How’s That Door Fence ?

I hadn’t built one before, and I didn’t know anyone who had. I looked online and found a few examples, mostly made with various doors in “as found” condition with different finishes, chipping paint, etc. My fence went up at the end of November, 2017.

Before it was built, I posted my intention to an Old House forum I was active in. Some of the long standing members were naysayers, and warned me that with the exposed endgrains of the doors, that the fence would just fall apart in a short period of time.

The doors I used were in sound condition, except for the layer of smoker’s filth on old oil paint. I scrubbed them with TSP, then used adhesion primer then an exterior oil paint, two coats.

After the first winter, I was dismayed to discover that I had some serious areas of paint failure, particularly on the side that faced east. Paint just bubbled and curled off, down to the varnished layer. I felt this was probably due to the thermal nature of BLACK paint – that the heating/cooling temperatures were more extreme than if I had just used a light colored paint ? I scraped off the loose areas and touched it up with the same paint. Unless you were three feet away the surface looked quite good.

The next summer (2019) it was obvious that there was paint failure on the doors that faced west. Paint had bubbled and blistered up, and again curled away from the varnish layer in large areas. My layers of adhesion primer had stuck to the oil paint – and these layers were stuck to the fresh oil paint. The issue was that the old oil paint had not made a chemical bond to the varnished layer.

Besides that, the doors themselves were still in strong condition. There was some paint loss on the very top of the doors – where many birds came and went with their scratchy bird feet.

I decided that I would scrape the loose spots again, but that I would test water based adhesion vs oil based primer on a couple of doors.

I heat stripped them to remove all the paint and as much varnish as I could, then primed, then painted each with the same exterior oil I had previously used.

One year later, the paint was similarly stuck. The oil primer was tinted pink so I could tell it apart from the white adhesion primer. The results were identical. Both doors had paint that stayed stuck through a summer through fall and spring.

I knew that the only solution was to heat strip the rest of the fence to remedy the bad varnish adhesion issue.

Predictably, doing this sucked. It was hot, my neck got sunburnt, and I probably inhaled some vaporized lead paint fumes. After it was stripped, I patched any areas that looked a little rough, then sanded everything.

I used adhesion primer, then the fence got two coats of the same exterior oil paint as before.

I have been told that latex exterior paint is actually a better product as it is more flexible and more easily expands and contracts. However, in my experience, the texture always remains a little gummy and it wasn’t as tough as oil.

There were some minor areas of blistering – despite both the primer and paint application happening on dry, warm days. The primer and paint were both completely and thoroughly dry before being coated on top of.

The fence location gets brutal western exposure, so the fence is baked after about 1:00 p.m. until sunset.

The french door was a hassle – as the issues with it were that the layers of paint on top of its ancient bottom layer of white paint – would not stick to each other. Heat stripping a door with glass panes is tricky as heat too close to the glass will crack it. Whatever that bottom layer was was STUCK and the heat gun would not budge it.

As I heat stripped the doors, some of the original putty that had been used to fill in the edges of the door panel was removed, and I did not re-fill these areas. A couple of the panels had developed vertical cracks but were not compromised.

Besides the paint failure, the other issue was that the wood that had been attached to the corner of the house was loosening up. Instead of the tapcons having been sunk into the mortar, which is harder, they had been put into the brick. At least one brick had cracked. I ‘ll need to find someone competent with an impact driver to remedy this.

The french door gate is the only panel where the joints have loosened up a little.

If I was going to build it again, this is what I would do differently:

  • use a wider door for a gate and have a pair that open to make an opening close to 60″ wide. I used a door that was 29″ which was tight when removing the crappy original stove and the handle had to be removed for it to fit through. I had not considered this.
  • be vigilant about where the carpenter was attaching wood to brick
  • heat strip the doors to remove bottom-most layer of varnish before attaching
  • the areas where the hinges had been were inset. In retrospect, I wish this had beem trimmed off so there weren’t those small gaps
  • if chance had been on my side It would have been nice to build the entire fence from french doors with textured privacy glass. I looked for quite awhile but most vintage/reclaimed doors had clear glass. People also over-valued them. Used ones were at least $ 60.00 each (but more often $ 100.00 or more) and a brand new interior door with privacy glass in a standard size was about $ 200.00 plus tax. A glass fence would have made that part of the backyard much brighter, but the fragility would have been a concern.

So: it is surviving, doing okay over all.

1 Comment

  1. Nice breakdown of the stages of development and the list of what could have been done differently as well. I think because they’re solid and not veneered or modern hollow core is why they’ve hung in there as long as they have (please don’t kill me for that pun).

    None of the fencing on two sides of our property is ours. One is in desperate need of repair, and recently the unpainted wood stockade fence to the east started reminding me of your earlier posts about the gas station’s wood fence. *the horror*

    I’ve actually been thinking about going out to take pictures soon before the whole thing gives up the ghost or one of the panels pops out of the old style holes in the main posts’ seatings. (Did I mention it’s a short but steep slope downwards from their property to ours?)


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