Bad picture, I know. This is the door with one coat of varnish. I'll be keeping it in the garage until the next time it stops raining for a few hours and I can work on it again.
When I moved into my house four years ago, I knew I was interested in stripping some of the painted wood to reveal the beautiful Douglas fir beneath. In my vintage neighborhood, most of the houses were built in the 20s and 30s and are finished in different ways on the inside. Some have all painted woodwork, some have all stained woodwork (except kitchens), and some have stained woodwork in the front rooms - living room and dining room - with painted woodwork for the rest of the house. Some of the better houses (mostly from the 1920s, builders were a bit cheaper in the 30s no doubt related to the Great Depression) have mahogany woodwork in front areas with Douglas fir in back. I have all painted woodwork and that may or may not be how it was originally. At least I have oak floors throughout instead of oak in front and fir in back.
Having once stripped a door using chemical stripper from the local home improvement store and desiring to never repeat the experience, I tried a different product. It promised minimal effort without discoloration of wood. You just trowel the stuff on (like frosting a cake), cover with special paper to prevent drying too quickly, then hours later scrape off and voila! paint all gone. It did remove much of the paint, but not all; I still had to do plenty of scraping; and worst of all it discolored the wood, aging it as if I had fumed it (except where the paint didn't come off - that wood was a nice light color, yikes). It was a very basic product, just like ammonia for fuming so I shouldn't have been surprised, but I was. The discoloration went deep enough into the wood to make sanding it away impossible. Despairing of how I would ever get the door to match the surrounding molding, not to mention the other door, I gave up and put the project aside. Or should I say outside, which is where I left the door to rot. I don't have space to store a door inside (as can be seen from the photo) but I could have at least covered it up. Bad me.
Fast forward almost two years. The dang door was eventually moved to a better place and sanded, then abandoned once more. I still didn't know what to do about the discoloration. Finally this month I decided I would just finish it and see how it turned out. I did a light sanding, mostly to scrape off dirt and dust, them applied a sealer/conditioner. Next I stained it using Minwax Gel Stain in "Early American". I really like the gel stains. I feel like I have more control, they don't drip or pool, and are very easy to wipe on with a cloth. The Early American is a nice dark brown with some golden tones but not too much red, just what I was looking for. One coat made the door nice and dark so I stopped there. I am hoping I can get the other woodwork to somewhat match by using a second coat. Once the stain dried I used Circa 1850 Antique Paste Varnish to varnish. At this point I only have one coat on because it keeps raining and since my workshop is wherever I set up my sawhorses outside, I can't work when it is raining. So far it looks surprisingly good and I am very pleased.