Resurrecting an Old Dresser

Hello, there! It’s good to have you back. Today we’re going to tackle our biggest project yet – giving new life to a tired old chest of drawers. When we pulled up tent stakes and decided to move out West, we faced a choice: cart our furniture across the country or leave it behind and buy something new when we arrived. Many people making a long-distance move, choose the latter, and I can’t entirely blame them. It would have been so much fun shopping for new furniture, and so much easier than loading all in the megatruck. Yes, it would have been a lovely idea – if someone hadn’t pulled a George Washington on the money tree out in the back yard. And so, all but a couple of super cheap bookshelves went with us.

Here’s the thing. Until just recently, when we upgraded some mattresses, we had only purchased two pieces out of all the furniture in our home. We bought an antique oak coffee table and an overstuffed chair, and everything else we had was given to us. Parents, aunts and uncles, family friends; somehow they had managed to completely outfit our little home. One of the crown jewels of our gifted furniture is a lovely Ethan Allen bedroom set. Unfortunately, the dressers we had “inherited” did not match at all. One was a light colored IKEA piece, and the other was a well-built, sturdy solid wood piece. I decided that if we were going to buy a house and put all the energy into painting and decorating, then by golly I was going to have dressers that matched my bedroom set! Oh, yeah, but there was still that money problem. So I started researching ways to refinish and paint both wood and laminate furniture. 

Turns out, you can treat them exactly the same. With just a few supplies, a bit of preparation, a bit of patience and some elbow grease, you can turn a tired old piece of wood or laminate furniture into something new and shiny. 

Here’s What You Will Need:

  • A piece of wood or laminate furniture to be refinished
  • Fine grit (180 – 220) sandpaper – if you own or can borrow a power sander, it will make your life so much easier.
  • cheesecloth
  • clear polyurethane finish
  • wood filler putty
  • High quality interior latex paint, paint and primer in one, of whatever gloss suits your application (I used a little over 1.5 gallons of semi-gloss Behr Premium Plus Ultra to do two good size dressers plus some small shelves)
  • paint brushes (if you have or can borrow a powered paint sprayer, it will make your finish smoother and will speed your project, but it’s not essential)
  • clean rags
  • blue painter’s tape

Here’s What You Do:

  • Prepare your work area. You’ll want a well-ventilated area. Cover any surfaces you don’t want paint getting on with drop cloths, plastic sheeting or trash bags. 
  • Make a tack cloth by putting a small amount of the polyurethane on the cheesecloth and working it through until the whole cloth is slightly sticky. Place the tack cloth in a zip-top bag or other airtight container. You will use the tack cloth to remove every last trace of dust and dirt before you apply the paint.
  • Disassemble your piece of furniture. For the dressers this meant removing all the hardware (place it in one bag and keep the bag in a safe place) and taking the drawers out.
  • Gently sand every surface that will be painted. You want to get rid of any slickness which would prevent the paint from adhering to the surface. Use a clean rag and clean off the wood dust. 
  • Fill any dents or unwanted holes with wood putty. Use a putty knife or popsicle stick to smooth the putty level with the surface of the furniture. Allow the putty to dry, sand smooth, and refill if necessary. Make sure to finish this step by sanding the putty smooth enough that it is nearly impossible to feel the spot where the putty and wood meets. If you can feel it, it will show up even worse once you apply the paint
  •  Use a clean rag to completely wipe down the piece of furniture. Then use the tack cloth to remove any last traces of dust. 
  • Carefully pain the piece of furniture. If using a paintbrush, make your strokes light, and use enough paint that the brush is not dragging and leaving lines. Be sure to watch for drips, and to not smudge the paint with hands, hips or elbows. If using a paint sprayer, be sure to test your pressure, and make sure you begin and end spraying off of the edges of the piece and overlapping each stroke. 
  • Allow pieces to dry. When dry, look carefully to make sure there are no thin or missed spots. Check from every angle. If no touch up is required, allow the parts to dry at least 48 hours before you replace the hardware and reassemble the piece. 
  • I chose to add a few details to my piece besides painting it to match the bedroom set. There is a lovely bit of raised design on the top drawer, and I ended up using a small paintbrush and some leftover paint sample from when we were choosing bedroom colors to paint the raised portion. I also changed out the old brass-looking hardware for some hammered copper pulls. I’m quite happy with the finished result!

3 thoughts on “Resurrecting an Old Dresser

  1. Pingback: A Penny Saved: How to trim every area of your budget, Part 2 – Around the House « Little House In The Mountains

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