How can I repair my old oak doors.
February 16, 2009 8:46 AM   Subscribe

Can someone help me fix my beautiful old wooden doors?

My condo has six very nice old oak interior doors, which I believe are original to the building (built sometime in the 1890s). At some time in the past (I assume in the mid-century, when the area was not so nice, and building was a flophouse), it looks like deadbolt locks were installed on each of the doors, as can be seen here and here. Here is the hardware was added above the knob, and here is where it was added below the knob.

To "fix" this a thin wood veneer, stained more or less the same color as the door, was added to each door over the holes. You can see it here, and a closeup here. It doesn't look that bad, but by now all the veneers are cracking and peeling from the doors.

What should I do to make the doors look nice again? I considered just replacing the veneer, but it doesn't look that nice and it's obviously not a long-term solution. I've looked for a metal door plate, but I haven't found any that are large enough to cover the holes, they're very expensive (well, they are at Van Dyke Restoration, anyway - I don't know of a cheaper place for this sort of thing), and they dominate the doors - I'd prefer something a little subtler. Wood paste would be obvious, since the doors have a distinctive grain to them.
posted by bonecrusher to Home & Garden (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Perhaps your veneer patch would look better if you made it cover the entire board that runs the height of the door. It would also look best if you installed it flush with the rest of the door, so you'd have to take about a sixteenth of an inch (whatever the thickness of your veneer) off the board first. That would take some time, to be sure, but would give you a better result.
posted by echo target at 9:01 AM on February 16, 2009

Since it doesn't look like the door has been fit for a mortice lock, I would use a wood plug drill to make an appropriate sized plug to fit the hole. Then I would just restain the plug to match the door. That way there would still be grain showing, and it wouldn't be as ugly as wood filler. It won't be seamless, but not many 110 year old houses are without these kinds of flaws. Adds to the charm, I say.
Here's a how-to site I found on google.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 9:06 AM on February 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Check out this page, at the bottom "Dutchman Repairs", that's what you want to do.
posted by lee at 9:44 AM on February 16, 2009

I think echo target's solution is probably the best solution. I'm sure you could find some veneer that matches the grain of the existing wood and with some experimentation, find a stain and/or shellac combination that will match it up very closely. Well installed veneer should be quite long lasting.

In the alternative, you might try to find some hardware that fits back into the holes. Standard deadbolts are pretty ugly, but there might be something "classic" looking that would fit the bill. Aged brass or bronze?

Similarly, the lower holes look to be the remnants of the removal of older skeleton key style handles. I'm sure there's new hardware out there that can recreate this look, and restore the door handle area to a more historically accurate look.

To my eye, either of these solutions would look better than redoing the plugs or installing metal plates. Repairs are part of the character of older buildings, but there's a fine line between a good repair that shows respect for the piece, and a bad repair that just plugs a hole.
posted by gjc at 10:11 AM on February 16, 2009

I would take a middle ground of installing skeleton-key type plates like the ones that apparently used to be on the door. That would take care of the bottom hole. They're available in dark bronze, I think. For the round deadbolt hole, I would leave the round plug in place but consider adding faux graining to the plug end so it matched the door better. I think an honest old door with a plug looks better than a door with veneer stuck on it. For the graining, you could use stain; I used a wood burner to make a floor patch blend in.

You might also be able to find round, period-looking plates made for this purpose, or maybe repurpose a doorbell back? Guessing here.
posted by PatoPata at 10:37 AM on February 16, 2009

I agree with gjc and PatoPata. The search term you're looking for is escutcheon. The swinging flap kind or the hole in a decorative plate kind.
posted by acorncup at 11:04 AM on February 16, 2009

Have you talked to a good carpenter about completely replacing the damaged stile? I'm not a carpenter (let alone a good one) but it seems the best fix might be a replacement. Alternatively a good practitioner of faux paint finishes might be able to make plugs for the holes and then mimic the grain of the existing wood with creative stains and finishes. Good luck: they are gorgeous doors.
posted by firstdrop at 11:15 AM on February 16, 2009

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