Well it’s been a while, and in that way I thought I’d talk about a little project I’ve been doing in the meantime. It’s interesting simply as an exercise for how a project unravels, especially if it is a learning exercise.

So what’s the problem

Ok, I have a bathroom with a door. No big surprises there. The door is a fire-door, this means it’s a fairly dense door with fire-retardant material and a chain linked to a (very) strong spring connected to the frame to pull the door shut. Parents hate these doors, as children will trap their fingers in the door at least once 😦

Now, the problem, both the door and the frame have been painted and repainted over a period of 4 years but not sealed properly, so wood stains and rust from nails in the frame are discolouring the paint, and the damp from the bathroom causes the wood to expand during the winter as it doesn’t dry out properly. To add to this the door handles have corroded and are starting to turn green rather from the original brass. Goal: as part of an overall renovation, repaint the door and replace the handles and hook in order to improve the bathroom.


Many possible solutions, I picked this one: Strip the door and frame using Chemical Paint Stripper, then seal and paint the door and frame and replace the metalwork with new handles and a hook.

Simple, eh ?

Ok… here we go:

How long ?

Should take a couple of days. Paint the stripper on, then strip the paint with a stripping knife and then repaint the door. Fine. Take the door off since it’s going to be easier to carry it downstairs to the garage, where it will be easier and less messy to do this.

First problem. Door is heavy. Very heavy. It’s a fire door! It’s not something I can carry downstairs and then 200m to a garage. Gah. Ok, get hold of a large canvas sheet with polythene backing and put the door on that. Paint the chemical stripper on. Turns out that one pot covers about 2/3 of one side of a door. Aaargh. Oh, and you need to leave the stripper for 6 hours. The fumes will also make you loopy.


Carry on regardless

Ok, next day… get more chemical stripper, lots more. Oh boy, not cheap. Go over the rest of the door… whilst attempting to prop up the door. Paint the door frame and architrave with the stripper. Leave for 6 hours. Start attempting to take off the paint. Where it works it’s taking off the paint as a skin or powder, but it is patchy, and it hasn’t worked equally well, also the paint that it was trying to remove was not even… many, many hours are spent stripping the door and the frame. The fumes mean taking a lot of breaks.

After this… apply more stripper to take off the patches left… more fumes. At this point in September there appears to be no wind, so leaving the windows open doesn’t generate any draft to suck the fumes out. Things start to go woozy…

The Door

The door turns out to be a couple of layers of wood grain effect veneer on cardboard, with dense chipboard in the middle. I find this out by noticing that the stripping knife takes the grain veneer away leaving the “fluffy” cardboard. I begin to wonder why I didn’t buy a new door… then I remember on the occasion I looked at it and noticed it seemed smaller then the other doors in the flat I measured it on a whim and it was in fact 2/3s the width of the other doors. So it was smaller then expected… need to keep it. At this point it is no longer the weekend and various social engagements and the need to go to work get in the way. Together with my wife coming back home, and visitors coming, the door has to go back on the frame. It still has to be propped open which is inconvenient when visitors are around.

It is as I’m putting the door back on that I realise how strong the spring on the chain is. Top tip, when taking a fire door off it’s hinges, first take a nail or a screw and push it through one of the links in the chain nearest the door when the door is fully open, this saves trying to pull the chain back out and crushing your fingers when you fail. Count me as lucky here.

The Frame

The frame takes a long time to strip. Architrave is not a nice thing to try and take paint off. Eventually it all mainly comes  off. After a while the effort versus the gain weighs in favour of stopping. In hindsight, I should invest in a Detail Sander, which I would have used to get rid of the last few bits of paint. At this point two coats of primer/undercoat are being applied. 2 hours between each coat. More time… also the tin that covers 10m2 is beginning to look empty. Get new tin.

The Final Straight!

Ok, door is on frame, check, painted with 1 coat undercoat/primer, check, sanded down to remove most of the issues with the “fluffy” material exposed, 2nd coat undercoat/primer, check, new tin not needed, check, wood filler to correct holes created when new “privacy lock” was installed, check. Door closes…


Gah. Right, sand door. No. Hang on. Take spirit level. Check door. Door is – believe it – or not straight. Hmm. Check frame. Frame has a bulge. In multiple places, in fact the frame is pretty trapezoid… ok one more trip to hardware store for sander (and to return undercoat/primer). At the store we opt for a cheap planer instead. 10 minutes work later, and the door frame is fixed. So fixed, the door should never stick again. Re-paint.

Back to The Door

In the meantime I’ve added a hook to the back of the door replacing the old plastic hook – taken off long ago now –by creating pilot holes with a nail. Sue me, I’m not buying a drill with a 2/32” drill bit just for that. Hook is fine.

New door handles, same model as the old one… except the holes and dimensions have in fact changed without notice. NEW holes for handles. GRRRRRRRRRRR! In the process the bar (which had to be shortened as it is sold oversize !?!?!)  for the lock part of the catch is bent, so turning the lock is now very stiff. 😦

I still have a couple of parts to paint even now…

So what have I learnt

Projects can grow legs, without experience you can never plan enough up front, a 2 day job took me 7 days. Next time… well I would use a different approach, probably not involving stripping the door which from a cost and time perspective probably wasn’t worth it except for the odd dimensions in this case. The power tools would have meant a much better finish. All in all the end result is not bad, it’s not great, but it’s a lot better then the starting point.

Stuff to apply to projects in general:

  • Measure more – checking the frame and door upfront would have told me to need to plane the frame, checking the handles would have meant better preparation of the various pilot holes and filling of old holes.
  • Leave more time if you haven’t done it before – being over optimistic, nice idea, but you won’t be popular.
  • Cost/benefit – getting new tools and material recovery – is it really worth it ?

Oh, and while you’re here, I’m not endorsing any products here, just stating what I used 🙂