How to Paint Your Ancient Front Door

Our house is coming up on its 65th birthday next year. And so is our front door. When we moved in in March, one of my favorite little details of this house was that original, wooden, character-wrought door. I have had dreams of painting it a bright, happy yellow ever since, so when Mr. P gave me the go, I was at Lowes faster than you can say “Valspar exterior in semi-gloss, please.”

And then I returned home to reality to realize that our front door has 64 years worth of wear. What do I mean by that? I mean getting full sun for so much of the day (and for so many days), the paint has cracked, been painted over, and cracked and peeled again (and again). I had high hopes of whipping out the sander (you guys know how much I love the sander–it’s a relationship really) and watching those old paint chips fly off my door and flutter delicately to my feet. After giving a proper sanding (while wearing a mask–we don’t sand ancient paint without masks), this is what the door looked like:

how to paint a cracked door

So I kept on sanding.

how to paint a cracked door

This was as good as it got. Those old paint chips were jerks. Time for a new game plan.

Plan A:
Remove hardware from door
Give the door a light sand
Give the door 2-3 coats of paint
Enjoy the fruit of very little labor

Plan B:
Remove hardware from door
Sand that door until relationship with sander is strained
Apply 2-3 coats of primer to fill in the cracks
Let the primer set for a week
Apply 1-2 coats of paint
Enjoy the fruit of my labor

The idea to use primer to cover over the cracks came from my FIL (Father-in-law. You caught me, I think that’s the first time “FIL” has come out of my mouth/fingertips. I just wanted you to think I was this cute blogger who called her father-in-law her FIL…). The primer helps fill the cracks (almost like caulk) and prevent further flaking.

One detail worth mentioning is that most of the door’s hardware (door knocker with a “C” engraved on it–not our initial–and the lock) was easily removed, but we left the older (original?) door handle, as it looked difficult to remove (if for no other reason than the fact that it hasn’t been removed in many decades). So before painting, I taped off the remaining hardware.

apply primer to older doors to help with flaking

I applied the first coat of primer lightly, aiming simply to cover the entire door.

apply primer to older doors to hep prevent flaking

Even the first coat of primer made such a difference (only the left half is primed here). After letting it dry for a couple of hours, I applied the second coat heavily, aiming to fill in the cracks. The difficulty here is getting a heavy enough coat to cover the cracks, while not applying so much primer that it pools in corners (look above and you can spy some of this happening).

how to paint an ancient door

how to paint an ancient doorprime old doors before repainting

Here is the part you don’t want to hear: after that second coat of primer, we let the paint cure for a week before adding the delicious yellow paint to it. After it had dried an hour or two, we hung the door back on the hinges and didn’t mess with it until the following weekend to give the primer time to really set. This door needed some TLC after all that full sun action.

So one week later, I whipped out that lovely yellow paint.

how to paint an old door

This was after one coat. Here’s after two:

how to paint an ancient door

Getting down to finally painting the door was a piece of cake. When I removed the tape from the hardware, though, I noticed that my taping job was a little sloppy, resulting in this:

painting a 65-year-old door

You can also see how the cracks in the door are still visible. You have to be about this close to see them, but they were not perfectly camouflaged.

touching up paint around old hardware

A little paint brush from the craft drawer worked like a charm in touching up around the hardware, making me less inclined to try harder on the tape job in the future. Sorry, not sorry.

painting a peeling door

The one problem that I didn’t find a solution to was this. No matter how long I let the paint dry, when I closed and then opened the door, the paint on the left side of the door (the hinge side) would come off where the door fit snuggly into the frame. I’d love advice on how to fix this if anyone has any ideas.

In the mean time, we’re not bothered about the little imperfections, just loving that cheery door.

Painting a door is an easy project with a high-yield in the aesthetics department.

The work that went into this project was definitely more than I was bargaining for, but even so, I am so happy we tackled this one. So worth it.



    1. I’m so glad you like it! Funny story about picking the color. Normally I would include color info, but this one was a bit tricky. In short, it’s the yellow from this post: The long story is I mixed two paints to paint our sunroom: Valspar’s “Golden Treasure” (a lot of this one) and Benjamin Moore’s “Straw” (not much of this). It became a very slightly milder Golden Treasure color. One day while looking at the oh-so-bright room, I thought, “this is the perfect yellow for the door,” and got Lowes to color match for me. Color matching has been hit or miss there for me. I have one girl who is a shot caller at it and several who look at me like I’m nuts when I ask. If you want, I can take a picture of the lid (with the color code on it). 🙂

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