New Vinyl Hall Floor

Lifestyle Floors Lisbon 761

I hate laminate fooring. It reminds me of all the rented flats I’ve lived in. It’s hard, fairly cold, and looks totally fake -just a photograph of wood printed onto MDF or whatever, no texture at all. It’s also throughout the ground floor of my house. I’ve been desperate to start improving the flooring, and the hall is a good place to start since it creates the best impression!

I was fortunate to have spent a lot of my childhood in my grandparents’ Victorian mansion in Shropshire, which had a fantastic tiled hall floor (below). Consequently I think of this as the quintessential hall floor, so when I lifted my laminate I was rather hoping to find something similar:

Victorian Tiled Hall
The tiled hall of my youth
Bare pine floorboards worn away
Why bare pine floorboards are a bad idea

No such luck, just floorboards. Now, it’s become super fashionable to strip old floorboards. I read a lot of DIY blogs and I think every single one of them has spent a fortune on stripping back floorboards. I dont buy into this. Pine floorboards are like decking; a modern affectation that seems like a good idea and looks great for six months, until the high-traffic areas wear through and turn into rough, dirty grey patches (or in the case of decking into one big, green, slimy slip hazard). At this point people discover why our forebares went out of their way to cover up floorboards with rugs: pine just isn’t hard-wearing enough for bare flooring.

Hall floorboards
Hall floorboards

Back on topic. I considered real tiles but after weighing up the pros and cons they fell heavily on cons. They’re cold; hard; expensive (for nice ones); hard work to lay; hard work to change in the future; and the subfloor must be super stiff. Vinyl wins on all these things. The only  disadvantage to vinyl is the lack of decent tile designs -nearly all vinyl seems to be wood effect (which admittedly is VERY convincing) or big, pastel-colour tiles. I searched for hours all over the net hoping to find something like the tile pattern of my youth. I tried every search term I could think of, but  couldn’t find what I was looking for.

Lifestyle Floors Lisbon 761
Lifestyle Floors Lisbon 761

I was about to give up and settle for a black-and-white chequer pattern when I tried searching for ‘geometric tile vinyl’ on eBay and stumbled upon something interesting. A reverse-image-search then led me to something I really liked -the closest thing I’ve found to a Victorian tile pattern. It’s called Lisbon 761 by Lifestyle Floors. I found it for sale at for just £7.99 per square metre, which I think is amazing value. I like that it has grout lines and a slightly rough texture embossed onto it. I ordered some Sticktak spray adhesive and two rolls of double-sided tape at the same time. Before that arrived I bought four sheets of 5.5mm standard plywood from the local timber yard for about £14.50 each (cut to size too) and somehow managed to get it into the KA, and a roll of 2mm ‘acousic’ underlay from eBay (£8.99). I’m not sure what is acoustic about it, as far as I can tell it’s packing foam! It’s good though -feels super warm. I layed the underlay over the floorboards to even out the bumps, and nailed the plywood over the top with 25mm ringshank nails every 8 inches, except in the doorways where I used individual rectangles of ply screwed down since these will suffer the most traffic. The plywood is so thin that it is very easy to handle and can be cut with a Stanley knife, unlike the subfloor that would be needed for real tiles. Its thin-ness also means there was no need to shave any off the bottoms of the doors. Although there is plenty of expansion room around the edges of the floor (which will be hidden by skirting) I didn’t leave any gap between the ply sheets themselves. I hope this doesn’t matter since they’re thoroughly nailed down (I did dampen them before I nailed them down). I guess I’ll have to wait until summer to see…


For laying the vinyl I basically followed a B&Q video. Cutting it was very tricky in a space like this, especially as I had to cut out a big piece where the staircase was, before I could even get it into the hall. I think I measured it about ten times before daring to cut. I did end up with some small tears around the newel post, but you can’t easily see them (and they just look like cracks in the ’tiles’). The job was made a lot easier by the fact that I removed all the skirting board first, so most of the egdes didn’t need to be precise. The few visible edges between the vinyl and staircase I filled with acrylic bathroom sealant. Top tip: Use a stanley knife to cut the basic outline, then use big dressmakers’ scissors to do a fine ‘shave’ and get a really smooth edge.

