Repairing internal doors

Douglas Kent, Technical and Research Director at SPAB, offers his advice on when to restore internal doors and when to replace them

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Where you are lucky enough to have original doors, every effort should be made to retain and repair them. This includes the architraves and fittings, such as hinges, latches, handles, fingerplates and curtain portieres. However well modern replacements are made, they will lack the authenticity of their older counterparts, which will frequently have been fitted on the original construction of your property.

Repair

A good carpenter, where necessary, will normally be able to repair a damaged door. For example, panels sometimes split due to years of paint accumulation inhibiting movement, but it is possible for them to be reglued or for timber ‘splines’ to be inserted into the gaps.

People often wonder whether they should strip old doors. Th e general answer is: don’t. This recent fashion is usually historically inappropriate, frequently exposes knotty timber intended to be hidden, and can cause damage. Sandblasting spoils the surface of timber and dipping in ‘acid baths’ may raise the grain and, by soft ening the glue, weaken joints.

It is generally inadvisable to apply linseed oil, stain or varnish to unpainted oak doors. If considered vital, beeswax and turpentine can be applied to unpainted oak inside.

Replace

Where there is no option but to replace a door – perhaps an inappropriate modern insertion – the new one may need to be specially made. It does not have to copy any surviving original doors, although it should suit the style of the house.

New door openings are usually best formed towards the corners of rooms, to maximise space. Allow a visually acceptable margin at wall ends and bear in mind that a non-standard door size may be most appropriate.

Three of the best internal doors

1. Classic panelled: This engineered six-panel oak door is supplied pre-lacquered, from Todd Doors (0800 987 8667; todd-doors.co.uk).

2. French style: The Louis unfinished clear pine door from Kershaws is engineered for stability, (0845 467 1910; 1doors.co.uk)

3. Ledge and brace: Perfect for cottages, this solid oak door is priced from UK Oak Doors (01455 818074; ukoakdoors.co.uk).

A short history of internal doors

Internal doors not only serve a practical purpose, but also reflect changing architectural fashions, the social status of former owners and relative importance of rooms.

Up to the late 17th century, most doors were of the boarded type; they typically comprised heavy oak boards secured with iron nails to horizontal ledges on the back. These doors were often hung on wrought-iron strap hinges, some of which had decorative ends in the form of spearheads, scrolls or fleur-de-lys. Smaller hinges, sometimes butterfly shaped, were used for cupboard doors. Door handles, latches and fasteners could be of wrought iron or wood.

Panelled doors became more popular from the late 17th century, especially in buildings with higher status. These tended to be of painted softwood, or a high quality hardwood, such as oak or mahogany. Initially, the doors usually had two panels. In the 18th century, Regency and early Victorian periods, doors with six panels were common, while in the second half of the 19th century, four panels were widespread.

Brass or iron rim locks were frequently used on internal Georgian doors and, from the mid-18th century, butt hinges. Plain round doorknobs in brass, porcelain or wood typify internal Victorian doors.

All prices and stockists correct at time of publishing.