring it. If you don't, you will find the varnish gets darker as you go down the tin. It took about a litre to do 3 coats on two doors.


I used a ronseal "teak" stained oil-based satin varnish. I applied an all over coat and left it overnight to dry. It took over 8 hours to dry in the garage and only a couple when in the house. As usual, finish your brush strokes in the direction of the grain, in other words running along the long grain lines rather than crossing over them. When each coat was dry, I went over the door with fine steel wool to knock off the dust that had settled into the varnish and wiped down with white spirit. I gave it three coats in this manner.

It's a fairly simple process and there is not a lot that can go wrong, except what I did next. I checked the doors after about an hour, the varnish was now just tacky. I spotted a place where I thought the colour wasn't dark enough and started to brush the varnish around. This was my worst mistake. I don't know what was happening but as I brushed the door, the brush strokes seemed to move and congeal the dark stain leaving behind a much lighter area. This is hard to describe but in short, don't do it. The varnish behaves very differently when tacky. I had to let it dry, scrub with steel wool and revarnish.

The only other point worth mentioning is that if you have panelling or any design on the door, the varnish has a tendancy to pool in corners. I soaked this up with kitchen paper towels. If you don't take care of this it could pool enough to cause a "run" i.e. a dribble of varnish down the door. I watched the corners at regular intervals of about 10 mins for an hour after finishing the coat. Small gatherings I brushed around, large ones I soaked up first.

Well that's it. Hope our experiences were some help. add an entry to the guestbook if you have any comments.

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