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Finishing Mahogany Exterior Door

dgibbs's picture

I am purchasing an unfinished mahagony door that will get a good dose of Texas heat and cold.  The company that I am purchasing the door from say that they just go with several coats of a poly.  It will be a southern exposure but protected from the direct elements by a porch.  I thought that marine varnish was the best start, but after reading comments in this section, there seems to be a strong prefernece to tung oil. I was going to use a dye rather that a stain.  The door also has a glass insert.  I certainly don't want to strip and redo on a periodic basis (I am spoiled in that the current door is metal).  having said all of that, what would you suggest?

PlaneWood's picture

(post #74015, reply #1 of 11)

Go to this web site:


Here's what one of their guys told me.


"7-8 coats of our Clear High Gloss Varnish. Loads of flexibility and all the UV resistance that you need. Can be topcoated with Woodfinish Matte if a satin finish is desired."


7-8 coats seems a bit much to me.  I would think 3 or 4 coats would be enough.  Most over the counter poly's don't have UV protectors.  The epifanes varnish is not poly but a marine varnish.

PlaneWood by Mike_in_Katy (maker of fine sawdust!)

PlaneWood by Mike_in_Katy (maker of fine sawdust!)

PaulSnyder's picture

(post #74015, reply #7 of 11)

Use the best exterior finish you can find. Here's an option (recently a topic of an article in FWW) -

ChipTam's picture

(post #74015, reply #2 of 11)

I finished a new exterior mahogany door on our back porch about 12 years ago with Minwax Spar-Urethane (5-6 coats).  It could probably use a few more coats today but it's still in pretty good shape.  I've also heard good things about epifanes but I've never used it.  Traditional spar varnishes would be another good choice. Just stay clear of most polyurethanes which are designed for interior use.  They dry too hard and don't flex enough for seasonal changes.  Also, don't use an analine dye to stain the door.  They're not color-fast.  I used a dye on my door and the exterior has faded considerably compared to the interior side of the door.


dgibbs's picture

(post #74015, reply #3 of 11)

I found a distributor for the epifane in Dallas.  My experience with the dye has been on indoor furniture and was very pleased. If it is subject to faiding, then I would assume that a Mini Wax stain would be preferable? 


PlaneWood's picture

(post #74015, reply #4 of 11)

MinWax stains have a sealer added.  I'd just go to a paint store and get an oil based stain that you can brush on and wipe off, that does not have any sealer in it.

Will your door get direct sunlight?  If so, you might ask the paint store for a color fast stain.

My Mahogany entrance door (Houston Texas) had Deft brand poly applied by the factory guy that installed it.   After 5 years it still looked pretty good but this year I washed the door with hot water and soap, then buffed it with 0000 steel wool and paint thinner.  Afterwards I applied two thin coats of Deft poly.  Next time I do it, I will use the Epihanes varnish.  This door faces the east and is recessed in from the front of the house.  It is also shaded by two big live oak trees.  Usually never gets wet unless there is lots of wind with the rain.

PlaneWood by Mike_in_Katy (maker of fine sawdust!)

PlaneWood by Mike_in_Katy (maker of fine sawdust!)

SteveSchoene's picture

(post #74015, reply #8 of 11)

Stains with pigment in them must have a sealer in them--its called binder in this context.  Otherwise, when the solvent evaporates the pigment would just wipe off.  Dyes don't need a binder, but are not light fast enough for most exterior uses.  The problem in choosing a stain is that many stains also contain dye, and it sometimes varies even among different colors of the same brand.  I think Jeff Jewitt's does show whether stains he carries have dye or pigment. 

You can also mix your own pigment stain.  Starting with fresco powders, or Japan Colors, or good artist's oil paint, you can mix with a combination of oil and varnish, with enough thinner to make a nice consistency.  Don't just dump a bunch of pigment into the binder, slowly add the binder to pigment.  Its easier to get a smoother mix that way.  Proportions are not critical--more oil means longer drying time, but also longer working time.  Varnish tends to cure faster. 

