Want to maintain the architectural integrity of an old house? The proper door can be a portal to the past.

Finding the period door isn't necessarily an open and shut case.

I've been playing with the downstairs bathroom door recently, trying to get it to close properly.

The fact that it doesn't close tightly doesn't really bother anyone in the house, since, after a while, you tend to get used to imperfections so you don't even think about them. It's just that, when company comes and they go to use the bathroom, they spend five minutes fiddling with the door till they realize that it just won't close tightly.

In my last house, the bathroom door fell apart and couldn't be glued back together. By comparison, adjusting the current bathroom door so that it will close properly will be a snap.

Nothing lasts forever, and in an old house, that old adage can apply to just about everything. Locating a duplicate, or reasonable facsimile, can test the patience of any homeowner committed to maintaining the architectural integrity of a dwelling.

Rot, missing pieces, broken glass, and faulty hardware are just some of the problems that may occur with doors. In addition, previous owners may have removed a unique period exterior door to "modernize" the house, or decided that plywood interior doors were easier to maintain than six-panel oak ones.

Doors aren't just something that open and close, or keep out cold air and burglars. Doors tell something about the time in which the house was built and about the original owners.

Colonial doors were pretty standard; small, with six panels and made of local wood. They were handmade by a craftsman following the standard design of the time. By the Victorian period, you find more decorative doors, with inserts of stained or etched glass, made of a variety of natural woods, and more imported woods, such as teak and mahogany, which were unavailable to colonial carpenters.

The difference was made possible by the machine. Whereas all doors in the 18th century were made by carpenters, Victorian-era doors were made in factories, which published catalogues of hundreds of kinds of doors with all kinds of finishes.

Doors also became bigger, some being 10 feet high or more in the Victorian period Rooms also got bigger, and pocket doors were introduced so that adjoining rooms could be combined for social occasions. Doors in this era were a statement of wealth and prestige, the more elaborate, the greater the wealth. During this time, double doors also became widely used.

There are several options available to homeowners in search of period doors.

Visit your local salvage supply store and look through their in-stock doors for any that may need repair. If you're not so successful in your search, look to companies who produce reproductions from the desired period, or have it milled to your requirements.

Old doors are obtained from contractors who remove them during remodeling and from people who salvage them, while reproductions are generally obtained from the manufacturer.

Unlike the odd-size originals, the reproductions are a standard 80 inches in height. If you need an 84-inch door, a millwork shop can add four inches. However, you've got to keep in mind that no two woods are alike. Having different grains and textures can make it difficult to match the exact grain. In such a situation, it is fairly tricky to stain and varnish the door. Painting, however, would cover differences in grain or texture.

If you want to finish an old door yourself, you should expect to spend about $200 per door, including the purchase price. It's a lot of work as the door has to fit and the old paint and varnish have to be removed. So you take the door to a dip-and-strip shop; then you have to glue it back together because the chemical cuts the glue.

Dipping isn't always the answer, especially if there is intricate carving or a delicate glass inset. Stripping will have to be done, painstakingly, by hand. If the panels are loose, screws or carpenter's glue can be used to tighten them.

To repair the doors, I've either cut pieces from wood that fit the holes or uses auto-body filler. I've also used old doorknobs and locksets that can be picked up at junk stores and some hardware stores. However, reproductions can be picked up from restoration supply houses and manufacturers.

Among the options for finishing doors are painting, staining, or applying a coat of varnish to enhance the natural finish. In the old days, doors came from the factory already finished. In some cases, doors made of relatively inexpensive wood were grained to look like more expensive wood.

Don't try hiding all the nicks, chips, and scratches as you finish a door. The imperfections are what make it an old door, and old doors are what help make an old house.

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