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French Screen Doors: Restoration and Repair

June 1, 2011
The screen doors that lead to the porch are in bad shape. They are slightly warped, beat up, full of holes from previous hardware, the screens are ripped, the paint is peeling etc.. They are original to the house though, and made of very high quality wood so I am going to restore them.
I removed the molding from both doors to expose the screens. I ripped off the old aluminum screens and removed all of the staples which were holding them on.

I decided to replace the screens with black fiberglass screening. It is more fabric like and so it will not bend out of shape and it has a finer weave and is much more transparent.

We used a upholstery staple gun to stretch and staple the screening material so that it was taught.

The next step was to remove the doors and work on stripping all of the old caulk off of the brick trim. Brick trim or molding is the wooden trim between the brick and the door or window. I don’t think anyone EVER took the time to remove the old caulk, instead they just layered more caulk on top. I had to use a heat gun to remove it there was so much.
Then a realized that there was horsehair insulation in the walls that some of the caulk was stuck to. This made using the heat gun really dangerous! I almost set the house on fire by igniting all of the horse hair in the walls. That’s right, horse hair. Builders use to use this material as insulation and as a stabilizer/strengthener for the plaster walls (mixed into the plaster). Were there a lot of bald horses? Or is this what was left of Mr. Ed after the glue factory? I’m not sure….and I don’t think I really want to know.
horse hair insulation pulling out of the wall as I remove the old caulking from the brick molding

While I was using the heat gun, I also stripped some of the bubbling and cracking paint from the brick molding and the sill or threshold…..DUN DUN DUN……this is when I found out the 80 year old french door sill was rotten. Do you see the white patches that look like old paint under the top coat of brown paint… WRONG, that is wood filler. Someone has been filling the rotten sill with wood filler for a number of years instead of replacing it. You can also see the rotten edges of the sill below. This is a carpenter ant condo waiting to happen! This sill sits right above the framing of the house. If carpenter ants moved in here they would have a highway to move through out the whole house.

Rotten sill


I think that the makeshift deck shed-style roof is the culprit here. The corrugated clear plastic roof butts up to the house, and the the only thing connecting the two is a lot of cracked and peeling roof tar. Who thought that would work? Ever heard of flashing? What a mess that is, the previously owners removed the gutters, put on the deck “roofing” and tarred it to the house. As a result, the wood trim on the house is covered in tar and is rotting from water running against it for years. The tar eventually failed and the water now runs between the roof and the house in a sheet and hits the deck right in front of the french doors.

Pouring water on the sill = rotten sill
Anyway….that is another post.
Once all of the caulking was removed there was a huge gap between the brick molding and the brick where I could see right into the house. I used spray foam to fill the gaps and make them bug and water tight. I cut away the extra foam after it finished expanding.
foam insulation/filler
trimmed foam insulation between brick molding and brick


trimmed foam insulation

I sanded down the brick molding after the the loose paint was scrapped off after using the heat gun. I did wear a mask and eye wear, because the house is 80 years old and it looks like the molding and sill have never been replaced, there is a good chance that there was lead paint covering the surface at some point.

100 grit sand paper
After the surface was sanded smooth a used minwax wood filler to fill in some of the weathered cracks and old nail holes. Since the brick molding isn’t rotten I have no problem using the wood filler since it is strengthening the wood.

After using the wood filler, letting it dry, and sanding it smooth I applied black window and door caulking around the door opening and covering all of the insulation foam.

black caulking around french doors
After the caulking dried I used a rustoleum interior/exterior latex paint for wood in flat back. I applied two coats.
painted brick molding


I finished the opening with door compression strip to make sure the screen doors had a tight seal when closed.

I took more photos but they seem to have disappeared…..if I find them I will post them. I don’t have any photos of the wood filling on the screen doors, sanding and painting, but picture of the finished product are below. I repainted all of the hardward with a copper colored paint and I think it turned out looking pretty good.




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