Painting paneled doors is the ultimate painter's challenge. To make it easier, we tried different tools and paints and watched pros work. Here's what we found.
The actual work involved in painting a door typically amounts to three to five hours, depending on the condition of the door and how fussy you are. But add in the drying time and it's a full-day project. So if you're painting a door you can't live without—like a bathroom or exterior door—get started first thing in the morning so it can be back in service by day's end.
While you're picking a paint color, also think about sheen: With a flat finish, scuff marks and handprints are hard to wipe away. High gloss is easy to clean but accentuates every little flaw, so your prep and paint job have to be perfect. Satin and semigloss are good compromise choices. Also check the operation of the door. If it rubs against the jamb or drags on the carpet, now's the time to sand or plane the edges. If you have several doors that need painting, start with the least prominent one. It's better to make learning mistakes on the inside of a closet door than on your entry door.
If your home was built before 1979, check the paint for lead before you sand. For more information, go to: hud.gov/offices/lead.
Slice through paint buildup around hinges and latches. Otherwise, you might splinter surrounding wood as you remove hardware.
Pros often paint doors in place. But from prep to painting, you'll get better results if you remove the door. Working in your garage, shop or basement, you can control lighting and drying conditions better. And laying the door flat minimizes runs in the paint job. Here's what to do after you remove the door:
On flat areas, level out old runs and brush marks with a hard sanding block. For the shaped profiles, you'll need a combination of sanding pads, sponges and scraps of sandpaper.
A vacuum with a brush attachment removes most of the dust. Wipe off the rest with a damp rag.
Sand out any imperfections in the prime coat. Shine a light across the surface at a low angle to accentuate imperfections. If you find any spots that need an extra dab of filler, mark them with tabs of masking tape.
If your door is in good shape, all it needs is a light sanding with sandpaper or a sanding sponge (180 or 220 grit). That will roughen the surface a little and allow the primer to adhere better. But most likely, you'll also need to smooth out chipped paint and imperfections from previous paint jobs. This is usually the most time-consuming, tedious part of the project. Here are some tips for faster, better results:
Some paints show brush marks, ridges and roller stipple no matter how skillful or careful you are. Others go on smoothly and then level out beautifully, even if you're not a master painter.
If you want a smooth finish, choose a paint designed for that. Some paints, even good-quality paints, just aren't formulated for smoothness. Smooth paints are usually labeled “enamel” or “door and trim.” But the label alone doesn't tell you enough; some brands of “enamel” are much better than others. Advice from the store staff, and the price, are the best indicators. Super-smooth paints often cost $25 to $30 per quart! But it's worth an extra 10 bucks per door to get first-class results.
Among the paints we've used, one category stands out for smoothness: water-based alkyds. These paints dry slowly for extra working time and level out almost as well as traditional oil-based alkyds. After applying them with a high-quality roller, you can usually skip the brush-out step shown in Photos 7 and 9 and still get perfect results. Cleanup is as easy as with any other water-based paint. The disadvantages of water-based alkyds are a very long wait before recoating (16 to 24 hours) and a high price tag. Here are two we've used: Benjamin Moore Advance Waterborne Interior Alkyd and Sherwin-Williams ProClassic Interior Waterbased Acrylic-Alkyd Enamel. To find a dealer in your area, go to: benjaminmoore.com or sherwin-williams.com.
After the messy job of sanding is done, set the door aside and prep your workspace. For priming and painting, you want a work zone that's well lit and clean. Sawdust on your workbench will end up on brushes; airborne dust will create whiskers on the paint. The conditions in your work area should allow paint to dry slowly. Slower drying means more time for you to smooth the paint before it becomes gummy and more time for the paint to level itself. Here's how to prep your space:
Make the door flippable
Drive one screw into one end and two into the other. That lets you coat both sides of the door without waiting for the first side to dry. Drill pilot holes and drive 5/16 x 5-in. lag screws about halfway in. Smaller screws can bend and let the door drop just as you're finishing the final coat.
Wet the floor
Two benefits for the price of one: A wet floor prevents you from kicking up dust that will create dust nubs in your finish. Better yet, it raises the humidity, which extends the time you have to smooth out the paint and gives the paint more time to level out. In our informal experiments, raising the humidity doubled the working time of the paint. (We also discovered that slick floors get even slicker when wet, which can lead to Three Stooges-style paint accidents. Be careful.)
Keep a pair of tweezers handy
Pluck out paintbrush bristles or rescue stuck insects without messing up the paint. This works great with other finishes too. For marital harmony, don't return the tweezers to the medicine cabinet. Buy a new pair (another lesson learned the hard way).
Brush or roll paint onto all four edges. Immediately wipe any paint that slops onto the face of the door with a rag or foam brush. You don't have to completely remove the paint, but you do have to flatten it to prevent ridges.
Work the paint into the corners and grooves, then drag
the brush over the paint to smooth it. Wipe away any slop
around the panel as shown in
Coat the panels quickly with a roller. Then smooth the paint with a brush. Be careful not to touch the profiles surrounding the panel.
Roll the door in sections, coating no more than one-quarter of the door at a time. Then brush out the paint. Be careful not to slop paint over the edges around the panels.
Brush across the joints where door parts meet. Then drag your brush in a straight line along the intersection. That way, any visible brush marks will look more like a wood grain pattern and less like sloppy brushwork.
You can “spot-prime” a door, coating only patched dents or areas you sanded through to bare wood. But priming the whole door is best; the new paint will stick better and you'll get a more uniform finish. Here are some tips for this critical step:
Painting a door is a race against time. You have to lay down the paint and smooth it out before it becomes too sticky to work with, or so stiff that brush marks won't level out and disappear. Keep moving. Don't stop to answer the phone or get coffee. Minutes count. In warm, dry conditions, even seconds matter.
Even the most skilled painter can't match the perfection of a sprayed-on finish. There are two types of sprayers: “airless” and “HVLP” (high-volume, low-pressure). Both can apply a flawless coat in minutes, but HVLP is more forgiving; it produces a finer spray, which reduces your chances of blasting on too much paint and creating runs. Many HVLP sprayers won't spray acrylic/latex paint. For a model that will, expect to spend $100 to $150, well worth it if you have a house full of doors to paint. Aside from finish quality, a sprayer will also save you hours of brushwork if you have several doors to paint. For more on both airless and HVLP sprayers, see Paint Sprayer Reviews and Painting With an Airless Sprayer.
Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.
You'll also need a shop light and tweezers.
Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here's a list.