Door Story


House update! Behold something most people won’t notice: a new door in a refinished jamb with new casings!

The house’s original interior doors were hollow pine with super-dark, slightly sticky seventies stain. I tried to clean them with everything under the sun, but nothing removed the amber-ish smell. Several were cut too short due to the ghost of shag carpeting, letting light into places it shouldn’t be, and many bore Sharpie marks. They drove me crazier every time I looked at them. So one day last summer, I snapped and decided it was time for modern doors. 16 of them. (Just FYI: I do understand priorities! This was before the roof-deck started having structural issues.)

The jambs were all were odd sizes; cutting and hanging that many doors myself was out of the question, so we found a company to make and hang new doors. It wasn’t cheap. I should have shopped around more, but I just wanted to get it done; we liked their styles and hardware, and they said they could do it fairly quickly. (They actually ran about a month late, which is one of many reasons I’m not plugging them here.)

A sane person would refinish the existing casings (super narrow, nearly black) with the jambs, but that ain’t me, so I ripped off those babies with my crowbar so I could replace them with something from this century.

The naked jambs needed to be prepared for the new doors. That Seventies Finish would not permit sanding– any sandpaper gummed up on the first stroke. I cut up two packs of Scotch-Brite pads and soaked them in a chemical deglosser (Krud Kutter Gloss Off– a godsend), scrubbed the jambs vigorously with those, let it stand for a bit, then repeated with water. Then I could sand, but only by hand; the oscillator was too harsh, and a jamb has many crevices. I primed with a single coat of leftover shellac-based primer. This type of primer is a huge pain in the tuchus– it stinks, it’s runny and cleanup involves straight ammonia– but it was the only thing I could think of that would seal the smell and color away forever. I sanded it lightly after primer, then rolled on a coat of paint, sanded lightly, rolled on another coat and sanded lightly again. I masked afresh between coats, terrified of ruining the new floor, then wiped everything off with a damp cloth and let it dry after every sanding.

Then I repeated that 15 times. It took 3.5 weeks, a dozen 3″ roller covers, three rolls of Frog Tape, two small paintbrushes, two packs of sandpaper and a gallon of expensive cabinet grade paint (same stuff the new doors would be sprayed with), but they looked great. I was finished by the time our doors were supposed to arrive, but they were running late, so I had to put some of the dark doors in the white jambs. (Bathroom doors are necessary in a marriage, despite what ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ might indicate.)

On October 17, the doors finally arrived and were installed. The door guys were very impressed with my new white jambs and said they’d get a trim quote from their finish carpenter, but they never did. (They also didn’t paint or finish the top/bottom sides of the doors, so I had to paint any that were visible from above. They also called me and guilt-tripped me into changing my honest, average Yelp review. Charming people.)

And so the door-holes stood uncased. The holidays came and went. We got snowed in and I hibernated a bit, then procrastinated when it came to choosing the air compressor to power my nail gun. I also needed to figure out how to cut the new baseboards I’d already installed to fit wider door casings. We also needed to choose said door casings.

We picked a style at Dunn and had 700 linear feet of MDF Colonial moulding delivered to the house. They came primed. I don’t normally trust factory primer, but I decided to roll with it this once, since the boards were pale and I was using cabinet grade paint. I put two coats of the same paint on them in the garage, ten at a time, then started trimming. Air compressors are louder than bombs and need to be drained and decompressed every 4 hours in high humidity.

Mistakes were made, both on my end and Dunn Lumber’s; I had to had to reorder additional materials. (PSA: Buying any type of lumber from Dunn is 100 times more pleasant than buying from the Depot, and they’ll deliver any amount for $40.)

There’s so more to it than the home improvement shows, which are always good for unachievable timelines and unrealistic scopes, suggest. After measuring the top, you can cut the piece for it and attach it. After that, measuring is not really efficient– scribing is more reliable, so you spend a lot of time carrying boards around the house (assuming your miter saw is not inside your house). Only plain block door casings can go in either direction (the Dunn employee screwed up, thinking I could get a top and a leg out of a 10′ piece) and no doors are perfectly symmetrical, so you really need to mind your miters; sometimes 45 degrees won’t work both ways.

I got through it, and now I’m cheerfully finishing up, filling the nail holes, touching up the paint and caulking where desired. I think they look pretty good.