Door Tips and Tricks

How to Choose the Right Finish for Your Wooden Doors?

Applying the right finish to a wooden door

Wooden doors are the perfect addition to almost any home. The natural beauty and sense of quality that comes from adding solid wooden doors to your home’s entryways are simply unmatched by other materials, such as aluminum or synthetic options.

However, wooden doors also create a sort of conundrum for first-time buyers and those who aren’t exactly well-versed in home design.

Wooden doors have to be finished to keep them protected, and those finishes help enhance their appearance in various ways. However, there are tons of different finishes on the market, and they all have their own unique pros and cons, which can make you wonder – how to choose the right finish for your wooden doors. 

To help you cut through the various options and find the right one for your needs, we’ve created an extensive checklist for you to follow.

Let’s get started.

Consider the Type of Wood Door You Have

This is one of the three main things you need to look at when buying a finish to apply. Real wood doors aren’t synthetic products designed to be messed with however you want. They’re natural materials, and they can be made from a large variety of wood species.

The problem with that is that different wood species have various characteristics, and while a particular finish you love might look great and work well with one type of door, it might look entirely different or simply not work with another type of door.

A man using a paintbrush to apply finish on a wooden door

Listing out every possible combination of finish and wood type on the market would be a tremendous endeavor that is far outside the scope of this article, but we highly recommend choosing the door first, or at least knowing what your current door is, and then looking up which finishes work well with that type of door. 

This will help you narrow your massive list of options down to a manageable list of things you can choose from, and you should still have a large selection that doesn’t force you into a box as far as design creativity goes.

 Consider the Benefits of the Finish

Every type of finish has various pros and cons. We’ll go over those in the sections to come. However, you have to consider those benefits when you’re choosing a finish. The results go well beyond how the finished door will look. The finish can determine the door’s lifespan in certain cases, affect its performance, and do other things. 

Again, we’ll cover all the pros and cons of different types of finishes later on. So, you don’t have to research this stuff on your own.

The real leg work comes in when you have to research specific brands, but we’ll give you pointers to make sure you get something that will benefit you the most.

Consider the Location of the Wood Door

Finally, the location of the door needs to be considered. You can have hardwood doors all around your home. They make amazing main entryways, rear doors, garage entryways, and even nice touches to bedrooms and spare rooms used as offices or game rooms.

However, doors in various locations will be exposed to different types of abuse.

For example, most people don’t enter and exit their homes through their rear entrance very often. It’s more of a way to get to the backyard quickly for family gatherings, accessing backyard activities, and other things that a lot of people don’t do all day long every day.

 Choose the right finish for your wooden doors

However, a front door is the main entrance to most homes. When you take the kids to school and head to work, you use the main entrance. When you head out for an errand and return, you use the main entrance door. 

You probably drag every new piece of furniture in and out of the main entrance when you’re upgrading your home décor. That’s all the abuse the front door takes before you consider its constant exposure to sunlight, moisture in the air, ice, and other problems, such as the Amazon driver chucking packages at it with all their might.

The entrance to something such as a game room will see very little normal abuse. It’s not exposed to the elements, and you likely aren’t running in and out of it or moving furniture through it often.

You have to take all of those things into account. Doors that will see a lot of abuse need finishes that can take that abuse without getting damaged and exposing the raw wood beneath them, and doors that are relatively unused can get away with more delicate finishes that enhance their visual appeal.

What are Wood Door Finishes?

Alright, we’ve highlighted the main things you need to consider about your interior and exterior doors before we get into the different finish comparisons, but you might still need to know a bit about what finishes actually are.

Well, they’re essentially top layers that add a few enhancements to the door’s natural traits.

A person applying finish to a custom made wood door

Aesthetics:

Nearly all finishes greatly change the appearance of your wood door. Even a simple oil stain will change the shade of the door’s natural coloring.

Water Resistance:

Wood isn’t exactly waterproof. While some species are naturally resistant to rot and other water-related problems, water is always a bad thing to expose yourwood door to. Most finishes help reflect water from the surface of the wood and prevent it from penetrating the wood’s surface.

Ultra-Violet Protection:

Ultra-violet light from the sun is always a threat, and it’s not exactly noticeable until you see its effects. Finishes help prevent that ultra-violet light from affecting your door.

This is key because ultra-violet light is one of the few threats to your door that can have effects that creep up on you. You might not notice that your door is damaged until it’s time to get rid of it.

Warping and Twisting:

Unfortunately, wood can warp. No matter how high-quality your wood door is, it can twist under the right conditions, and even a little bit of twist can start to affect your home’s heating and cooling, and it can affect how well the door opens and closes.

Warping is most often caused by the other risks we mentioned above. So, by having a finish protect against those issues, you can prevent warping almost entirely.