Test your finish on scrap, FIRST, or risk having to scrap your finish.

PlaneWood's picture

(post #74015, reply #9 of 11)

Well, ok, what ever you say.  But, I don't use MinWax stains.  Tried em, and don't like em.  I guess I'm allowed that, huh?

PlaneWood by Mike_in_Katy (maker of fine sawdust!)

PlaneWood by Mike_in_Katy (maker of fine sawdust!)

stinger's picture

(post #74015, reply #5 of 11)

Woodworker's Supply sells a waterborne exterior polyurethane, and I might consider that, but for superior durability and longevity, I would use a moisture curing urethane.  Here is the Woodworker's offering:


At amost $40 per quart, you may think you are paying a lot, but you only want to do this once, and do it right.

WillGeorge's picture

(post #74015, reply #6 of 11)

mahogany door .. I have one.. Well, several I made for my brothers house.. Porch enclosed and Chicago here so we have everything as far as weather goes...

Exteriors and exterior are just several coats of tung oil finished off with MINWAX Finishing wax... Hand buffed out...

Yes, every fall my brother strips the wax.. Light sanding if needed....Wipe on some new tung oil (not sure what brand he uses) and re-wax.. (Uses a car buffer)... Doors are fine. However they do not get much sun or rain on them...

Takes about two hours to re-do.. Not a big deal. I think he does it in the fall and applies a fresh coat of wax in the spring..

The doors are about 10 years old now.. Kids did more damage to them on the INSIDE! He has 5 Boys!

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

Gretchen's picture

(post #74015, reply #10 of 11)

Here is a post from the refinishing topic that Howie posted from the WoodMagazine board.  Good thoughts.


Gretchen, here's the article you and others are referring to.  Jim Kull was the host of Wood Magazine's Finishing Forum.  He wrote this about four-five years ago.  I have three doors coated with the "clear paint".  One is almost five years old and is in almost perfect shape.  Another is three years old and the one on my house is coming up on two years.  No problem with any of them.  They are in better shape than many other doors in my neighborhood with are more recently finished.


In a recent post my friend, Steve, made reference to my tests of doggie sprinkling on exterior finishes. I figure after almost a year of testing it is time to post some interesting discoveries.

As a preface, allow me to set the stage.  Almost daily there is a posting about clear, exterior finishes for doors, chairs, signs and such.  Responses run the gamut from diehard marine finishes to apply a coat of primer and then paint.   Each of these has a bit of a problem.  Marine finishes are not always the easiest to find and it grieves me to think of a lovely oak, teak, mahogany, fir, redwood or similar nice wood door painted in mauve goop.

Bob from Fl inspired me with his continuing and accurate statements about the failings of a clear coat and the advantages of a good quality exterior paint.  I decided after lots of reflection that he really was right but there was always the picture of mauve in my mind.  Sooooooooo, how could one take advantage of his advice and yet capitalize on the beauty of a nice wood.

I began to reflect on the characteristics of paint.  Now, comes the boredom.

There were several things I knew about paint.  Exterior paints contain a mildewcide and a fungicide that a varnish does not.  The best quality paints will contain a UV protectorant and trans-oxide pigments in very high percentages.  Almost all paint is custom mixed by the store.  The retailer maintains a large supply of base products that are used to achieve the desired color.  There are generally 4 base products and the specific one for your paint is determined by your color choice.  These base products are either named or numbered.  They are named pastel, deep, tint and neutral.  If numbered it is cleverly 1, 2, 3 and 4 with the exception of Olympic who numbers 1, 2, 3 and 5.  Olympic is unaware that 4 comes before 5.  Pastel and/or 1 is virtually a pure white and used for the lightest of colors.  The others are slightly color altered from white and more translucent than pastel.  These are used for succeedingly deeper colors.  All of this comes to neutral, 4 and/or 5.  These are clear and used for the darkest colors.  In the can they are somewhat opaque but dry more or less clear.

