Finding an old dresser in the corner of your attic or the lawn of a nearby neighbor can be a treasure in disguise for the person who knows how to care for and refinish wood furniture. Even an old, painted and stained dresser can be made to look as good as new with proper materials and techniques, which involve eliminating the old finish and applying a fresh new one to revitalize the look and protect for years to come.
Ventilate your work area by opening windows and running exhaust fans, or move the dresser to an open area such as your backyard or garage. The fumes from the chemicals used to redo a dresser can cause serious irritation to the lungs if you breathe them in too long.
Don safety gloves and goggles before starting the project to protect yourself from dangerous chemicals. Once you are ready, wipe down the entire surface with a rag dampened in mineral spirits to remove all surface dirt and dust.
Remove hardware, such as handles and hinges. Place these pieces aside in a safe place, unless you intend to replace them, in which case you can throw them out. Wipe down the newly exposed areas with mineral spirits as well.
Spread a thick coat of chemical paint stripper over a surface of your dresser about 3 feet tall and wide. You may want to use two separate strippers: a liquid product for horizontal areas and a paste product for vertical ones. Allow the stripper to work on the surface for 10 minutes (unless otherwise instructed by your product's manufacturer) before continuing.
Scrape away loosened paint, as well as leftover paint stripper, with a putty knife. Make sure you use only the flat edge of the knife, as the sharp edges will gouge or scratch the wood.
Sand the stripped area with medium-grit sandpaper or steel wool, or use a handheld oscillating tool with a sanding accessory. For really stubborn, stuck-on spots, soak the steel wool or sandpaper in the chemical paint stripper and then rub at the areas. Reapply paint stripper, scrape and sand as necessary to completely remove all paint from that area.
Repeat the paint stripper application, scraping and sanding all surfaces of the dresser until all paint has been removed. Rinse the surface of the dresser with clean water or with a neutralizer recommended by your paint stripper’s manufacturer to leave behind only a clean, smooth surface. Allow the dresser to dry completely.
Sand the entire surface of the dresser with 120-grit sandpaper or a handheld oscillating tool fitted with a sanding accessory to remove any remaining finish. Always sand with the grain. Wipe down the surface with a tack cloth when finished to remove sanding dust.
Sand again with 220-grit sandpaper to finish smoothing everything off. Wipe away sanding dust with a tack cloth.
Prime the wood of the dresser with a thick coat of sanding sealer, available from hardware and home improvement stores. Coat the surface with a paintbrush and allow it to soak into the wood for five minutes. Then wipe away any excess sealer from the surface with a clean, lint-free rag. Allow the sealer to dry completely.
Sand the surface once more with 220-grit sandpaper. Wipe away the sanding dust with a tack cloth.
Coat the surface with your chosen stain product. Follow all specific product instructions for your chosen stain product, as some require you to dampen the surface before application. Apply the stain in the direction of the grain, and then wipe away excess with a clean, lint-free rag. Allow the stain to dry overnight.
Apply a second coat of stain if necessary to darken the surface or cover up areas that you missed. Let the final coat dry fully.
Finish the dresser with polyurethane, oil or lacquer to protect the stain. As before, follow all product instructions regarding application and number of layers. Allow the finish to dry overnight before returning the furniture to use.
Tips & Warnings
- Always read and follow product instructions and warnings on all chemical products, paints and stains you decide to use. Different materials may have special requirements for proper and safe use.
- Woods with a loose grain, such as oak or mahogany, may need to be filled with grain filler before staining. This will emphasize the grain and improve the natural look of the wood.
- The chemicals used in this project will remove all old finish. If you are dealing with an antique dresser and want to preserve the history while improving the look, contact a professional restorer, and do not attempt the project yourself unless you have professional help.
Things You'll Need:
- Exhaust fans
- Safety gloves and goggles
- Screwdriver or drill
- Chemical paint stripper
- Putty knife
- Handheld oscillating tool with sanding accessory
- Tack cloth
- Sanding sealer
- Lint-free cloths
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