Renovating an early 18th century front door

By , Aug 17 17

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This ancient oak front door was crying out to be renovated. The door, knocker, letterbox and surround were covered in a thick black layer of bitumen which over the years had formed into lumps of dried tar. The overall look was dark and unwelcoming. The original steps up had subsided and the single utilitarian hand rail, ugly and not in keeping.

The first task was to remove the bitumen. Gone are the days when one would immerse the entire door into a tank of caustic soda! This was a very historic door so I had to move cautiously. I sentĀ  sample of the black tar to the company who supply conservation materials. They checked it out and advised me to use a poultice which would safely remove the bitumen. The image above shows the 3 panels of the door have had the tar removed, revealing the oak beneath.

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same section of the door before conservation


I worked on one panel at a time. applying a thick layer of the poultice. This was covered with a sheet of polythene (cut up black dustbin bags worked perfectly) to prevent the poultice from drying out. This was left for 2-3 days for the poultice to work its magic.

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panel covered in the poultice

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poultice areas covered in polythene

Image 5 shows work in progress. One poulticed panel and other small areas covered in black polythene.

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door surround undergoing the same treatment

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door knocker before conservation

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thumb latch before

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letter box with bitumen removed


As you can see, the door has some interesting door furniture of different periods. The decorative details of both the knocker and letterbox were hidden from the eye by the bitumen. It was very satisfying to reveal the intricate detail of the knocker – a sunflower – and likewise the beautiful letterbox.

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detail before conservation

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before poultice was applied

Removing the tar with the poultice took approximately 2 months. Nothing is quick when it comes to conservation. But if you have the patience, the end result is always very rewarding. After all the bitumen had been removed, I then mixed up a solution of mild detergent, water and distilled malt vinegar. Using clean cotton sheeting cut up into dishcloth size – I wiped this solution over the wood which removed any residue.

Finally a coat of liquid beeswax was applied before buffing up with a soft brush. Below are the results.

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renovated letterbox

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renovated thumb latch and brass keyhole cover

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renovated ‘sunflower’ door knocker


Lastly, to complete the look, the steps were lifted and set firmly in place, 2 handsome hand rails were made and to compliment it allĀ  a boxwood plant was placed each side. I hope you will agree the entrance now makes quite a statement.

the end result

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