Now comes the testing.  I bought 4 oak exterior doors. Each door was given one coat of the same MinWax Stain.  On 3 of the doors, I applied 2 coats of "base" to the 6 sides of each door (3 coats on the top and bottom edges).  Each of these three doors had a different type of exterior neutral, 4 or 5 base.  The fourth door was finished with a consumer "spar" varnish from my local friendly paint/hardware store.  The bases for the 3 painted doors were an exterior semi-gloss acrylic, an exterior semi-gloss oilbased polyurethane floor paint and a semi-gloss oilbased trim and siding paint.

The doors were set up, slightly inclined, in mostly direct sunlight under a pecan tree in the backyard.  My wife just loved that one.  Daily, the sprinklers managed to hit the doors.  The birds in the pecan tree used the doors for target practice.  And, yes, the dogs did anoint the doors on a regular basis.  My blonde Cocker, Zazu, was particularly enamored with the doors.  Over the course of the test the doors experienced lots of Texas sunlight, rain and snow.  The temperature went from below freezing to over 100.  The advantage to the inclined position of the doors was the snow, ice, water from the sprinklers and the rain tended to collect in the raised panel areas.  I feel these doors were subjected to far more severe environmental conditions than would be expected from normal use.

The results were interesting.  The "spar" varnish looked fabulous but after about 2 weeks it began to develop small cracks.  In rapid order the door began to turn black, started to mold and the smell was enough to knock a buzzard off of a manure wagon.  The waterbased acrylic is milky in the can like a waterbased poly.  It dried to a more or less water clear surface but was a bit cloudy.  It tended to wash out the stain a bit.  Over time it became cloudier and ultimately become almost white.  But, it remained solid and protected the wood.  The oil based bases are also a bit opaque in the can but dried to a clear finish that is almost identical to a spar varnish - they added an amber tone to the doors.  Both the poly floor paint and the trim and siding paint remained "clear" over the entire test period.

The testing came to an end with a bit of encouragement.  My wife said something clever like,  "Get those damned doors out of the backyard?".  She does not understand science.  The floor poly had some minor checking and a thinned coat of the same base over the surface made that disappear.  The door with the oilbased trim and siding paint was perfect other than it had lost a bit of the gloss.

So, I am with Bob - paint the door.  My preference is the oilbased products.  If you are predisposed to a waterbased use an acrylic rather than latex.

One thing you will find when you go out shopping for your product is a lack of knowledge on the part of the salesperson.  Not many of these folk are aware that their neutral or 4 base will dry clear.  If you want to have some fun, spring it on them.  They will suggest you are full of Donkey Dust.  Ask them to shake a can and put some on a stir stick.  Dry it and voila, it is clear.

Jim Kull



acornw's picture

(post #74015, reply #11 of 11)

I have been building exterior doors professionally for over 30 years, and have watched the finishing for the same amount of time. Nothing but confusion and voodoo for the first 15 years, then everybody used polyurethane.  When it cracked and peeled, they stripped and scraped and fussed and fumed. 

Recently, a large manufacturer gave up after 10 years of pushing a catalyzed lacquer system on their entries.  When it failed, which it did spectacularly after 3-7 years, it resisted scraping, sanding, and any chemical removal.  Refinishing the entry cost more than the entry at installation.

About 8 years ago, we started trying Sikkens Cetol system.  We loved it, and we still love it.  It was developed in Europe for the exterior wood market.  As it ages and eventually fails, it looks as if it is just worn away.  No cracking or peeling. Clean the door and recoat with the topcoat and a 49 cent foam brush and it looks new.  It is the only finish we recommend.  It can be sprayed, and can be glazed.

I am careful to tell all our exterior door customers that all wood doors require periodic maintenance and all exterior wood finishes will fail.  How they fail and how they are rejuvenated is what makes the difference.  Our warranty is similar to every other door maker's warranty and spells out exposure as the culprit in shortening the life of any finish.  Some locations/house designs simply are not warrantable.

Dave S