In the chilled space of an unheated garage in January, Randa and I sanded on an old door last night. Fashioned of fir, it’s one we’ve had stored since 2006. That’s when we sold our house on Mitchell Avenue in Saint Joseph. We hoped we’d be able to use it someday.
It was the outside door to the basement there. We replaced it with a new door that was superior in every material way: straight, bright, even and smooth on every edge. This door looked like it had been trimmed with a broad axe. There isn’t a straight edge on it. It’s been cut down and cobbled up, gouged and marred, marked and pitted. A thin strip of pine was nailed to the top at some point in its morphing.
Most of the putty that shaped the outside rim around the oval glass passed on long ago. What is left is yellowed, cracked and broken. At the lower side of the glass, where water seeped in and collected, the retaining frame swelled and split, blackened. The varnish is brown and rough as a toad’s back. Just below the large molding and small strip of dentil work below the window is a relief carving. It is fashioned of hand-chiseled bows on either side joined by a string of lily blooms meeting at a marigold blossom in the center and is equally rough and brown as the rest of the door.
Along the inside edge of the three panel sections below the window, lines of quarter-inch beadwork trim the inside edge between the panels and their molded trim. There’s a ten-inch section of missing beadwork and another six inches where the beadwork broke off while we were sanding.
I spent a few hours this weekend sanding the outside frame members of the door. Even after aggressive sanding with a 60-grit pad on a dual-action sander, there are numerous pocks and spots of discoloration.
Last night, there was no electric sander involved. Randa and I worked for over an hour, using small strips of paper to sand the narrow panels and the even more narrow pieces of molding that framed each of them. We occasionally leaned over the little kerosene heater to warm our hands and ease the cramps in our fingers. It is tedious work, this detail sanding. The next two stages of medium and finish grit will go a bit easier and quicker. But this step is crucial, this removing of all of the old varnish. Otherwise, it will be impossible to get the new finish to properly adhere, impossible to get a smooth, mellow stain.
It’s not completely dissimilar from what it takes for us to be re-made in the finer image of our Creator. The renewing of minds and hearts starts with the surrender of the old, the removal of the mars and stains and scars of the former self.
It will not be easy or instant, but this old door will be beautiful again.