Sticking down vinyl
Sticking down the vinyl

I’m pleased with the result. I’m a bit of a chicken when it comes to bold colours and patterns (which is why the whole house is still magnolia), but I like where this is going. I think it passes for suitably Victorian, and the whole lot cost only about £200 which is less than half what it would have cost to do in real tiles. Plus I can easily change it if I get bored!

Victorian tile effect vinyl
FInished hall vinyl

I just stumbled upon this online: note the floor!


Lining a Doorway from Scratch

kitchen_doorHaving cut a dirty great hole in the wall between the back room and kitchen, it needed to be lined. Off-the-peg door linings appear to be designed only for thin stud walls, and in any case I already had a door in mind which is not a standard size. I therefore had to make my own lining. By a lucky coincidence the total thickness of the wall including plasterboard is 200mm, and I know I can buy 195mm pine boards as standard from Jewsons (£5.17 per metre). I was even able to find a length that was completely knot free! OK, this means the lining won’t be exactly flush with the plaster but I can hide the gap with architrave. I already have plenty of experience in this area from the wild and wonderful door-meets-wall variations elsewhere in the house, of which more in a later post.

Normally you would make the entire lining on the floor and get it perfectly square, then slide it into the aperture and drive shims and wedges in at the sides to hold it in place before screwing into the walls (but then how do you get the wall plugs in? I haven’t figured that out). However, owing to poor planning on my part I had only made the aperture barely wide enough to suit my door, so I knew the jambs would have to be right up against the masonry -it wouldn’t be possible to slide the whole thing in pre-made. Meh, you live and learn. At least this way I could hold the jambs in place and drill through them into the brick to mark the fixing points, then remove the jambs and drill out the holes and insert wall plugs ready for final fix.

door-linings-168The pine boards are only 22mm thick (they’re advertised as 25 x 200mm). Even though off-the-peg door lining seem to be about the same thickness, I think this is too thin to hang a heavy door off (the original linings in my house are at least 1 inch thick). The next size of timber up is 32mm which was too thick for me as it would have narrowered the door aperture too much, so I considered glueing an extra layer of plywood onto the 22mm jamb to increase the thickness. However, before I got this far I saw this image from an old handbook which pointed out that you could just glue small pieces of wood exactly where the hinges will go. Duh. Why didn’t I think of that? I even had some 6mm strip wood already saved up -removed from some ill-conceived bit of joinery done by the previous owner.

Having found old dry rot in the walls I decided it would be a good idea to prime the back of the lining to protect against any possible future dampness. I used some Wilko water-based exterior primer that I had left over from painting the guttering (wooden guttering is very common in Burnley). I then screwed the jambs directly to the brick using 2.5″ screws and my favourite cut-to-lenth wall plugs, and I also put some thick polythene sheet (which my mattress came wrapped in!) around the bottom of the jambs to protect them from any possible damp rising through the bricks at floor level. I then cut some shims from scrap wood and wedged them in behind the jambs until they were as square and plumb as I could get them.

scratch_doorframeNext I added the header. I cut rebates in each end so it sits down on the jambs and will prevent them from cupping or trying to pull away from the wall. I nailed the header down onto the jambs and also drove some wedges in against the lintel for added rigidity against years of door banging. I then emptied an entire can of Screwfix expanding foam (£3.99) into the gaps between the jambs and the brick. With the casing complete I stained and waxed the door as per usual, and hung it. I have yet to add the planted door stops and architrave, and I have a lot to say about that so I am saving it all up for a big post.

Knocking Through a New Door


house_floor_planThe layout of this house is exemplary of Victorian design. There are two reception rooms, and the kitchen is accessed down a passageway. We don’t want servants forever traipsing coal dust and offal through the good rooms, after all. How times have changed. I mostly live in the front room, which means the back reception room gets very little use while the passageway is basically a pointless bypass. An obvious modification is therefore to put a door between the back room and the kitchen and to turn the passageway into a big useful cupboard. I know at least two nextdoor houses that have done this already.

However, I intend to go one better: put a door at both ends of the passageway, and a wall in the middle. That way I get a cloakroom and a pantry. This makes more sense than one absurdly long, thin cupboard that ends up packed with old shopping bags and mops that you can’t really get to without cimbing over everything. A pantry with shelves would be super useful, and a long cloakroom would also be great for keeping my bike in.

But first I need to knock through a door into the kitchen. I’ll be honest, I’ve been putting this project off because the structural factor intimidated me. Like, what if the house falls down? But after reading someone else’s blog about fitting a lintel above a fireplace I decided to stop being such a pussy and just get on with it.

