Wood Trim Refinishing

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Courtesy of Brian Thomason

Restoring Interior Door Panels and Wood Trim

This process is neither difficult or tedious (as evidenced by the fact that I was able to do it); it is rather time consuming. You should plan to have the door panel apart for a minimum of 2 days. Credit to my good friend, Mary Reyes-Stracener for coming up with how to re-finish the wood.

Phillips head Screwdriver
Razor Blade
Furniture Refinisher
Steel Wool
Stain (optional)
Tung oil, Boiled Linseed Oil, or some kind of Lacquer/Polyurethane
A couple of towels

I. Remove Door Panel

Chances are, your wood trim looks like this:

The wood trim in my 1980 528i had a thick lacquer that with time and heat had cracked. I decided to re-finish it, to do this first remove the door panel by completing the following steps:

1. Remove the screw on the underside of the of the top part of the armrest. This holds the kinda-triangular chrome piece in place:

2. Once you’ve removed the chrome piece, you’ll have access to the screw that mounts the top part of the armrest to the door. Remove that screw as well.

3. Remove the three screws that secure the bottom part of the armrest to the door:

4. Remove the screw that holds the door handle to the door.

5. Remove the ashtray (on rear doors), and remove the two screws that hold the ashtray receptacle in place.

6. Unscrew the door lock knob.

7. GENTLY pull the plastic retaining clips around the edge of the door away from the sheetmetal. If you are patient and gentle enough, they won’t break. Steady pressure generally does the trick.

8. Disconnect all electrical apparati.

9. On the back of the door panel, you should see something like this:

Remove the white backing (it actually looks like spare headliner material on my car). You’ll reattach it later – I used 3M General Upholstery Adhesive from Wal-Mart. Once you’ve done that you’ll see the brads used to attach the wood:

10. GENTLY pry up the metal brads. Try to tear the fiberboard as little as possible. Then remove the wood from the door panel.

II. Refinishing the Wood

At this point, you should have something that looks like this:

Note that the wood shown here has been stripped, you can see some lacquer on the bottom of the panel not quite halfway from either end.

1. To strip the lacquer off, I found the most effective method was to chip it with a razor blade. BE CAREFUL! The idea is to scratch the wood as little as possible.

2. Once the wood is stripped of the lacquer, you may want to sand it, if you’ve put a lot of scratches in it. I used a 150 grit sandpaper.

3. Next refinish the wood using some kind of refinishing product. I used Formby’s from Wal-Mart (no affiliation, yada yada). Follow the directions on the can, I’m not going to re-write them here. When I finished this step, the paneling looked like this:


4. If you don’t want any stain in the wood, proceed directly to your choice of finish. I chose to re-finish the wood in Tung Oil, using two coats. I didn’t use a lacquer or Polyurethane because I didn’t want it to crack again. Follow the directions for whatever you choose to do. If you decide to stain, you won’t need much – significantly less than the smallest size available at Wal-Mart (a pint). Follow the directions on staining the wood. After one coat of stain, the panel looked like this (I chose a mahogany stain):

I stained the wood twice. Wait at least 4 hours between staining sessions.

5. After the stain has dried overnight, you can add the finish of your choice. Tung oil has to dry for 12 hours between coats.

III. Put it all back together

At this point you’re ready to put everything back together. Installation is the reverse of removal, as they say. Be sure to re-adhesive the headliner pieces to the fiberboard after you reattach the wood. I took this opportunity to grease everything in the doors I could get to, as well as polish and clean the chrome on each door. It was amazingly satisfying. After everything was said and done, my doors looked like this:

Good luck! Comments and feedback welcome to Brian Thomason,


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