Advice on (pre-)finishing large doors

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Forum topic by nerdbot posted 11-28-2015 03:51 AM 456 views 0 times favorited 11 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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97 posts in 783 days

11-28-2015 03:51 AM

I’m days away from assembling/putting the finish on my large door project. They are cherry two doors, each ~8.5’ tall by 2’ wide and 1.5” thick, frame and panel style with 4 panels (3/4” plywood). The rails and stiles are about 4” wide, except for the top and bottom rails, which are 6” wide. The joinery is loose tenons.

Because of how heavy these doors will be when assembled, I’m thinking it would be best to sand and finish all the parts before assembling, and maybe a final touch up coat after assembly. The finish is very simple – I’m going to use a 1/2# cut of dewaxed shellac to minimize blotching, then a couple coats of General Finishes Arm-R-Seal. I’ll be sure to block off areas that shouldn’t receive finish (mortises and panel grooves).

My only concern is that right now, there are a lot of registration marks that I’m using to make sure the parts line up nice and square – this is my first project with mortise and tenons, so each joint needed some tweaking to line up just right. If I sand and finish the parts before assembling, those registration marks won’t be there anymore and I’m worried about not having enough time to adjust things during the glue up (even though I’ve done several dry assemblies along the way). I was thinking I could use blue painters tape on the final dry assembly to reestablish the necessary registration marks.

If I wait to sand and finish the doors after they’re assembled, that will solve the problem of keeping the registration marks during assembling. However, it’ll be pretty difficult for me to maneuver the doors to sand on both sides, as well as flip over and over as I apply the finish.

Any suggestions on which approach would be best, or any other advice on finishing these doors, would be greatly appreciated! Thanks!

11 replies so far

View Aj2's profile


632 posts in 1220 days

#1 posted 11-28-2015 04:51 AM

I think I understand your concerns and have used painters tape.I have also made spacers out of scraps.Good luck.

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David Taylor

326 posts in 509 days

#2 posted 11-28-2015 05:09 AM

Could you put your registration marks on parts that won’t be seen after assembly? Inside the top edge of mortises, on the tenons themselves?

-- Learn Relentlessly

View HerbC's profile


1568 posts in 2281 days

#3 posted 11-28-2015 05:23 AM

Make a finishing stand which allows the door to pivot around the long axis, allowing easy access to both sides and all edges.

-- Herb, Florida - Here's why I close most messages with "Be Careful!"

View nerdbot's profile


97 posts in 783 days

#4 posted 11-28-2015 06:24 AM

Dyfhid, I thought of that, but with the amount of play I have in some of the joints, it would be hard to be sure the registration marks are still lined up as I close up the joints.

HerbC, I had to look up examples of finishing stands for doors, but after seeing some examples, I think that will work well! Should be pretty easy to setup with my sawhorses, though the examples I found used nails for the pivot point. I’ll probably use some bigger bolts as I don’t think a nail on each end would be strong enough to hold the doors. Thanks for the suggestion!

View nick_name's profile


17 posts in 387 days

#5 posted 11-28-2015 03:37 PM

I’d prefinish the panels and sand all the edges before assembly. 2’x8.5’ is not that big, a finishing stand per @herbc’s suggestion will do the trick for final finish.

You are going to want to do some final sanding after assembly, guaranteed. Prefinishing only makes sense for panels and when you have access limitations that prevent finishing after assembly.

View Todd A. Clippinger's profile

Todd A. Clippinger

8901 posts in 3521 days

#6 posted 11-28-2015 04:47 PM

Are these for interior use or exterior entry doors?

-- Todd A. Clippinger, Montana,

View Daruc's profile


459 posts in 554 days

#7 posted 11-28-2015 05:09 PM

If I were to pre finish any of it , it would just be the profile on the panels so that when the door expands and contracts you would not see any bare wood.

-- -

View nerdbot's profile


97 posts in 783 days

#8 posted 11-28-2015 08:58 PM

Todd, these are interior doors.

View Todd A. Clippinger's profile

Todd A. Clippinger

8901 posts in 3521 days

#9 posted 11-30-2015 06:24 PM

OK – I was worried that you were using Arm-R-Seal for exterior doors.

I am with the other guys, I would pre-finish the interior panels. Not the the whole thing.

I understand that the interior panels are plywood and would not move the same as a solid wood panel, but you still may get some shift overall anyway.

Once you assemble the door, you may need to sand the joints of the rails and stiles. Pre-finishing leaves you with some complications if this happens.

If you are just putting the Arm-R-Seal on without stain, I would not bother using the shellac to control blotching. Stain and dye tend to blotch based on the variations in absorption, but finish alone does not really have a blotching problem.

in this situation, one benefit that the shellac does offer is that it dries fast and acts well as a sealcoat. It just moves the process along faster.

I deal with big doors and built-in components for projects too. It is not convenient or easy, that is just part of the challenge and there is no way around it. I just work out a workflow based on dry and cure times to handle safely without damaging the finish.

The only other solution is to finish them standing up if you feel comfortable doing that without runs.

But I would not recommend pre-finishing the rails and stiles. That particular course of action runs the highest risk of causing problems.

I hope my response was in time and I wish you good luck.

-- Todd A. Clippinger, Montana,

View nerdbot's profile


97 posts in 783 days

#10 posted 11-30-2015 08:25 PM

Hi Todd,

Nope, not too late. As usual, the amount of work I actually get done over a weekend is never as much as the amount of work that I planned to do. Great advice, thanks!

Regarding the shellac: I was originally going to put a bit of Watco Cherry Danish oil on the doors to give them a kiss of red to match my kitchen cabinets a bit better. The shellac was my way of controlling how much the red from the Cherry Danish oil penetrated (and also to prevent blotching). I would’ve used a gel stain as a toner, but as I understand it, the best way to seal a gel stain in before the final top coat is to spray shellac, otherwise you smear the gel stain. I don’t have a sprayer, so similarly spraying a tinted shellac isn’t possible. Now that this project has taken much longer than I planned, I decided to just keep it simple and cut out the Danish oil entirely and let the doors catch up with the kitchen cabinets naturally. The doors are also far enough away from the cabinets that a direct comparison of the finish/color isn’t possible.

So based on the advice here, I’m going to only prefinish the panels, assemble the doors, then do the final sanding and finishing using a finishing stand of some sort.

Thanks again guys!

View Todd A. Clippinger's profile

Todd A. Clippinger

8901 posts in 3521 days

#11 posted 12-04-2015 01:30 PM

I think that is a good way to go.

You might be surprised at how much shellac and oil based poly enrich the color of the wood.

If you apply Watco Danish Oil on the doors, you will have to give proper dry time before adding any film finish, including shellac or it will act as a release. And Watco Danish Oil takes a long time to dry, especially if the work is being done in a cool garage or basement area.

Some of the best advice I can give on applying finish is this: Don’t push the product. Every time I ever tried pushing the product or rushing the job it has ended up in failure causing me more work in the long run.

Good Luck!

-- Todd A. Clippinger, Montana,

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