The position of the doorway was constrained by the presence of the radiator in the kitchen. In fact, there wasn’t enough room for a door at all, so I had the radiator swapped with a smaller one in the hall, and instructed the plumber to position it as far over as possible (I firmly believe in working with what you already have rather than wasting gobs of money on rearranging the entire central heating). By my calculations this would create just enough room for the doorway, assuming it was right in the corner of the back room.

Next was the horrible moment when I actually had to start knocking holes in the wall. I hate the point of no return. After making an exploratory hole in the plasterboard I drilled a hole through the brick and was relieved to discover it was only one brick thick. This would make the job considerably easier. Incidentally, I found that a 2.5″ bolster is quite good for cutting neat(ish) seams into plasterboard.

CIMG1438.JPGThe bricks were covered in browning plaster (I guess somebody had initially intended to plaster onto the brick, but later decided to use plasterboard?) so I chipped it off and eventually found the edge of the first brick. I then drilled lots of little holes around its mortar joints. I could then drive a chisel into the joints to break it up quite easily, especially as it is old and sloppily laid lime mortar. A good whack with a hammer and the first brick was free. I continued with this until I had cleared about a meter of one course. I didn’t completely remove the central brick as the yawning gap gave me the willies, although I don’t really think there was any danger of other bricks falling down.

Next I bought a concrete lintel from Jewson (£7.84). These come in one foot increments -600mm, 900mm, 1200mm, and so on. Except for 1050mm, for some reason. Which is lucky for me as this was pretty much the right size to suit the width of my doorway! I didn’t really want to buy the next size up and then grind a bit off; grinding concrete and rebar must be a bitch. I slid it into place, pushing the last brick out at the same time, then packed pieces of slate underneath to force it up against the underside of the bricks before cementing it in.

Hard to take photos in this autumn gloaming!

With my paranoia of wall collapse now allayed I could open up the rest of the doorway. I had intended to cut down the sides with a Stihl saw, but chickened out with the thought of all the dust. Instead I just used a hammer and chisel to remove them one at a time. The mortar is so soft and these bricks are such low quality that they break into pieces fairly easily. One side of the doorway happened to coincide with a vertical mortar joint, which was handy, but the other side didn’t. Here I ended up with a very jagged edge after bricks shattered or fell out, and where I discovered an old blocked-up serving hatch (weren’t the 1960s great?). The concrete blocks were much harder to break and didn’t go in a nice straight line. No matter. That’s why God invented expanding foam.

Jagged side

Finally I chipped away the bottom row of bricks to get the base level flush with the room floors. I now have eight bags of rubble which I can’t get rid of until January because I’ve already used up my annual 10-bag allowance at the local tip. Stupid by-laws. I put as much as I can in the wheelie bin, but I don’t want to make it so heavy that they refuse to take it!

I was also interested to find dry rot had grown through the air gaps in the mortar beds. It’s clear this house was once poorly maintained and damp. According to the old plans I think there was once a down pipe in the corner of the yard near here,so I suspect this had something to do with it. The fungus is obviously long dead, but in any case I burned it off  with a heat gun and squirted polyurethane foam into the gaps.

I now have a big hole in the wall, ready for lining. Ready-made door linings are completely incompatible with my 40mm doors and this 200mm-thick wall, so I’ll be making my own lining from scratch. What I like about this project is that it’s something I knew I would want to do the very first time I viewed the property. This gives me a self-satisfied sense of continuity and progress.

Insulating the living room floor (from below)

Insulated cellar ceiling

A few weeks ago I was sitting in the living room when I heard a strange noise. The cat jumped out of her skin, but neither of us could work out where it came from…

A few days later I happened to go into the cellar and all was revealed: part of the lath and plaster ceiling had fallen down! I think it must have soaked up moisture over the years, or maybe there was once a radiator leak or something. Either way it finally collapsed. Curiously, half the ceiling in the cellar was already gone and had been boarded over with the most bizarre mixture of things -bits of plasterboard, plywood, even an old table top! Quite why anyone went to this trouble I can’t imagine. It’s not like the patchwork of random shit was a cosmetic improvement.

