How to Paint a Metal Door to Look Like Wood: Tips and Tricks

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stain metal doors before and after

Paint Metal Doors

If you’re looking for a way to add some extra curb appeal to your home, consider painting your metal door to look like wood. It can be a challenging project, but with the right tips and tricks it can be done fairly easily. I will share with you how to use gel stain to make your metal front door look like wood. We’ll also provide some tips on how to get the best results. So if you’re ready to take on this project, keep reading!

During the winter, we discovered the original wood doors had holes in them. Gaps in the wood, letting light (and wind) through.  Something that couldn’t be fixed.  We put weather striping around the edges to help seal most of the drafts around the warped doors, but knew we’d have to replace the doors in the Spring (way to cold in a Michigan winter to have doors off for a long period of time).

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metal door paint

How to Stain Steel Door

One of the most important things to remember when painting a metal door to look like wood is to use gel stain. This type of stain will help give the doors the look of natural wood grain.  The color will also not lighten up, so pick a color you like how it is in the can (there is no wiping off gel stain).

Before we get started, there are a few things you’ll need to gather. You’ll need a can of gel stain, a paint brush, and some rags. Make sure to choose a gel stain that is the desired color of your “wood” door. I went with a dark walnut color for mine. You’ll also want to make sure that you have plenty of ventilation in your work area, as gel stains can be very smelly.

Now that you have everything you need, it’s time to get started! Begin by giving your door a good cleaning. If there is any dirt or grime on the surface, it will prevent the gel stain from adhering properly. Once your door is clean, dry it off with a rag.

If you prefer you can use a wood graining tool to make wood grain markings.  We did not do this.  Our house is 140+ years old and would have had old growth wood with tight grains.

Metal Doors Painted


These are are also oil based stains, so they take FOREVER to dry, 12 hours.

I also recommend staining the doors BEFORE you install them.  This is better for the lines and better for your safety of not having the locks off your house for many days (like we did).

We did not use a foam brush.  It would not allow us to make ‘graining’ or drag the stain.

While metal doors may be considered a garage door, you can purchase one that is insulated and paint it to be a front door.

So How Did I Stain the Metal Door?  Take a Look Below

What you need:
Almond oil based stain (base coat) 3-4 hour drying time
gel stain hickory-or the color you want (12 hour drying time)
gel antique walnut- or another lighter color (12 hour drying time)
polyurethane (oil based)  I used satin and it turned out like glossy.
paint brushes
cleaner for the brushes
painters tape
wood grain tool (optional)

door window pane

Remove the hardware from the door and tape of the door and tape of the windows and rubber gasket on the bottom so you don’t get stain on it as well.

Clean off the door and remove any dirt. Make sure the door is dry when you stain.

Take the almond paint and paint a layer on the door.  Do the side edges you will see as well.  Allow the paint to dry.  My can said it would take only 3 hours to dry.  The stain will pull off if it is not completely dry, so wait a day before going to the next coat.  I was told to use almond color at the paint store.  The almond color gives a great base color when under the wood stain color instead of the white/gray of the door.

Now you’re ready to apply the gel stain. Begin by working in small sections. Apply the stain to your brush and then evenly brush it onto the door. Remember to go with the grain of the “wood”.

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TIP:  Go with the ‘grain’ the wood would normally go. So the long pieces go vertical, and smaller pieces at the very top (as an example) would be painted horizontal.

When you stain, do it in small section, stain it and then take your brush and pull some stain off, giving a grain look. (not too much, but to your liking.  I pulled off stain, so that it allowed the next coat (the antique walnut) to fill in the pulled off areas.

Allow the stain to dry overnight before applying the second color of gel stain (I used antique walnut).  I stained this over the entire door, making sure it went into the areas that I had pulled the darker stain out of.  Make sure you get the sides of the door.

Allow this to dry overnight as well.

Once it is dry, you can go back and take the hickory or walnut color and touch up if needed.  I found I would use the hickory to make some areas darker.  Allow this to dry and then apply the polyurethane over the entire door.  Put the hardware back on when the door is completely dry.

Uninstalled Doors Are Easier

If the door isn’t installed, you can install the door if you can touch it without leaving fingerprints (ours was already hung). Once the door is no longer tacky, you can close it.  I found letting it sit over night it was dry enough to finally close in the morning (12 hours after painting).

If you close it too soon, you run the risk of the stain pulling off.  And you don’t want that!  So take your time with this project.

Metal doors protect your home from the elements. If you want the wood look, it's expensive. Read how to stain a metal door to look like wood.

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