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Scenario. I have a wooden door that's:

  • Made by whitewood that's covered by a plywood.
  • The plywood has white ash veneer pressed on it from the plywood factory. It's a 4mm thick plywood that's manufactured pre-pressed with white ash veneer atop.
  • The white ash veneer layer on the plywood is already stained and sealed with protective coatings for outdoor use.
  • The door's frame is made of some white wood that's stained similarly.
  • This is exterior door subject to humidity, UV, rain, wind, etc.

Problem. The stain that was used on the pressed white ash veneer is too dark, which makes the natural wood's grains of the veneer layer invisible. Effectively the door looks no different than, say, a plastic or metal door, which is defeating the design purpose of the door.

Goal. Make the door look like as if the stain that was used was a very light brown one, similar to the butternut wood photo below:

enter image description here


Options that I guessed so far.

  1. Use stain remover, and chip a thin layer of wood, then apply a new stain. But I doubt that the pressed veneer is thick enough to allow for any thinning.
  2. Bring a thin butternut veneer and press it on the door and the frame. Two ways to do it:
    1. Remove old plywood-with-pressed-ashwood, then press the new butternut veneer. But I'm not sure how easy it is to remove the pressed plywood (glued onto the door frame).
    2. Press the new butternut veneer right on the ash wood veneer. But I'm not sure how good it will stick, and what kind of preps must I perform in order to ensure a long-lasting door.
  3. Apply a hybrid approach: de-stain and strip the thick wooden frame. But press butternut on the door. Then stain the thick wooden frame to match the door's look. But I doubt that they will match the colours.

Looks-wise, I think option (2) would be best, as I can bring veneers that look as I want, without even needing to stain it (simply seal it with protective coatings). But durability-wise, I'm very unsure about any option I thought of so far.

Any other thoughts are highly appreciated.

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  • 3
    Hello, I think you will be advised to buy a new door. It is not worth the time to strip and refinish such a door, and new veneer is impossible I think.
    – Volfram K
    Oct 1 at 6:20
  • @VolframK - Why is it impossible?
    – caveman
    Oct 1 at 6:40
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    Hi, welcome to Woodworking. @VolframK is correct, you're gonna be advised to buy a new door, by me :-) I'll flesh it out into a full Answer as I can tell what I want to say would run overlong for a Comment.
    – Graphus
    Oct 1 at 7:06
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    Well asked question. The only thing missing is a picture of your actual door. Not necessary at this point, but still a good idea to provide it in the future.
    – FreeMan
    Oct 1 at 15:41
  • I'm confused. This is supposidly a well-asked question, yet I got -2. Lel! I wonder if this is a retaliation because I asked direct questions in the comments of the answers below? I'd appreciate if people who give negative votes to hint me what's wrong so that I see if I can learn something useful out of this.
    – caveman
    Oct 2 at 9:23
5

Buy a new door.

Refinishing
Unless there's something unusual about the door that's not evident from the description it literally isn't worth the time and effort to strip and refinish. Even if you price your time at $0.00 (which is fine, many do for home projects) there's a strong argument to be made that it's still not worth the costs involved, unless you already own all the necessary chemicals and/or tools1.

Beyond just general stripping, if it is veneered in ash as you think this is an open-pored wood, and getting that dark stain out of deep grain lines/open pores is often a nightmare. It takes what is already a slow, tedious job and adds even more tedium and effort — in furniture work it's often the case that you would be going over the entire piece with a small wire brush or pointed tools to remove the last traces of stain or coloured finish. Yes, this does take approximately as long as you're imagining it does2.

Furthermore, modern veneers can be structurally damaged by the veneer-cutting process. The wood is sort of fractured, which causes it to absorb more stain/coloured finish, and as a result modern plywoods are notorious for staining much darker than solid wood of the same species. And you guessed it, it makes it much harder to remove stain; it's actually sometimes impossible to remove all traces of it, because you can't sand deep enough to get to fresh wood as you can on thicker veneer, or with solid wood.

New veneer? Nah.
First off, you need to strip before you tackle this so you're doing at least half of the above already o_O Even putting this aside re-veneering something this size is, I suggest, not a job for a first-timer. People generally start learning to veneer on small boxes!

Additionally:

  • The cost of suitable veneer might be quite a bit higher3 than you're expecting.