I took the fallen bit of ceiling as a sign. It was time to eliminate the rest of it, and the silly patchwork too. This was a most horrible job. Pulling it down with a claw hammer, dust and rubble everywhere. Followed by the annoyance of disposing of it all in a Ford KA, at the local tip which only permits you a small allowance of rubble waste per year (after that you have to pay for a license). Yeesh.

Cellar ceiling insulationWell, it’s done, and it does at least look neater. I also like being able to see the state of the joists, just in case anything starts rotting one day, y’know? On the other hand there is not much standing between the cold cellar and the living room, so I decided to insulate it with some 100mm mineral wool (£22.80 from Jewsons). Top tip: saw it into segments of the width you need while it’s still in its plastic wrapper!

It’s all held up with chicken wire nailed to the josts with 15mm netting staples. Trying to get the insulation to stay put while simultaneously grappling with wire that wants to coil back on itself, all with goggles that steam up,  was an intensely horrible job. Urg. I don’t yet know if it will make a noticeable difference to the warmth in the living room, but it better bloody had do after that ordeal. On the plus side the cellar now looks like the bumper car ride at the funfair. Nostaligic.

Insulated cellar ceiling

A New Workbench

DIY workbench
The house up the road

One thing I have lacked since infancy is a decent workbench and vice. I have always made do with an ordinary table, or the floor. Since moving to this house I have been using an old dressing table which does at least have a vice attached. It was given to me by a man who was selling an unoccupied house down the road; I spotted the bench and vice in the estate agent photos and offered to buy it off him. He said he was planning to burn it anyway so he gave it to me for nothing. It pays to ask!

The trouble with ordinary tables is twofold: they are too low down and the don’t stay still. I always get an aching back from stooping over a regular table for too long. Perhaps more annoying to me, the table will always rock and slide about when I’m planing or sawing, making the job maddeningly more difficult. Enough is enough.

I recently got hold of something I had stashed away for the last sixteen years: a thick sheet of MDF. I originally bought  it with the intention of using it for the bed of a pool table (don’t ask). After that project failed to materialise, ahem, it remained in storage in Shropshire, but I finally got it moved up to Burnley. It’s perfectly flat and weighs a ton, which is exactly what I need from a bench top. I sealed it with some varnish I had lying around. (Ages ago I had needed some clear varnish so I bought some generic yatch varnish. But when I got it home I discovered it was tinted red. WTF does it not say so on the tin FFS srly?!)

Under construction

To give me the best chance of having a bench that doesn’t walk around, I figured it needs big feet and lots of weight, like your mum. I therefore made the legs from a couple of 100 x 100mm fence posts from Jewsons. I stuck some flashband on the bottom of the feet so they’re not in direct contact with the possible-damp floor.

The frame is made from some 3 x 1 1/2″ CLS timber (£15.55) fixed together with coach screws and penny washers from Wilkos. The top is also screwed into the legs, but I routed some recesses so the heads sit below the surface of the table, so they won’t interfere with anything placed on top. I didn’t use any glue, in case I want to dismantle it to move it to another room/house one day. The lower part of the frame is handy for storing pieces of timber off the cellar floor, which has the added bonus of weighing the table down more.

DIY workbench
Finished workbench

It’s three feet tall and does not budge an inch, like your mum. Perfect. The weight in this table is like a metaphor for the burden that has been liften from my life, or something. What I’m trying to say is that I finally have a place to work that is actually comfortable (lol) and convenient and makes jobs easier instead of infuriating. Great success!


Handles and Latches

Walnut door knob set
Original door with rimlock
Original shaker door with rimlock (not my house)

Doors in middle-class Victorian houses were usually fitted with rimlocks. Quite why they felt the need to be able to lock every door in the house, even when they didn’t have servents, is not clear, to me at least. My house certainly had rimlocks originally -I know because you can still see the impression of the keep on the door frames. Maybe it was simply because they had 1 1/4″ doors that were too thin to fit mortice latches in. Anyway, I didn’t want to use rimlocks because they are expensive and somewhat restrictive in the type of knobs you can use. The doors I bought are also a little thicker and grander than what was (probably) there originally, and grander doors normally had mortice latches and nice knobs.

