Sanding Raised Panel Doors

Tips on sanding those pesky profiles. February 19, 2006

I'm refinishing some oak doors that have a raised panel and I'm getting sore fingers sanding around the raised panel. It's taken me over an hour per door. Does anyone have a better, faster, less painful way of doing it?

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor B:
You're over-sanding. Back off the sandpaper and use a synthetic steel wool (3m multi-flex is what I use) for the raised panel and detail parts of the door. A good sand job on a heavily detailed cabinet door shouldn't take more than 15 minutes, 7/8min per side.

From contributor R:
It may be a bit presumptuous to assume that a door should only take 15 minutes to sand. We really don't know what condition these doors were in when he started sanding them. If they were bought out (i.e. Decorative Specialties or Conestoga), then I agree, 15 minutes or so should be enough. But if he received raised panel doors that have roughly joined edges, cross grain scratches, poorly machined profiles, uneven joints, glue spots (I know because this happens in my shop, unfortunately), it can take up to an hour per door. Either way, there are always ways to make the sanding process faster and less painful. I have found many good products in Klingspor or Woodworkers Supply that will make the job a little easier and the results noticeably finer. Also, I always take into consideration if a wiping stain will be applied. If that is the case, it may be necessary to be a little more diligent in the sanding process.

From contributor G:
Depending on what they were originally finished with and how they are going to be refinished - oh yeah, are they cab doors or man doors? - it could take a long time indeed to sand them. Make yourself a sanding block with the same profile as the raised panel and stick some stick-on disks to it. Also, those cardboard tubes from the center of the stick-on rolls (the tubes that look like mini toilet rolls on steroids) make pretty good sanding blocks.

From contributor T:
I make Styrofoam blocks that fit the profile and double sided tape holds the sandpaper. 3M spray adhesive is good too. Very easy to shape the Styrofoam. For larger stuff like custom crowns with tablesaw coving, I adapt a softwood block onto an auto body inline sander - very fast and aggressive - clamp down the piece really well and hang on tight! It is the ultimate sanding experience, and will give you arms like Arnold.

From Paul Snyder, forum technical advisor:
Are you sanding all the old color off? If so, do you really need to? If the new finish works with the existing color that's in the wood, you don't need to sand back to bare wood.
Sometimes it's cheaper to replace doors than refinish them.

From the original questioner:
These are kitchen cabinet doors with a light walnut stain. I need to get all the color out because they are getting a white wash finish. I like the idea of shaping a block and gluing paper to it, so I'll try that. I did a sample for the customer. She liked the finish, but she didn't like that little bit of stain in the grain. The problem is the raised panel is veneered (I found out the hard way). Anybody have luck with bleaching? I hate to do that, but I can only sand so much. As far as the frames go, I'm going to reveneer the side panels and I can grind out the frames because they're solid. Those raised panels are going to be a problem!

From contributor O:
I'm with Paul. I think new doors would save you money and make for a better job.

From contributor B:
I didn't pick up on the refinishing some raised panel doors. I assumed he was starting from scratch - my bad. In that case, I agree with others that new doors are the way to go.

From contributor L:
I've worked with a lot of cabinet doors. Usually with a refinish job, sanding is awfully time consuming, especially on raised panel doors. I first strip (using Goudey) paint or lacquer, then scrape it off, wash with diluent and sand. If there's some dye stain left in the wood, I use chlorine bleach, which is good for removing dye stains without affecting the natural color of the wood. Since it's a veneer oak wood, you have a limited amount of sanding to do.

From the original questioner:
I'm going to price new doors before I drive myself crazy trying to sand out the color without cutting through. And it does make for a better job. I really appreciate this forum - it's always good to get different viewpoints when you're in a situation. So instead of plowing ahead and spending a lot of time stripping and sanding, I'll price new doors and get the job done right the first time. Thanks!

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor J:
Have you looked in to hand tools that will do that job of hand sanding raised panel doors for you? I know that QuickWood has a few tools like the F3 and F6 that does a good job with brushes and abrasives. When using this kind of flexible brush/abrasive one head can flex to any profile you give it to sand. This means less sanding time and a bit of automation.