1880s Front Door Restoration

Ever since I bought the old ca. 1884 McCuiston House, I knew I would have a hard time finding a front door appropriate for the house. When John McCuiston’s daughter, Lettie McCuiston Clinard, inherited the place in the 1940s, she made quite a bit of changes to her childhood homeplace. The front porch was raised to a Mount Vernon style porch, which meant the three original five foot, four-over-four windows on the second story front were removed and replaced with short six-over-six windows, the front door and screen were replaced, and three false dormers were added to the roof.


Left: Lettie’s husband, Devoe Clinard, in front of her homeplace before any modifications were made.  Right: a 1950s snow covers the McCuiston House. Note the screen porch to the right. That is the original roof line.

I am so thankful that Mrs. Betty Shaw Carlson, great-granddaughter to John McCuiston, and her daughter, Mrs. Dawn Carlson Trotter, have been gracious in sharing their family photos with me that pertain to the McCuiston House. I was able to take that one original photo they had of the place and play with the light and shading in Photoshop and found that the original front door appeared to have a simple screen door in front, with a five-panel door with two glass windows for the top panels. It’s not an easy thing to find a specific door like that!

IMG_2920I searched high and low for a door, even travelling to the famous Black Dog Salvage in Roanoke, Virginia. They didn’t have any windows at all (my primary reason for stopping in), but they did have a lot of neat salvage items turned into different things. (I, personally, am not really in to that. To each their own.) They also had a ton of really great doors, but nothing that I was looking for. The doors they had in stock on the day I stopped by was either too fancy or too plain.

Everyone was really friendly–and really surprised I have never seen the show Salvage Dogs on the DIY Network. I just explained I didn’t have cable or satellite as I spend what time I have at home in working on restoring my farmhouse, not watching TV.

If you’re looking for actual salvage pieces to use to restore your own place, I highly recommend One Way Architectural Salvage in King, North Carolina. Carolyn and Rick Landreth live in a HUGE, awesome Victorian. I would describe it, but I wouldn’t do it justice. All around their yard is treasures from all over the Eastern seaboard. Rick helped me look for windows which I needed for a special project (part of another post), sold me the beautiful twin china cabinets he salvaged from a plantation that was about an hour south of me, found my kitchen porch post, and most importantly he and his wife and daughter share the same love of antiques and things made by hand as I do. They tell a story, and by saving and preserving those things for generations to come we help pass the story on.

Anyways, back to the door.

This past fall, the 20s and 30s of my church were invited to a day in the Appalachian Mountains of Wilkes County with our pastor. I drove separate from the group so I could arrive early to set up for the meal. I also wanted to check out an antique store on Highway 421 just past Wilkesboro in the little area called Mount Pleasant. Mt. Pleasant Antiques is one of my favorite places to stop to look for a little something for my farmhouse. It’s in the foothills, it’s country, it ain’t uppity–it’s just my style. I always walk out with something good, and the owner, Vickie Brown, is just the sweetest lady you’d ever meet.


I walked through the place for over an hour, flipping over the silver, drooling over the pie safes, jelly cubbards, and corner cabinets (especially a particular one from Ashe County from the 1700s… if only the ceilings were tall enough in my kitchen…)

I got ready to leave, and there she was! What a door! Original glass, original doorknob and backplate, original hinges–and original doorbell! Straight from a late 1800s mountain farmhouse in Wilkes County! I tried not to drool while I negotiated the price with Vickie. We settled, I did my victory happy dance……. but it wouldn’t fit in my little Kia Spectra. Well ick. Thankfully, it fit in my pastor’s car, and soon it was safe in my future living room, ready to be restored to her former glory.


Oh, that detail…


Why would somebody paint that copper-plated hardware??? WHY?!?!?!









The Restoration, Part 1

When stripping a door, it’s best to do it in a horizontal position. I’ve tried stripping doors while still on their hinges. It can be done, but it’s not the easiest way to do it. If you have a door to strip, go ahead and bribe your friends with food or cash and get a couple folks to help you. That door’s gonna be heavier than it looks. Trust me.