Latch backset drawingThese days most people use lever handles. This may in part be due to them being easier to open with wet hands or with an elbow (e.g. escaping a fire), and partly because you can use a very short latch. This makes them easier to fit, especially in moulded doors which have only a small block of wood provided for cutting the mortice into (the ‘lock block’). As a result it’s bloody difficult to find long latches in hardware stores, even when they also sell door knobs (what is wrong with the world?). This therefore leads to a common mistake where people fit door knobs with latches that are too short, so your knuckles end up banging against the door frame. For a door knob you will need a 5″ (127mm) latch (or longer). Note that this is the full length of the latch assembly; the distance from the edge of the door to the spindle, called the backset, will be about 107mm.

Door handle moved to wrong position
An abused door

Another painfully common mistake made by modern chippies is to fit the handle too high on the door. I wince every time I see this. I have heard that on City and Guilds courses they tell you to fit the handle 1m high, which perhaps explains why it is now so common. Such a height is very, very wrong, for both practical and aesthetic reasons. Practically speaking it is wrong because it requires you to lift your whole arm up to reach the handle, which is uncomfortable, unnatural wasted effort. It’s even worse for children, the elderly or the disabled to reach a door handle so high up. This is totally unecessary and bizzarely anomolous considering the rules for things like light switches and sockets have been ammended to place them at more convenient heights for the disabled. The answer is to place the handle at hip height, which is the natural height to reach something with a minor swing of the arm.  For an average adult this is between 80 and 90cm high.

It is wrong for aesthetic reasons because most doors are less than 2m high, and the handle should always be less than half way up the door. Any higher and it has a foreshortening effect that makes the door -and by extension the room- seem short and lacking in headroom. In fact, most doors have a thick horizontal bar called the ‘lock rail’. Guess why it’s called the lock rail? I’ll give you a clue: it’s because that’s where the lock (OK latch) is supposed to go. It’s always gone there. For centuries doors have been made that way. And guess how high it is? 80 to 90cm. The handle should always be inline with the lock rail.* It takes a special kind of modern ignorance to look at a door with such perfect scale and proportion -and a bloody obvious place to put the handle- and then to fit it part way up the style instead.     *Some sellers say you shouldn’t drill into the lock rail of a modern door because it will weaken the dowelled joint, but provided you only drill only small holes then this shouldn’t be an issue. With knob/latch mechanisms that need a huge hole I admit this could be problematic.

Door handles at wrong height
Door handle fails

By the way, be sure to buy ‘double sprung’ or ‘heavy duty’ latches. Cheaper latches lose their spring and seize up in no time (guess which sort the previous owner used). I bought my latches from handles4u as this was the cheapest place I could find 127mm latches (£4.14 each). They’re made by ‘Zoo’. Although these latches appear to be good quality, they are somewhat stupidly designed, which perhaps explains why they’re reduced in price. The ends are formed into a shape that requires you to cut two different rebates into the edge of the door, and if you drill a hole wide enough for the latch to fit straight in you will find the forend plate is not wide enough to completely hide the hole! (They also claim to come supplied with both brass and steel forends -they don’t; it’s steel only.) I therefore had to drill a smaller, 22mm hole, and enlarge it into an oval by rocking the drill back and forth, and by chiseling some out. Probably would have been easier just to drill a bigger hole and buy some bigger forends from somewhere.

black_door_knob.jpgThe hallway is the most important room in the house for making an impression on visitors, so I wanted some grand knobs to go with my mahogany stained doors. I prefer wooden knobs as I don’t like the feel of metal, cermic or glass knobs. I managed to find some impressive-looking black reeded knobs on eBay for £14.70 each (seller’s name is cov-dem-rec), which is about half what you’d pay in an interior design shop. For some reason they came supplied with crappy black screws, which I substituted with brass. I also bought some rosewood knobs for upstairs at a similar price, but I ended up not using them because of an awsome idea I shall tell you about:

Walnut door knob
Drilling for the grub screw

When I was a teenager my grandfather had a dying walnut tree in the garden cut down. I asked him to save the wood for me because I was into woodwork, but while I wasn’t around he had the ‘surgeons’ cut it into pieces that were useless to me. They were roughly 14″ cubes, making them too big to manage with my hand tools and too small to take to the woodyard to be planked (his poor choice still annoys me to this day). So they sat in storage for fifteen years.

