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Exterior Doors: spar varnish or teak oil

tbmr's picture

I have new exterior doors arriving in the next two weeks. The two finishes that have been recommended are spar varnish and teak oil. I plan on using a conditioner first, a clear stain and then use the spar or teak oil. I'd like to practice first on some pieces of fir that I have, but I don't really want to buy both to see which I like better. Any advice about which route to go?

KeithNewton's picture

(post #107369, reply #1 of 29)

What dirrection does it face, and how much exposure to sun and or rain?

tbmr's picture

(post #107369, reply #4 of 29)

The front door faces west, and we have a pretty large front porch, so it doesn't get a lot of exposure. I've never experienced any rain getting on the porch and it gets late afternoon sun, but is also protected from the shade of a large cedar tree in the front yard. The back door and our french doors will face east and get morning sun. THere isn't a back porch, but we do have large overhangs on the roof.

Edited 6/29/2005 10:17 am ET by tbmr

jazzdogg's picture

(post #107369, reply #2 of 29)

What are your new doors made of? Fiberglass? Steel? If wood, what species?


"The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt." Bertrand Russell


"Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive." Gil Bailie

tbmr's picture

(post #107369, reply #5 of 29)

They are made of fir.

jazzdogg's picture

(post #107369, reply #9 of 29)


I second the oil-based spar varnish recommendation. I'd thin the first coat by about 50%, and subsequent coats by about 25% to enhance penetration and flow out, respectively, applying the finish with the door in a horizontal position.

When I do doors, I like to bore two holes in each end, into which I insert lag screws; then I position two sawhorses slightly farther apart than the door is long, and position the lag screws over the sawhorses with the door suspended in mid-air.

This method provides 100% access to both sides of the door at all times - so any drips, etc., can be cleaned up easily; it also allows me to flip the door over and start working on side two without damaging side one.

Make sure you coat all six door surfaces - not just the front and back. Use a high-quality brush (badger), and let the varnish flow off of the brush onto the work surface with the fewest possible strokes, i.e., don't apply varnish as though it were house paint.

Good luck,


"The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt." Bertrand Russell

Edited 6/29/2005 12:54 pm ET by jazzdogg


"Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive." Gil Bailie

frenchy's picture

(post #107369, reply #3 of 29)


    Spar varnish is far more ,  make that much much much more durable than teak oil.    Use the really great boat quaility stuff not the stuff at the big box stores.. Eppifanes is the brand with the best reputation..

tbmr's picture

(post #107369, reply #6 of 29)

Thank you- I've had someone else recommend the spar varnish!

Gretchen's picture

(post #107369, reply #7 of 29)

Not poly spar varnish.



hkoch's picture

(post #107369, reply #8 of 29)

I have some south facing Douglas Fir exterior doors in southwest Utah where the sun is intense.  They had been finished and re-coated with spar varnish several times over 20 years and were a mess.  I refinished them after laborious stripping and sanding five years ago using Sikkens Cetol 1 and TGL varnish and it has held up well.  This is a modern 2 component system especially formulated for good UV resistance.   I think the "secret" is extremely finely ground iron oxide in the first coat ( Cetol !) for UV reflection plus good quality resins and carrier.  Spar varnish alone has pretty poor UV resistance--I think its primary property is that it remains somewhat soft and flexible to accomodate dimensional changes with moisture content variation in exterior applications.  The drawback with the Sikkens Cetol system is the coloration that the UV resistant pigments produce.  Be sure to test samples with the stains (if any) and number of coats of the 2 part varnish system that you intend to use.  Oh yeah, the other drawback is that it is very expensive--about $17/ qt, but the labor for refinishing peeling spar varnish is worth it I think. 

tailsorpins's picture

(post #107369, reply #10 of 29)


I recommend you use oil based products to achieve the color you desire, then finish the doors with either (the absolute top of the line) S-W oil base for the darkest tints, or Olympic #5 tint base (available at Lowes, but most stores will have to order the #5 ... don't go for the #3 or #4.).  In both cases with NO color added.  Ignore the S-W salesman who will insist the UV inhibitors and mildewcides are in the colors, or go with the Olympic.  These products will be opaque in the can, but will dry clear, and in my opinion, darken the shade imperceptively ..... with no deterioration or color shift after 5 years+ exposure. I have some examples with S exposures in W-F TX that are unchanged after 12 years without attention.  Pretty dry there, but the sun is unforgiving.  Samples in TN starting to lift at the edges after eight years, but very wet, lots of splash from concrete .... and galvanized tin only lasts ten years max there!

This stuff beats every spar product I'd found, but I haven't needed to try those products from Liberty Paint Co. on exterior exposures.  Their stuff is fantastic on interior furniture & woodwork.  Some of the two component products might do as well, but haven't felt like trying them.