There were only two layers of paint on the exterior portion, but don’t think that meant it came off all easy-peasy. My heat gun got the top layer off fairly easily as it seemed to be a latex paint, but that bottom layer was a beast! I think it was likely that old milk paint. That stuff would probably survive World War III. See that battleship gray color? That was the stubborn beast. I heated and scraped the door as thoroughly as I could, taking extreme care not to get the heat directly in line with the 130-year-old wavy glass. I used a scrap piece of wood to keep the heat away from the glass as much as possible.

After I had removed all I could with the heat gun, the next step was to use a chemical stripper to remove all that icky stuff that was left in the grain. (This is where I started binge watching the BBC’s Restoration Home on YouTube. The only time I watch much of anything is while I am working on a project. Waste not the hours!)

IMG_3898As I figure I already caused myself enough risk of bodily harm by munching on the flaking paint chips off the back of the old door of my grandparents’ porch as a kid (don’t try this at home, folks…), I thought it best to avoid stinky chemicals as much as possible.

I’ve heard great things about Citristrip on several DIY restoration forums, so I thought I’d give it a try. It lived up to its reputation. No harsh fumes, it didn’t dry out, I didn’t have to cover it while it broke the paint down, and I could reuse the little blobs of orange goo over and over until it was more paint than stripper. This is now my go-to stripper.


Here’s the exterior of the door all stripped. Just look at that beautiful grain! After it dried out for a day, I took a sander to it the next evening to remove as much of the leftover paint as possible from the dings and crevices, wiped it down with denatured alcohol, sanded with fine grain paper, and wiped it down again. Once it dried for 24 hours, the fun part was next.


This is after applying the first coat of Minwax’s American Chestnut. I selected this polyurethane stain instead of shellac because shellac will not hold up to fluctuating moisture and direct sunlight that the exterior of this door will have to endure. The polyurethane will protect the door from moisture and UV rays. The final color of this stain will match the shade of faux graining that was used on the interiors of the woodwork of the house.

Pardon the mess in the background. This room happens to be my living room/garden shed/work room/tool room. Multi-tasking all the way, folks. I call this style “farmhouse clutter”. Keep your eyes open–it’s the next hottest trend to hit Pinterest. 



Just look at that detail on that old doorknob! All of the hardware, from the hinges to the doorbell, of this door was originally copper plated. There are a few companies in Winston-Salem who provide this service, but for now I have chosed to spraypaint them. I stripped all of the paint from the metal with Citristrip, then washed off any leftover residue with soap and water. After thoroughly drying the metal, I let it dry overnight. I used a copper-colored Rustoleum spraypaint to cover all of the metal until I can get around to having the time to travel to Winston-Salem and get them replated properly.



After two more coats of stain, I was ready to hang the door.



Be sure if you are putting down multiple layers of polyeurethane stain that you allow it to dry thoroughly between coats. Use steel wool to buff the surface before applying the next coat. This helps remove any tiny little air bubbles and gives a smooth surface. Wipe down with a clean rag slightly dampened with denatured alcohol to remove the dust, then carefully add the next layer. I found it best to use slow, even strokes in one direction.


All in all, it took me about 28 hours in total to finish just the front side of this door. I still have to restore the interior. It’s well worth the time, though.


100% Joy the Papillon approved! (Yes, my Christmas decorations were still up. It’s a neighborhood thing. My neighbors across the street were still burning their Christmas lights until last week. Maybe they were waiting for me to take down the Moravian star in my well house. If so, I won, because it’s STILL out there!)


















Lesson for today: If you are still blessed to have unpainted woodwork in your old house, please, PLEASE do not paint it! Someone will greatly thank you for this later.

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2 Comment

  1. Reply
    Sue (Mac's Girl)
    January 30, 2018 at 8:46 am

    You made a beautiful job of the door! Well done!

    1. Reply
      Michelle Bennett
      January 30, 2018 at 1:16 pm

      Thank you! 😊

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