Renewable Finish for High-Traffic Doors

Finishers discuss how to finish some old doors that take a lot of abuse, so that maintenance staff can periodically do touch-up repairs. October 14, 2006

I am refinishing the entry doors at a very old country club here in town, and they have some specific requirements. The outside must be a clear finish, and also be renewable (by me). No problem on that. However, on the inside it is different. This club was built in the late 40s, and they didn't put "service doors" or "maintenance access" doors in the original architectural plans. Now, due to the historic value of the club's style and architecture, they cannot change it. So the inside of these doors take a real hit as they open out, and different people use carts, dollies, etc. as rams when going through them and scratch the hell out of them.

So the head of the country club wants finish put on by me that is sturdy, washable, abrasion resistant, and can be touched up by his guys before Easter, the 4th, Thanksgiving, etc. They will do a little prep (sanding), and then put on another coat of "something" as their renewal. The doors must stay hung during this process as he is paying me to get them lined correctly this time (they are quite heavy and half custom glass) and he doesn't want to pay me again just to re-hang or adjust them.

Does anyone have any thoughts? I was thinking of using wipe on Waterlox as it has been a good product in the past, and with a scuff sand as prep they would probably be okay since they will be doing it fairly frequently, about three to four times a year. However, I would really like to hear what others have done or would do in this situation.

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor A:
He's asking, in my opinion, for something that doesn't exist. Waterlox is a good product. However, if he recoats this thing more than say, half a dozen times (or even less) it's going to be so thick on there that it will chip, ding, flake, and peel way too easily. Varnish doesn't like thickness particularly when it ages. Doesnít Waterlox have an amber tint to it? That will change the color of the door to a dark, dark color over time.

If it's going to take a beating but needs to be retouched and recoated often I'd suggest an oil finish. 100% pure Tung oil is more durable and less amber than Linseed oil, but just takes longer to cure. The owner must understand that this is a penetrating finish and not a film finish. It won't have a sheen and it will feel just like, well, wood. And it will likely require light recoating every few months if it's in a very high-traffic area.

I'd avoid staining this if you can get away with it. Touching up dinged natural wood isn't much of a problem. The ding isn't drastically different in color from the surface. With stained wood, you have a bright white (like maple) spot in the midst of a dark stained door. Stay natural, use oil, and have them recoat it every 4-6 months. This is one of the rare times I'd suggest an oil finish over something like conversion varnish. I love my CV, but not for your customer, unfortunately.

From contributor B:
I'd go with an oil finish as well on the inside of these doors. I would look at using Watco's Danish oil though as it dries fast, comes in a few light colors and is also very easy to use and widely available. This is a basic finish that even the cleaning staff can apply every few months to clean up the door and remove abrasions and the like. Also you can buff the Danish oil to add a bit more of a sheen to it. Another option would be an oil and wax combo. This would however involve stripping the wax every two years and applying a new coat of wax every 6 months depending on how abused these door are.

From the original questioner:
To contributor A: I am with you, I am not sure that such an animal exists, but I couldn't think of a better place to ask the question. I have been pondering this for some time, and have come of with nothing of real value. I haven't done much wipe on finishing at all, and the wipe on stuff I have done is to take my varnish or poly and reduce it about 50% and start wiping. I appreciate the heads up on the Waterlox. I didn't think about the flaking issue, but they would kill me if that happened as that is what is happening now.

From the original questioner:
To contributor B: You may be onto something with the Watco. I have never used it as I never saw the value to it. I have always thought of it as a finish for the home furniture maker who will gently use homemade furniture. The doors will take a beating, but not a terrible one. And since they have plenty of manpower (and desire) to touch up or recoat as needed I am not worried too much about how well the finish lasts - they will be adding more frequently to keep it in top shape. How and what would you use to buff the finish out to develop a sheen?

From contributor D:
My thought would be to pursue the idea of some sort of metal or rubber or metal/rubber bumper to protect the doors. This could be pure utilitarian or as artsy as desired. For example, I might suggest a custom iron hand forged and finished with a black iron look. Heavy ropes also make nice bumpers and are very reasonable in cost - yacht owners often use them. Both these materials go nicely with woods. If you could ease the pressure on the extreme wear areas your finish options open up a little and will perform better. If you need to find a blacksmith try the ABANA site (I think that's Artist's Blacksmith's Association of North America). There are lots of links there. They have a couple of hundred members here in MO, surely there are some in Texas too. Or do what I did with one customerís front entry. She has a large dog who scratched up the door panels and the sidelight moldings. Things were so thoroughly damaged there when I first arrived that I suggested we scratch up the rest of the door and sidelight units and then antique them to give a more uniformly distressed look. Now I go back every year to stain in the new scratches and recoat the entryway elements. She keeps her beloved dog and I keep her doorway presentable for her visitors. It gets a nice patina as the years add up.

From contributor E:
Since it's obvious a compromise is in order, I suggest your original finish could be a full coat of shellac (Sealcote) and their touch-up can be a re-coat, wipe or brush of 1# cut of same. Washable? Be quick, no ammonia, any blush from too wet, quick wipe with 1# cut.

From the original questioner:
You know, I had thought about shellac. Years ago I used to make a nice pre-finish sealer and grain highlighter by using one part 3# shellac, one part natural gum turpentine, and one part tung oil. You can put this stuff on with a paper towel and it looks good. Easy to build, easy to sand, and you can actually shoot it. I think I'll run a sample by the owners.