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Bringing wooden doors back to life

They were found in the basement. Could they be saved?

The 105-year-old home we purchased in Washington had a lot of charm. That charm, though, was hidden. Beautiful wood floors were covered with carpet.

A dumpster quickly filled with garbage and debris hauled from the home. In the basement we found two old doors. The wooden doors looked like they were destined for the trash bin.

They were lying in the basement, covered with dust, dirt and grime. Spider webs were everywhere, The doors may have been there for decades.

The dirt and grime on the doors is evident where the clear glass is translucent, obscuring the images on the other side. (Jim Johnson/The Union)

There were two doors that once hung between the home living room and library. Each had 10 glass panes. The bottoms of the door were warped, looking like they had sat in water.

Could they be restored? Maybe.

The first task was cleaning the layers of grease and grime from the doors. Wet towels did this. The towels turned black as decades of neglect washed off.

Next the doors were laid on a pair of saw horses. The wood clearly matched other woodwork throughout the house — dark-stained oak, reflecting an era where craftsmanship was built into every home.

With the worst of the dirt wiped away, the natural beauty of the wood begins to show. Still it took three applications of Murphy Oil Soap to fully clean the doors. (Jim Johnson/The Union)

To deep clean the wood, Murphy Oil Soap was used. The soap was squirted directly onto the wood, about a 2- or 3-foot section of the door at a time. A damp rag was used to work the soap into the wood and lift off the remaining muck.

Three times each door was wiped clean with the soap until the rag stopped turning dirty. The wood under all of that buildup was beautiful.

With the wood cleaned, the damage was apparent. The wood veneer at the bottom of the door was split and lifting away from the underlying wood frame. No doubt water had caused the veneer to warp and crack as the doors sat on the wet basement floor.

Fortunately, the frame itself was not damaged.

Water damage had warped the wood veneer on the base of the door. Fortunately, the underlying door frame was in good shape. (Jim Johnson/The Union)

Wood glue was liberally applied under the veneer and then the veneer was clamped into place. Glue oozed from the cracks and was wiped away with a damp cloth. Boards were used to keep the pressure even and to avoid leaving marks on the door.

After gluing, the wood was clamped for four to five hours for the glue to dry. (Jim Johnson/The Union)

The glue needed to dry for four or five hours. While it dried, attention turned to the locking mechanism, the doorknob and latch and metal bolts that held the second door firmly in place when it closed.

Rust sealed shut the locking mechanism on the door and the bolts. Liberal doses of WD-40 and a couple of sharp blows with a hammer freed the bolts. More WD-40 was applied until the metal moved freely.

The finished doors add Old World charm to the house and match the woodwork that we fell in love with when we first saw the house. (Jim Johnson/The Union)

The glass panes — 10 of them on each door — presented the final cleaning challenge. Windex worked wonders, yet there was still some gunk that needed to be carefully chiseled from the glass.

Cleaned and repaired the doors were rehung. Fortunately, the brass hinges were still in place, both on the doors and on the door frames. The pins were cleaned in a WD-40 bath and with a little effort, the doors were restored to their original glory.

Seeing them hung once again, it’s hard to imagine anyone taking them down and leaving them in the basement to deteriorate.

This was not a difficult do-it-yourself job. Like many features in an old, neglected house, simply cleaning the item and doing some light repairs restores the original beauty.