John in Texas

AlbionWood's picture

(post #107369, reply #11 of 29)

I'm about to try a similar test with Benjamin Moore #4 exterior alkyd "Ultra tint base." Also a new product from Devoe, a water-based alkyd tint base. No nearby sources for S-W or Olympic.

Both salespeople were nonplussed when I told them what I wanted it for. To their credit, though, they have open minds about it and want to see the results.

"Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler."  A. Einstein

"Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler."  A. Einstein

sailalex's picture

(post #107369, reply #12 of 29)

I have been using varnish on boats for years as well as teak oil; there is no comparison in terms of appearance and longevity, varnish is the winner hands down. That said, I am using polyurethane (Minwax product) on a wooden boat I am building now at the suggestion of a friend and I will always use it in the future. It is a gloss and it is so much better to use particularly if applying on a flat horizontal surface; it self levels nicely. Really nice appearing. ( In the past I have used Epiphanes marine varnish, considered the best available)

Now about Cetol which I have used extensively  as well. On boats that are left out in the open all the time it is a much longer lasting finish than varnish so most boaters with wood on them prefer to use it over varnish. BUT... there are several caveats. First and foremost, Cetol has an orangey pigment that changes the color appearance of the wood; of course, those boaters who are looking for reduced maintenance (once a year) are willing to live with the orangey pigment look; the purists on the other hand detest the color and would never use it. Also, My experience is that Cetol can be used about once a year and do nicely but after about 3 years there is a black mold-like thing that starts appearing in the wood and after about 5 years, you conclude you need to strip it all off, resand the whole thing and start again.

Hope this helps. If I were doing a door I would use the Minwax polyurethane as a neighbor does to his door. I live in SC on the coast where the humidity is as high as the heat temp. Good luck!

frenchy's picture

(post #107369, reply #13 of 29)


  I'm surprised that you chose the Minwax product over Eppifanes. I've used them both extensively and find the minwax product vastly inferior to the Effpifanes.  In fact I often use Pettit Ultra Gold as my second choice to Eppifanes for both durability and resistance to fading..  

  Because all of my exterior trim as well as all of the exterior timbers are black walnut I used the Minwax product since it came in gallons and was dramatically cheaper than either Eppifanes or Pettit Ultra Gold.  Two years later and the fading is getting so bad that I may be soon forced to just paint the timbers and trim brown..

  The Entryway door however done in just two coats of Pettit Ultra Gold compared to the four coats I put on the rest of the timbers with Minwax has held up beautifully..   I may give it another coat this year if I have the time not for any real reason but because I feel guilty having only two quick coats on the entryway..

 I'd be interested in hearing why you chose the minwax product over Eppifanes..

sailalex's picture

(post #107369, reply #14 of 29)

Frenchy, I can't speak to the durability as this is my first attempt at using it. I like it because it is so "user friendly" and the gloss is far superior to Epifanes. I used to use Interlux Schooner 96 on my boats and felt it was a very nice varnish, then switched to Epifanes and liked it except it was thicker and required some getting used to. Recently I went back to Schooner 96 but Minwax was recommended by a friend and so far I am satisfied. The boat I am building now will remain on a trailer in the garage so not as much exposure as if it were sitting outside.

Catch you in two years and give you a report.

HowardAcheson's picture

(post #107369, reply #16 of 29)

What Minwax product are you using?  Are you using it outside or inside a boat?

The reason I ask is that the standard Minwax Fast Dry Poly is an interior product.  It contains no UV protective ingrediants.  Poly varnishes will rapidly deteriorate when exposed to the sun for long periods.

Minwax's Helmsman Poly Spar varnish, while marketed as an exterior product, had the shortest longevity in Consumer Reports rating of exterior products.  Other tests have shown the same.  They may have reformulated but I would only use a true marine product for an outdoor application.

sailalex's picture

(post #107369, reply #17 of 29)

I am using the Spar Urethane outside the boat but it will be on a trailer inside. Urethane was recommended in the "Bible" on brightwork by Rebecca Wittman who said it was the "thing" of the future. Of course, she wrote that in 1990 and you still don't see it taking the place of varnish in marine stores. I may end up covering it with varnish later on.

shedhappens's picture

(post #107369, reply #15 of 29)

one word -- Sikkens

WillGeorge's picture

(post #107369, reply #18 of 29)

Best thing for a GOOD Expensive front door is a over-hang that keeps the sun AND rain off of it,,,

Have a great day.. Life is wonderful even if you are having a bad day!

tbmr's picture

(post #107369, reply #19 of 29)

