Antique conservators sometimes bemoan the over-reliance on epoxy by relatively inexperienced woodworkers. I can see the allure of these products, though, after fixing a door that I thought was something of a lost cause. The corner of our old wooden screen door had crumbled off due to internal rot. A hinge was on the loose piece, so this was a structural problem as well as a cosmetic one.
There were basically four options for how to deal with this.
- Replace the old door (c. 1938?) with an off-the-shelf new door. That would have involved rebuilding the doorway to fit available sizes, and likely the work of a professional. Minimum cost would be around $750, I think, and the result would be a new door on an old house that I would have hated every time I saw it.
- Replace it with a custom-made wood door that really matched the house. Probably closer to $1,500 for that, I would guess. That would be the best solution, aesthetically, though I’d prefer a repaired version of the old door, just because I prefer to keep the old house intact.
- Repair the rotted parts of old door with new wood. Probably, around $400 to get this done by someone competent Again, it would require more work than I could do well on my own, as the joinery required is a little beyond my capabilities. This approach would almost certainly yield the best quality result.
- Use epoxy to harden the rot and fill the gaps. Getting a supply of high-end products to do this ran about $90, but I’ve got enough left over to address other projects in the future.
You can tell from my verb tenses that I opted for the cheap way, (4), which was the one I felt most secure in doing on my own. The product line I opted for was from The Rot Doctor, which my staff of advisors thought looked promising—maybe not what they'd use for “museum quality restoration,” but way better than the standard stuff you get at general hardware stores. As I’m just fixing a back porch door that nobody ever sees, here, and not restoring, say, a Shaker built-in, it seems appropriate. The company’s customer service was very helpful on the phone, patiently answering my good questions and my idiotic ones.
It was a multiphase process.
- Hardening the rotted wood. I have to say, this was a really fun dimension to it, as I was a bit surprised that wood in this condition could be saved. But after brushing on this product (until the wood soaked through) and letting it dry, the soft crumbly wood was hard again, like it was brought back from the dead. Here’s what it looked like after I’d cleaned it up and applied the wood hardener.
- Gluing the pieces together, with an epoxy glue mixed with fine sawdust.
- Filling the gaps with an epoxy filler.
Then, sanding and painting. Installed, that corner now looks like this:
It seems solid. If I had a bit more time, and many fewer life projects, I think I could have made it look better, with another round or two of more filler and more sanding. If you look closely, you can tell where the repair was made. But at a glance, it is fine, and the historic door is back in place, with a relatively low investment.
Critics can say that it would look better and probably last longer to take the door apart, replace what’s bad about it with the same type of wood, join it up nicely, and so on, but I think this approach is okay as a first hack, by a relatively low-competency woodworker. If it fails, maybe I’ll have it addressed by someone who actually knows what they are doing, but I’m encouraged at how this turned out.