Walnut door knob set
Completed home-made walnut doorknobs

Fastforward to 2015 when I learned that my uncle has 1) a chainsaw, and 2) a lathe. A lightbulb goes off in my head and I realise he could make some doorknobs for me, based on the design of a knob from my grandfather’s house, which he duly did and presented to me for Christmas. I also told him to fit some M10 threaded inserts into the necks of the knobs, and I drilled and tapped a hole in the side of each neck to accept an M4 grub screw. I then bought some threaded doorknob spindles from (£1.80 each) and hey presto, home-made traditional door knob sets! I finally got some use out of the walnut I had both coveted and resented for so long! They’re perfect for the neo-Victoriana style I’m going for.

DIY doorknob

Internal Doors

Firedoors everywhere!
Before. Firedoors everywhere!

When I moved into the house it had been kitted out for multiple occupancy, so it had fire doors. Big, ugly fire doors. Presumably the previous owner (who I guess hung the doors himself) got them certified, which if true is remarkable given how badly they were hung. Since the doors themselves were close to 45mm thick but the door frames were designed to accept 1 1/4 inch doors, he nailed some thin wood moulding to the frames to thicken up the rebate. This meant two of the screws in each hinge went straight into the join between the frame and the moulding and so just spun around uselessly. Other screws got lost in the holes left by previous screws. Another door was hung entirely from a length of 3×2 that was simply glued to the plasterboard with some splodges of pink grip! And these are HEAVY doors. Solid chipboard.* That they stayed up and got certified surely qualifies as a miracle.

Fire door cut in half
Holes inside a fire door?

*After sawing one in half I discovered the chipboard blank actually has multiple holes drilled through it from edge to edge. Why? To reduce the weight? Why not just use a thinner, solid piece? Is there some scientific necessity for the holes? So many questions.

God they were ugly. So, so ugly. They had to go, but herein I discovered the confusion of trying to buy new doors. Once again the building industry stuck two metaphorical  fingers up at me and refused to provide any significant information. You know, like what new doors are actually made of.

Types of Door

‘Moulded’ doors are the cheapest. At least with these you know what you’re getting: you’re getting trash. They are just a fibreboard-like material pressed into the shape of an ugly door (usually with an inexplicable faux grain effect like no actual door has), and glued to a few battens. You only use doors like these for cheap rentals where you know the housing-benefit occupants who have ‘anger management issues’ will punch holes in them whenever the WiFi gets too slow to download happy-slap videos. They’re cheap to replace. That’s their advantage.

Then you have the hazy world of ‘engineered’ doors. Here up is down and nothing is as it seems. Supposedly they’re like a fat version of plywood -several pieces of thinnish wood glued together, with a decorative veneer on the outside. Supposedly this makes them less likely to warp. But don’t be taken for a mug. I’ve seen engineered doors advertised as ‘solid doors’ presumably because, technically, there are no air gaps inside. I’ve seen others that I’m convinced were just an MDF core with  some battens on the sides and veneer on top, and some that feel suspiciously light, like they are full of air. I’ve also seen them warped. Basically you never know what you’re getting, and the vendor is usually no wiser since they all seem to be made in the far east. For all we know they could be made from old chopsticks and lint.

Finally you have ‘solid’ doors. You know, good old-fashioned timber, sometimes also veneered. But here again most vendors won’t fess up to exactly what they’re made of. As described above it could turn out to be an engineered door hiding in sheep’s clothing. Either way there are precious few that look like convincingly Victorian as they are dowelled these days, rather than mortise-and-tennoned.

Pineoakio factory
At the Pineoakio factory

I considered buying reclaimed doors, but here too I got frustrated. It’s tricky to find ten doors all alike in style, in sizes that will suit my variable door frames, and which aren’t horribly warped. Even if you do, they will be full of holes from previous hardware. And for that they want upwards of £100 a door! There has to be a better way, and the better way is to have new doors made by hand. I found a firm in Keighley called Pineoakio (yes, they really chose that name) who usually make pine kitchens but who made ten doors for me, to a genuine Victorian pattern. Total cost came to £140 per door -roughly the same as a reclaimed door, but immaculate and made to measure. (Although, I made the misake of taking my measurements from the existing fire doors. I later learned that this is never the way to do it -measure the frames instead. Luckily I got away with it.) But first, a little more deserves to be said about the Victorian pattern:

Style of Door

Six panel door is wrong.
Six panel door. So wrong.