I got the call yesterday that the doors will be delivered next Wednesday. so I am running out of time to make up my mind. There is a dealer that sells Sikkens products a couple miles from our house. We can also get spar varnish pretty easily and would most likely go with the Epiphanes. I think we would do well with either choice. Our door is protected from the sun for most of the day and we have a large front porch that protects it from water. The back doors face east, so they should be a little more protected. My only hesitation about using the cetol product is the possibility of the wood looking "orange". I looked at some samples at the store and they looked fine. I would definitely thin the spar varnish and use a very good brush or a new foam brush for each application. We've used varathane for interior finishes before & will probably stick with the same for the insides of the door. If I go with Sikkens, I'll use one of their interior finish products. Would I need to use a conditioner on the wood before using spar varnish, or does thinning it do the same thing. I think I'll head to Woodcraft and the paint store that sells the Sikkens and see if I can make up my mind. Thank you to everyone for your advice and suggestions!

Stuart's picture

(post #107369, reply #20 of 29)

When I refinished my front door last summer, I went to the local boat store and they recommended some stuff called Armada.  From their website, it says: "ARMADA high-gloss, is a microporous, translucent, oil alkyd resin combination which provides strong durable protection from the corrosive effects of ultraviolet light, wind and water. Three coats are recommended, the first will penetrate the wood while the remaining two coats bond to prevent water infusion."  It also comes in a semigloss.  According to the application instructions, after the initial application once every year you scuff the surface lightly and put on another coat.  It looks good so far, time will tell how it holds up after a few more years.


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WillGeorge's picture

(post #107369, reply #25 of 29)

I do ALOT of old door replacements.. Not many arched doors around these days.. I like it ALOT!

Have a great day.. Life is wonderful even if you are having a bad day!

sailalex's picture

(post #107369, reply #22 of 29)

If you decide on the Cetol be sure you check out the color issue. I would actually try it on a piece of scrap that is the same wood as the door. If you can live with the orange color then okay. If you do decide to go with the Cetol get the exterior version that is used on boats; that is the one that lasts about a year.

Another thought! Cetol comes in a "base" coat or the regular stuff as well as a gloss. I had great luck putting on 2-3 coats of the base and then a coat or two of the gloss; it made boat trim look "almost" varnished.

Paul_Snyder's picture

(post #107369, reply #23 of 29)

I can't endorse this product from personal experience, but have read about it for the last 5 years or so on the wooden boat forums -

In my neck of the woods (Virginia), Sikkens is the exterior finish of choice.

Paul S


WillGeorge's picture

(post #107369, reply #24 of 29)

so I am running out of time to make up my mind..

Gee the wood will not rot in a day or two or even a week or month or so.. Put it up and see what happens... You have TIME.. Not a year though!

Have a great day.. Life is wonderful even if you are having a bad day!

AlbionWood's picture

(post #107369, reply #29 of 29)

Since your doors are mostly protected from the worst conditions (direct sun and rain), you'll probably be OK with any good quality exterior finish. You can indeed thin spar for the first coat, no conditioner needed (nor is one desirable).

If you really want a spectacularly beautiful, high-gloss finish, the two that look best to me are Minwax Clear Shield exterior poly, and Benjamin-Moore Ultra Deep Base alkyd enamel. I'll be reporting back here on the results of exposure tests with these, but already I can say that the appearance is fantastic.

"Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler."  A. Einstein

"Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler."  A. Einstein

corners's picture

(post #107369, reply #21 of 29)

My neighbour and I have the same front door - rail and style with 10 floating panels. He refinished his using spar varnish. The spar varnish "glued" the floating panels to the rails and styles. Within 6 months every panel had split because they couldn't shrink when the weather changed. I'm about to refinish my door and looking for solutions. Spar still seems a good idea - I'm considering using a sharp knife to cut the varnish around each panel after the varnish is dry. Any ideas?

WillGeorge's picture

(post #107369, reply #26 of 29)

spar varnish.. I thought it remained 'sort of flexible'.. I think some other problem.. Not sure what though!

Edit:: so to SOME!

Edited 7/4/2005 2:00 pm ET by Will George

Have a great day.. Life is wonderful even if you are having a bad day!

corners's picture

(post #107369, reply #27 of 29)

I actually took the door apart and the panels were stuck to the styles strong enough to split them when they shrank.

As I said, I have the same door and I can move the panels side to side and up and down if I push on them. None of the panels in my door have split.

The door with the varnish and split panels, right next door, was fine for almost 20 years but less than a year after the varnish was applied every panel had split.


daveinnh's picture

(post #107369, reply #28 of 29)

We have 2 doug fir doors made by Rogue Valley and installed last fall '04 (nice millwork).  One is under a porch roof and faces north; the 2nd has no cover and faces south.  My wife applied 2 coats of Sikkens to each.  The north door looks great but the south door shows blemishes (maybe pitch from the direct sun and heat?). 

Worth a try.