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How to Make a Luan Door Look Like Hardwood

Janet Beal

Doing a home decorating upgrade isn't just a matter of buying new furniture and window treatments. An upgrade involves looking critically at surfaces, woodwork, hardware and doors used in a building or room. Nothing says economizing like luan doors, prized for their light weight, smooth surfaces and low cost.

Luan doors can date or update room decor.

The longer they stay, unfortunately, the cheaper they look. Replacing doors is a substantial expense. Some patient refinishing techniques can include your doors in your decor step-up.

  1. Remove the door from its hinges and place it on a flat work surface. If this isn't possible, doors can be finished in place, but results may be visibly uneven.

  2. Lightly sand all the door surfaces to be refinished. This can be only the visible outer side, but luan will more resemble hardwood if all surfaces of the door are refinished. Sand lightly because luan panels can be thin. Vacuum or otherwise remove sanding debris.

  3. Stain the door to the desired hue. Use natural statns or commercial products. Try to see a sample of the stain you would like to use already applied to luan; different kinds of wood absorb and reflect stain colors distinctively. Apply stain according to container directions and let all surfaces dry thoroughly, usually for 12 to 24 hours. Sand lightly.

  4. Seal the door, using dilute shellac or commercial sealer. Again, apply according to package directions and allow thorough drying, at least 12 hours. In humid weather or damp working conditions, allow a longer drying time.

  5. Apply oil-based or water-based wood pore filler according to package directions. Oil-based fillers tend to take longer to dry than water-based and they are intended to be applied in clear or custom-tinted form, which may require learning how to use japan colors or other pigments. Drying time can run up to two days. Water-based fillers are easier to tint and quick to apply, but quick drying time, within an hour or two, makes rub-down removal of excess sealer more of a challenge. Both sealers require rub-down with burlap or other coarse-fibered cloth to remove excess sealer. Woodworkers recommend rubbing cross-grain and then in figure-eight motions to remove excess filler without wiping it out of filled pores.

  6. Inspect the filled wood thoroughly before proceeding. You should notice definite changes in the quality of the wood surface, a finer grain more resembling hardwood than unfinished luan. During this inspection, decide whether you need an additional coat of filler to produce the smoothness you want. This is also your final opportunity to address any unevenness or streaking in wood color.

  7. Sand sealed surfaces lightly but thoroughly. Woodworkers note that an accumulation of residue on sandpaper is normal when sanding an oil-based filler and does not mean the sealer is still wet. Watch for dusty debris only when sanding water-based sealers. For water-based sealers, an accumulation of residue on sandpaper may signal damp patches.

  8. Apply one or more finish coats to the door. Top coats can be varnish, shellac or polyurethane, water- or oil-based, as best suits your decor plans. Results should repay your patient work with a fine-grained hardwood appearance.

  9. Tip

    None of the refinishing steps is difficult, but practice will help beginners. Consider using a door from another part of the house, the interior of a closet door or a luan scrap from a lumberyard as a practice piece.


    The most important parts of this refinishing process are those in which you do nothing. Allow extra drying time at each stage for the best refinishing results. With experience, you will learn how quickly this project can be done, but giving a week over to refinishing a door is a good idea for beginners.