How To Refinish Your Shutters

Step 1

If your shutters are sagging, take a close look at the point where the frames are attached to the walls. Are the hinges rusted, loose, or unable to hold onto rotting wood? As you carefully remove the shutters from the wall with a screwdriver (save any hardware you remove), look for clues as to what's letting gravity have its way.

If the window frame or wall suffers serious rot or water damage, you've got a bigger project on your hands. You'll need to identify and eliminate the root cause, replace any rotted wood, and protect new pieces from the elements. If the hinges have simply worked themselves loose, you're in luck; we'll tell you later how to tighten those hinges to stay.

Step 2

If a careful look reveals a substantial amount of rot, deteriorated corner joints, or a number of missing rails (or slats), consider having the shutters refinished by a pro or (gasp) perhaps replacing the units altogether. Otherwise, get cracking!

Step 3

To begin, protect your back by making sure your work area is at least the height of your hips, and put your tools within easy reach. Remove the hinges from the shutters and work carefully through each piece. Disassemble the hardware only as much as needed to get a good angle on sanding and begin prepping your surfaces for paint.

A power drill with a wire brush or sanding attachments can definitely save you time. When sanding, work with the grain of the wood and use a light touch to avoid gouging the underlying surface. The best results will likely come by using a succession of fine sandpapers. Detail sanders are also great for this kind of work, and come in a variety of attachments. They range from $120-$200.

Planning on staining? To bring out the grain, you'll want to strip the shutters down to bare wood. Depending on your shutters, this can be quite involved; plantation style is the most difficult. Chemical stripping is definitely the most expedient and can also be used to remove paint.

Chemical strippers are available at your local home store (be sure to follow all directions and cautions about vapors, skin contact, etc.). You might also consider having them dipped and stripped by a pro. This will definitely save you time and exposure to nasty chemicals, though these services do not come cheap.

Step 4

Fill in any nicks or holes with a bit of wood filler. Run your fingers over all surfaces to find any nagging rough spots, then give a final sanding pass followed by a wipe down with a damp rag. Unless the previous coat was in great shape, it's probably wise to apply a primer coat; protecting the underlying wood is paramount, since shutters take every ounce of nasty weather that comes your way.

Step 5

With all bare wood sealed and primed, find your best sash brush and begin painting the shutters, working from the inside edges outward. Be careful to avoid drips or getting paint into any operating hardware, such as hinges. You'll need to let the paint dry before flipping the shutter over and starting on the other side. Let the paint dry for 24 hours just to be safe, otherwise the not-quite-dry paint will peel off.
Jane Tip: If you're repainting more than 3 to 4 shutters (especially if they're plantation style) you might look in to renting a spray gun for the day; it'll cut you painting time by about 90% and will leave behind a light, even coat of paint.

Step 6

Once the shutters are thoroughly dry, make sure any louvers or hinges are operating well (clean them up as needed), reattach any pieces you disassembled, gather up your mounting hardware and take the new shutters back to their rightful spots.

Step 7

Remount the shutters by simply reversing your removal steps. Are your screw holes loose? For minor problems, add a dollop of wood filler to the old screw holes before you reattach the shutters. Problem more substantial? Replace the mounting screws with new ones with a longer length and a slightly wider shank; just make sure they'll fit through and sit inside the hinges you're using. As a last resort, you can always relocate the hinges themselves by an inch or two on the shutter and the wall. Be sure to do the same on the opposing shutter so they'll look symmetrical.
Jane Tip: Make a shim with a small piece of wood and gently tap it into the existing screw holes. This will give the screw something to grasp onto and will tighten the hinge.

Step 8

Check that the shutters operate freely, are level, and shut tightly against each other. If they're out of alignment, spend some time adjusting the hinges until the centers line up.

Your Shutters, Saved!

Stand back and admire. Your shutters are now good for another ten years as solid sentinels against Mother Nature.