• Elizabeth Brummett

Lessons Learned the Hard Way

Updated: Nov 12, 2019

Timothy and I learned two lessons the hard way this weekend. The first lesson: Listen when your builder tells you to redo the clear coat on your gorgeous new front door after a year in the house. At a year, the door still looked great, and it seemed too soon to need such extensive maintenance. After nearly three years, with harsh southern sun beating on the door every day, the clear coat had started to crack. Our real wake-up call was when a solicitor rudely taped a flier to the door, and the tape took off not just the clear coat but also spots of the stain underneath.

Saturday morning, we decided to tackle the chore. Brian, our next-door neighbor, came over with some coffee. Our first roadblock was when we realized that the middle hinge on the door had a locking pin and was screwed in with security screws. Since you have to be inside the house to remove the pins, this security measure seemed grossly misplaced. All we can assume is that the builder didn’t trust the subs not to run off with a really nice door. Fortunately, Brian discovered that Home Depot sells a screwdriver head that will remove the screws, which seems to defeat the point.

Initially, the light sanding seemed to work well enough in removing the old clear coat, but when we got to the more damaged areas, the stain came with it. We quickly realized we were too late and instead needed to fully refinish the door – sand it down to bare wood, re-stain it, and apply a fresh clear coat.

When Timothy got out the orbital sander, I went off in search of the right stain. The sales associates for David Weekley were able to tell me the color, fruitwood, but not the brand. No houses are under construction currently, so there are no builders around to ask. Multiple manufacturers make a fruitwood stain. I wound up buying two different brands and hoping for the best. Zar turned out to be a closer match than Minwax.

What we’d thought would be an easy one-day project turned into our whole weekend, and we’re still not done. We sanded all day yesterday, into the evening, until Brian came over with beer. Today, the door came back down for some final sanding. We dusted it off with Brian’s air compressor, cleaned it with denatured alcohol, and applied two coats of stain and one coat of spar urethane. It’s still drying. Our dog Laika, usually quite excited to have visitors come in the door, is apprehensive of passersby when there’s no door. She’s been an overly zealous guard dog.

The door should have a second coat of urethane, but we’ve run out of time and daylight. As soon as the four hours drying time are up, we’ll rehang it and finish the project after Thanksgiving. I guess we should return all of Brian’s tools in the meantime!

The second lesson learned this weekend: environmentally friendly solvent isn’t much of a solvent. At Home Depot, next to the paint thinner, denatured alcohol, and other stuff that will make your head spin are a few packages that claim they won’t. When your paint thinner comes in plastic, that should be a clue that it doesn’t dissolve petroleum products. It’s thicker than traditional paint thinner, opaque white, and a little less smelly. My confidence in it was boosted when it worked fine to clean up the stain. Not so with the urethane. It just smudged the stuff around, into places it wasn’t already on the gloves and brushes. Worried I was about to ruin the sink, I sent Timothy back to the store, but they’d already closed. The gunky gloves are drying in the garage and the brushes are soaking what might as well be a jar of milk, waiting for some real solvent. We managed to save the sink and my hands with the last bit of paint thinner from the garage and a splash of acetone borrowed from, you guessed it, Brian. I don’t recommend acetone on bare skin. Also, your cleaner isn’t environmentally friendly if it means you use more of the tough stuff to erase your mistake in ever trying it in the first place.

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