How to Strip & Stain an Exterior Wood Door

The front door is the first thing people see when they come to your house. It's also highly visible from the street and makes an impression with passersby. If the finish on your front door has seen better days, you can strip off the old finish and then apply new stain and varnish or polyurethane. The process itself isn't hard, but it does require time for one layer of finishing material to dry before applying the next layer.

Strip Off Old Finish

Step 1

Remove the door from its hinges.  Set it on a workbench or workhorses.

Tape off hardware. 

Step 2

Strip off the old finish.  Use a commercial stripper.

Follow the manufacturer's instructions.  Essentially, you apply the stripper to door, allow it to break down the finish, then remove old stain and varnish with a plastic scraper and old rag.

Step 3

Wash door after stripping old finish.  Do not saturate the door with water.

Use a spray bottle filled with plain water, along with a clean cloth to wash the door and remove any remnants of the stripping chemical. 

Step 4

Dry it for several hours or overnight.  Allow the door to dry in a protected spot before continuing.

Step 5

Sand the door.  Begin with a medium grade of sandpaper and sand lightly.

Use a clean, soft brush to brush off the sanding dust.  Next use a fine grade of sandpaper and sand lightly.

Then use a soft brush to brush off sanding dust.  Finally, sand lightly with an extra fine grade of sandpaper.

Again, use a soft brush to brush off sanding dust. 

Stain and Re-finish Door

Step 1

Prepare surface of door for staining.  Wipe the entire door with a tack cloth to remove any remaining particles of sanding dust.

Step 2

Stain the door.  Use an old soft cloth to apply the stain.

Work in small areas at a time.  First, apply stain to cloth and wipe it over a small area of door.

Then take a clean cloth and wipe off excess stain.  Repeat until entire door is stained.

Complete this in one session to avoid demarcation of stain between areas done at different times. 

Step 3

Allow stain to dry as recommended by stain manufacturer. 

Step 4

Use extra fine grade of sandpaper or extra fine steel wool and lightly sand stained surface of door. 

Step 5

Use tack cloth to remove all particles of sanding dust. 

Step 6

Apply exterior grade varnish or polyurethane finish.  Use a paintbrush.

To minimize brush marks, don't brush over areas you've already painted with finish. 

Step 7

Allow finish to dry as recommended by manufacturer. 

Step 8

Sand lightly with extra fine sand paper or steel wool. 

Step 9

Use a tack cloth to remove sanding dust. 

Step 10

Apply a second coat of exterior varnish or polyurethane finish.  As with the first coat, allow to dry, sand lightly and wipe off sanding dust.

If desired, you can apply three or even four coats of varnish or polyurethane finish.  Remember to sand and remove sanding dust between coats.

Step 11

Reinstall door. 

Things You Will Need

  • Masking tape
  • Commercial wood finish stripper
  • Plastic scraper
  • Soft cloths
  • Spray bottle
  • Sandpaper in medium, fine, very fine, and extra fine grades
  • Steel wool (if desired)
  • Soft brush
  • Tack cloths
  • Wood stain
  • Exterior grade varnish or polyurethane
  • Paintbrush


  • Tack cloth is a cloth impregnated with an adhesive-like substance that picks up minute particles of dust on the surface, making the final product smooth and bump-free.
  • All supplies for this project are available at home improvement centers.
  • For the smoothest finish on your door, do not skip any of the sanding steps.


  • Wear safety goggles when working with chemical wood finish strippers.
  • Provide adequate ventilation when working with chemical strippers and wood finishing products.

About the Author

Sharon Sweeny has a college degree in general studies and worked as an administrative and legal assistant for 20 years before becoming a professional writer in 2008. She specializes in writing about home improvement, self-sufficient lifestyles and gardening.