  • The normal veneering process can't be used, in short because Applying veneer to an exterior door with contact cement isn’t adviseable. This virtually makes it an impossible job for someone without a well-stocked workshop because of the needed equipment (not least of which is about a zillion4 clamps).

  • What are your thoughts on home security? You'll be without a front door during the whole process.

Note: you're not losing all the value of the existing door — you should be able to sell it on for a good portion of its price if it's new or in very good condition, giving you a net gain over the original plan :-)


1 Buying everything from scratch you could easily get close to, match or even exceed the price of the door depending on your local prices and the tooling you consider necessary to complete the job.

2 I've spent half an hour just tackling some white paint flecks that got onto the already finished walnut veneer on a piece. If the whole item had been painted white I wouldn't even have bothered trying to strip it, I'd have prepped for new paint.

3 Read: substantially higher. The veneer may cost nearly four hundred after shipping! How much is a new door?

4 I exaggerate, but only slightly. To do this well might require 40+ clamps; absolute bare-bones this would set you back ~$200.

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    Uh, the second half of the Answer is entirely devoted to that subject.
    – Graphus
    Oct 1 at 12:58
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    Bear bones aren't as cheap as they used to be.
    – Caleb
    Oct 1 at 17:07
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    And when you buy a new door, buy a one that's solid wood that you can sand and refinish, not plywood and veneers. Oct 1 at 17:53
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    "Your second half is not very relevant to my case and incorrectly assumes that this is limited to a DIY project." How would I know this? All the information we had to go on was what you included in body of the Q which came across as a non-woodworker asking (and which, apologies, some of your follow-up questions seem to further support). So I necessarily had to make some assumptions.
    – Graphus
    Oct 2 at 8:43
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    "Worst case, I can use a workshop to do the pressing." Are you genuinely serious about paying for workshop time in addition to almost 4 Bennies for the veneer & the stripper etc??? "can't I just use pre-pressed veneered 4mm plywood, and glue/nail it to the previous veneer?" You specifically mention durability, and this is not a good way to set about to create an exterior door that will give long service without worries of e.g. edge delaminations, veneer bubbling and so forth. Regardless, if you want to go ahead you do, it is your call; but my recommendation to just get a new door stands.
    – Graphus
    Oct 2 at 8:49
2

Use stain remover, and chip a thin layer of wood, then apply a new stain. But I doubt that the pressed veneer is thick enough to allow for any thinning.

There's no fixing the existing veneer. Face veneers on plywood are very thin -- the internet says they're 1/30" on average, which means that half the time they're thinner than that. It might be a little thicker in the case of your door, but even so, it's very likely that any stain will have completely permeated the veneer.

For that reason, and all the ones that Graphus cited... buy a new door.

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  • What about new veneered plywoods on top of existing veneered plywood, without removing the veneer on to of the existing veneered plywood? The veneered plywood thickness is 4mm. So this will extend door's total thickness to 4*2 = 8mm.
    – caveman
    Oct 1 at 18:12
  • @caveman A thicker door won't close properly, at least not without moving the hinges or adjusting the frame. And it'd be hard to make it look right.
    – Caleb
    Oct 1 at 18:26
  • Hinges are not installed yet.
    – caveman
    Oct 1 at 18:33
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    @caveman If it's your door and your house, what you ultimately do is really up to you. You've already gotten some good advice here; whether you follow it is entirely up to you.
    – Caleb
    Oct 1 at 18:40
  • True points (yes it's my door, and yes it's up to me). But it's not an answer to my questions in the comments.
    – caveman
    Oct 2 at 9:26
2
  1. Stain remover worked fine for removing most of the stain and other upper lacquer/sealer layers.
  2. A thin layer of veneer then was pressed on the door. All good without buying a new door.

Todo:

  • Upload before/after photos, alongside details.
  • Update post after a year to report on the long-term effect.
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    Please can we see 'before and after' images?
    – Volfram K
    Oct 6 at 22:44
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    Good for you forging ahead anyway, against the advice given. It's a good way to learn and push your boundaries. Thin enough veneers can just be rolled out with contact cement I suppose, so no need for special clamps. Not only a before and after picture, but you should discuss your technique and gotchas to make this a proper Q&A for future WW spelunkers.
    – jdv
    Oct 7 at 14:21
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    Curious if you did this yourself or paid a shop to do it for you. You did mention taking it in somewhere to have work done to it.
    – FreeMan
    Oct 10 at 17:54

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