There is only one type of door suitable for a middle-class Victorian house: four flat panel. I repeat: FOUR FLAT PANEL. Raised panels were only found on expensive front doors and palacial buildings. Furthermore, six panels were only found on wide or tall (e.g. 7-foot) doors. Standard 6’6″ x 2’6″ internal doors look totally out of proportion with six panels, and they look positively risible with raised panels yet, wouldn’t you know it, they are by far the most common style in modern doors. You have to wonder if the people who make modern doors ever actually looked at one. Or the people who buy them. *sigh*

Shaker door. Nice.

Important rooms would have moulding around the panels. Lesser rooms would often be plain, i.e. shaker doors. For some reason four-panel shaker doors are not particularly widely stocked even though they are by far the best looking in almost any British home. Lower-middle class houses might have shaker doors throughout, but workers cottages would have planked stable doors with thumb latches. (More on latches in this post).


Staining doors
Staining doors with Littlefair’s wood dye

For the hallway I wanted the doors to match the faux mahogany staircase. First I used some very weak walnut-crystal solution to raise the grain, before sanding smooth. Then I stained using Littlefair’s water based wood dye. This is made by Mr Littlefair in Darwen, who I went to visit for advice. I ended up using two coats of Very Red Mahogany plus one coat of Dark Red Mahogany. Initially I waxed the doors but after a few weeks I decided the wax finish was too matt compared to the glossy (varnished) staircase, so I rubbed the wax off with meths and gave them a couple of coats of Wilko satin Yatch varnish instead. The final result is not a perfect colour match to the staircase (Littlefair doesn’t put as much orange into his mahogany dye as I think he ought to), but I’m not going to mess with it any further.

After. Not quite the right colour, but hey.

I also learned later that when colouring one side of a door you should also colour the edge of the door that can be seen as you open it. Seems obvious now but, I didn’t. I will fix this later when I remove them to paint the door frames.

Antique-Pine Briwax
Antique-Pine Briwax

For all the other doors I wanted more of an antique stripped-pine effect. I know this is not authentic for a Victorian house, but after paying £140 for handmade doors I wasn’t about to hide the details by painting over them. Also I hate painting. The method I ended up using was to raise the grain with weak walnut-crystal solution, then sand smooth. Then I added another coat of walnut solution (and some minor finish sanding). The walnut solution makes the pine turn slighly grey and old-looking (it’s often used on pine furniture, but I think they use too much which makes it look dirty rather than old). Then I rubbed on Antique-Pine Briwax. I experimented with about half a dozen different brands of wax until I settled on Briwax, because it gave the best satin sheen with the least effort. Just rub on with a rag, wait a minute, then buff!


This was the first time I’d ever hung a door. I more or less followed this video, and started with the cellar door since this is the most inconspicuous. I was right to do so because I made the mistake of planing off too much, so there is is now a 7-8mm gap on the latch side. I’ve got much better since then. I now take care to make the door a very snug fit in the frame before hanging, since the hinges pull the door very flush to the frame when closed.

Another quasi-mistake I made was to buy 40mm doors. This was before I removed the fire doors and discovered the frames had been amateurishly ‘thickened’ with moulding. I discarded the moulding and used my router to increase the rebate instead. It’s not especially neat (I had to finish with a chisel in the corners where the router won’t go), so I will tidy it up later by adding some decorative moulding to create door stops. I’m still glad I bought 40mm doors though, as they have a very satisfying feel and weight to them. I also would have had difficulty fitting the latches in thinner doors.


Use three hinges on each door as this helps to prevent them from warping. Also be sure to buy washered hinges; the cheaper kind will click, grind, squeak, and wear out. I was able to re-use the fire door hinges in my house. Unlike everything else the previous owner used, these were good quality. Fire door hinges have to be. I scraped the paint off them (did I mention how badly painted everything was?) and buffed them with wire wool. Good as new, and chunky enough to resemble Victorian ones. I was surprised to learn how thin door casings are; only 1-inch screws are required.

I read several times that you’re supposed to leave doors for a few days to acclimatise to the room before you hang them. This puzzled me somewhat until I found some more explicit advice which bothered to point out that this was so you can return the door to the seller if it warps. But if you’re vendor doesn’t accept returns on this basis then you should hang the doors within a couple of days, as this will help to hold them straight. Well, as straight as you can hope for. A couple of my doors have warped a little bit, but everything in the house is old and wonky anyway, so it just makes them look a bit more original. In fact, the doors have probably made the single biggest improvement in the feel of the house.