There's no doubt refinished salvage doors can add quality and old-world charm to any home.
Walk into The Bank salvage yard on Felicity street in New Orleans and you'll find rows upon rows of doors made with mortise and tenon construction. Owner Shawn Wilkerson says those antique doors just can't be beat. "It has to do with the materials that were available in the early 1800's. Cypress was the material of choice and the craftsman along Tchoupitoulas had these mill shops that created wonderful works of brackets, gingerbread and moldings. Things that just can't be reproduced these days."
The Bank specializes in stripping down these beauties which Shawn says, can have up to 80 coats of old paint! No joke. It's often lead-based, so you should never sand the door and instead use a chemical stripper or heat gun. Better yet? Hire a pro! From experience I can tell you stripping paint is a long, painful, tedious and un-rewarding process.
Someone like Shawn will make it a heck of a lot easier. He says, "My dad started stripping doors in 1972 and he developed a recipe that was time-tested and we still use his tanks and his methods today." His sister, Kelly starts by submerging the doors in a heated chemical bath for 8 to 10 hours. The doors are hosed down with a power washer and then they're dried upright, since the cypress wood can bend. Finally, they're submerged again and set out to dry...very slowly. According to Shawn, "If you sink them for too long or dry them too quickly then they have a tendency to shock and to splinter and turn to dust."
So, how do the pros compare to just doing it yourself at home? If you're attempting a project, even a simple door could take weeks or months to strip. If you bring it into a shop like The Bank, they'll have it finished in roughly 5 days. But it's gonna cost you. Stripped cypress doors range from $200 for something simple, to upwards of $2,000 for something fancy. A jug of paint stripper at Home Depot runs about $20.
In my opinion, leaving the job to the pros is a small financial investment for a priceless piece of history.