Types of Finishes and Their Pros and Cons

Now, we can get to the meat of the guide. There are tons of finishes on the market. Not only are there different types for you to buy, but there are seemingly endless brands positioning their finishing products as the best available. Obviously, that can’t be true.

We can’t cover every single brand of product, but we can give you an overview of the different types and what they’re good for.

Let’s get started.

A hand applying an oil-based wood door finish with a paintbrush

Oil-Based Finishes:

These are some of the most popular finishing products on the market. They’re really easy to apply, and they generally provide exceptional performance.

An oil-based finish is simply an oil, usually from a natural plant or solution, that soaks into the wood.

The main pro of this type of finish is that you’ll have a very easy time applying it. You just need to get a cloth, drench it in oil, and smear it onto the wood. Within a few hours, the oil will be soaked up, and you’ll start getting the benefits of the finish.

This type of finish is also minimalist. 

It will protect against water damage to a degree, and it keeps wood from getting too dry and oxidizing. It also works to enhance the door’s natural beauty instead of covering it up as paint does. It will simply change the shade of the door instead of covering it up entirely.

However, this isn’t perfect. It provides practically zero surface protection from scratches and gouges. It’s simply oil that soaks into the wood. If you scrape a furniture leg against the door while moving it, the oil won’t do anything to prevent a scratch, and you’ll have to put in some work to fix it.

There is also a safety concern related to this type of finish.

You’ll be dousing a rag in flammable oil to apply the finish. If you simply throw the rag out, or you allow it to dry while it’s bunched up or folded, it can catch on fire. You have to allow the rags to dry while they’re spread out, or you have to burn them outdoors in a safe environment to prevent that problem in the first place.

This type of finish is best used on interior doors. It offers protection, but the protection isn’t quite substantial enough to weather outdoor elements and threats.

Paint:

Paint is an option, but it’s not one that we recommend to our customers.

You’re probably very aware of how paint works. You get a brush or airbrush setup, and you apply several thin layers of paint. This seals the door entirely to prevent water and sunlight damage, and the door takes on the look of the paint. The paint can also provide a very light level of protection against physical surface damage such as scratches. 

If the scratch is minor enough, it might just scrape the paint and require a touch-up instead of damaging the wood itself.

The main problem with paint is that it covers up the natural beauty of the wood. You just spent a fair amount of money on a high-quality wood door, and one of the main benefits of that is that it absolutely oozes natural beauty that looks good in any sort of design theme. When you paint it, you lose all of that.

Paint also isn’t very long-lasting. You’ll have to repaint your door every year or two to keep it looking brand new, and that can be a fairly hectic process.

Varnish:

Varnish is a more unique type of finish. It mostly enhances the natural beauty of the wood like oil does, but it creates a hard coating that protects it from virtually every type of weather damage and even physical damage. Essentially, it works as a sort of transparent armor for your door.

Varnish is also very easy to apply. You just use a brush, make sure you apply it in even strokes, and let it dry.

There are two problems with varnish.

First, it tends to be very shiny. You can minimize the amount of shine it has with other products, but that just complicates the process. If you don’t want a glossy door, you should choose something else. With that being said, the gloss won’t be a problem with most exterior home designs.

The other problem is that it presents similar safety risks as oil. It is flammable, and you do not want to inhale the fumes. If you buy a proper rebreather from any hardware store, and take proper care of your varnish, these aren’t problems, though.

With that being said, the high-gloss look can be odd indoors. Without sunlight fading the gloss over time, you’ll have a fairly shiny door that stands out among the other areas of your home.

Water-Based Finishes:

Water-based finishes work just like oil finishes, and they’re extremely scratch resistant. They also dry a lot faster than oil finishes.

Another great pro of water-based finishes is that they don’t alter the natural coloring of the wood. So, if you bought a wood door made from an exotic species, this can be the perfect finish for it.

However, water-based finishes don’t hold up to the elements too well. So, they’re not ideal for exterior door applications.

Wax:

Wax is more of a secondary finish. It doesn’t penetrate the wood, and that leaves the wood beneath it entirely raw. However, it does have some great benefits going for it.

Wax sealants protect the door from water and moisture damage exceptionally well, and they can be tinted to add a bit of color to your wood door. This makes them perfect as secondary finishes for water-based primary finishes and oil-based finishes. You can also use wax to buff out small scratches and hide imperfections. 

However, wax needs to be reapplied often, and it isn’t suitable as a primary finish.

Start with a High-Quality Wood Door

Of course, for any of these finishes to matter, you need to start with a high-quality wood door.

A custom-made door made with higher-quality materials will last longer, and the wood species used will provide major benefits of their own. When you’re serious about adding custom wood doors to your home, make sure you buy your doors from the best wood door supplier, and ensure you choose the right finish for your wooden doors. 

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