How to Refinish School Doors?
Issue: Issue 284
Posted Date: 9/20/2011
am a woodshop teacher (and always in need, like all shop teachers). My
principal always has a list of projects he would like completed
during the school year; last year, we refinished some of the library
chairs. This year's is beyond me and I need help. He wants all the
wood classroom doors refinished in the schools -- about 35 doors.
The doors are hollow core, installed and finished in the 50s with
varnish. I have been asking around and have gotten all kinds of
suggestions on how to complete the job. One said strip the doors and
refinish; I am afraid of delaminating the doors and smell and safety.
Another said to sand and refinish; I am concerned with paper gumming
up. One said to sand with scotch pads and poly them; another said to
scotch them and use an alcohol solution that will melt the finish
back to new. The students will be doing this project one door at a
time. Please help. - Dan Banka
Inman: I was
once a woodshop teacher myself. And, like you, I was constantly
bombarded with requests from faculty and "friends" who had
projects for my students to do. (Actually, they wanted me to do the
work, not my students!) Frankly, I was, and still am, quite offended
by this practice. I was not there to be a maintenance man or workshop
foreman for my free-laboring students. I was there to teach the
subject matter in an organized and efficient way, in all its facets.
If some project fit into that plan or my timeline, then fine. But
usually, it didn't, so I stopped it cold. Why are you allowing this
practice? It must be discouraged! Otherwise, your students will just
feel like they've been "dumped" into a workroom to slave
away doing the janitor's jobs - and they'll lose interest rapidly -
and tell their friends, too. Build respect for our craft and for your
program by refusing to allow yourself and your students to be
manipulated into doing this sort of "flunky" work.
back to the question: What are these doors worth? If they're not
worth more the price of replacement, then there is your answer.
Hollow core doors can be good doors. If they are good, then go to the
next question: Why do they need refinished? If they are simply dirty
and scarred, then a surface cleaning with mineral spirits might be
enough. You could then re-stain as needed to match, and apply a new
coat of finish to seal and protect. If, however, the damage is more
severe, then the doors need the old finish completely stripped off
and a new finish built after repairs have been made. Once you know
how deeply you need to go before you can rebuild the finish, then you
can go on to other questions.
cleaning, such as using mineral spirits, involves flammable
conditions. Chemical exposure and ventilation is another area of
concern. If stripping, then chemical exposure both in terms of
breathing and skin contact becomes a huge issue. Disposal of
hazardous wastes and hazardous waste byproducts is an area - and
expense - not to be overlooked. Are you equipped to handle this in a
classroom setting? What about fumes exposing other students in the
school? Both OSHA and EPA are very active in the paint removal
exposure areas. I would urge extreme caution using and disposing of
these materials with students in a public school arena. This is truly
a job for a licensed painting contractor or professional restorer.
arranging a contract for the work, and finding ways for the
contractor to hire your students to help them. This on-the-job
training can be invaluable for the benefit of the students. It gives
them work experience, and some income, while also teaching them the
trades. To me, arranging and coordinating that work experience would
be a better use of your professional time, too. Please feel free to
share my views with your administrators. What they are asking is
agree with Tim's assessment. With the potential need for strong
chemical strippers or even ongoing exposure to solvents, this doesn't
sound like the kind of "work-study" program that any
principal or school board should condone for students — much less
what OSHA or the EPA would advise or allow. Your time and shop-course
goals would certainly be better used by sticking to the curriculum
and safer, more enjoyable student projects.