If you follow me on twitter you’ve seen a lot of these pictures and descriptions, but I wanted to put together a complete blog post of how refinishing the dresser all went.

As you likely know, I bought this dresser off Craigslist for $160.

It barely fit in the car when I picked it up, and it was heavy as all get out to haul it down the previous owners sweeping round staircase covered in sheets (they were doing construction). I had a vision of slipping on the sheets and falling down down down their ridiculously ornate staircase. I got it home and immediately set to work and decided to strip off the pink paint.

I’ve never refinished anything, but I knew this was solid wood, well made, and probably very forgiving. I used up all of the Polystrippa I had kicking around the house. Here’s the first layer coming off the side.

Paint Stripper Works Good
It was at this point I realized that the pink was just the start.
Layer one coming off
That first night I got to this point, and then I ran out of paint stripper. I also discovered that paint stripper is some serious stuff when I splattered a bit on my arm, and I vowed to pick up better gloves.
Look there is wood under that!
After a trip to Home Depot, where I picked up a 4 litre jug of paint stripper, some better gloves, a drop cloth and a wire brush, I set back to work. I probably put in 7 or 8 hours using chemical paint stripper and did most of it at night. Here’s a not very good phone photo Ross took of me from across the room.
Me, scraping away layers.
It was slow going, but I was starting to see the beauty of the piece. Another trip to Home Depot and I became the proud owner of an orbital palm sander. I recommend getting a orbital sander. Mine was cheap – $40 – and if I continue to refinish furniture I might upgrade to a higher quality one. For now, this one was great. I started at an incredibly rough grit – but the paint remnants came off pretty quickly. One nice day outside and I made a lot of headway.

Drawers. Half Sanded.

I got sidetracked at this point. We went away and I was busy, so the dresser got put a bit on the back burner for a few weeks. But here’s where it stood.

All cleaned up.
I next spent some time on the teeny trim pieces. They were hard, but a wire brush and another bit of paint stripper helped. I got to know my putty knife rather intimately and found it to be a more useful tool than the paint scraper on the end of the wire brush. It was more flexible and easier to handle in my hand.
Close up of trim.
I stopped here, to remember where I had made it to, and put together this before and after shot.
Before and at Round 1 Completion
Hardware was going to be a problem, I knew that. The holes were pre drilled and were not uniform in distance apart. They were “close enough” to be called 3″ from centre to centre, but I was particular about colour, size, and style. I wanted a drop pull (a drawer pull that lays flat against the drawer and then when you grab it, it is on a swivel and pulls outward from the drawer front) but couldn’t find silver and I didn’t want brass. I knew I was planning to stain the dresser, and I had more or less decided I wanted to stain it blue by this point. I also wanted to use glass knobs on the top two smaller drawers, and pulls on the bottom drawers. I eventually selected some knobs and pulls at Lee Valley and was satisfied enough with them, although I have yet to come up with a solution to cover the filled lock holes.

drawer pull

Glass knob

Stain was my next design consideration, all along while I was sanding the dresser with increasingly finer and finer grit sandpaper. Finally I felt like I was done, about a month after I had started the project.

Sanding is done!

Kale is excited about his new dresser

I chose a blue water based stain, made by Minwax. It was custom tinted at Home Depot and we chose the “Island Water” colour. I’ve never stained anything before, but it seemed easy enough: Step 1: get stain, Step 2: dip in cloth, Step 3: wipe one, Step 4: Wipe off. Repeat eleventy billion times until it’s even and the right shade you wanted.

First coat of stain

First coat of stain completed

Third coat complete

I also decided I wanted to paint the interior of the drawers black, and after a recommendation from the paint department staff at Home Depot, I settled on a tinted primer and a water based high gloss black paint, called “Forever” by Behr. It took two coats of primer and three coats to paint to get the colour and sleekness I wanted.

Interior drawers first coat

I also reset the drawer bottoms. They were all out of alignment and looked messy, and there was space in between the back of the drawer front and the drawer bottom. I pried out all the teeny finishing nails, pushed the drawer bottom further into the channel, and then renailed it.

I rubbed a beeswax candle on the drawer edges to improve the smoothness of the opening and closing on the advice of my friend Sharon, and I also waited a full week for the stain and paint to cure. It still felt a teeny bit tacky in places but a few liberal applications of Murphy’s Wood Soap seems to have fixed that.

As with any project, there are things I wish I had did differently. In hindsight I wish I had used wood conditioner before applying the stain. I would have ensured a more even coat, and may have been able to get away with 2 coats only for the stain. I would have also searched for a unit that had the original locks. The filled wood holes bug me a bit, and although I’m looking for eschuteons (fake keyholes) to match the hardware I selected, I haven’t found any in silver that will work. I also wish I had sanded and stained the back so that this unit could have possibly also been a room divider one day rather than always have to stand against a wall. I also wish I had spent a bit more time perfecting my staining technique before applying it to the dresser.

I’m proud I did this project. It was hard going and I doubt Kale will ever truly recognize the amount of work that had gone into the dresser in his room – he’s just not old enough. All in I spent about $300.

Here it is, in all it’s glory, now installed in Kale’s room.

I think it turned out rather nice, don’t you?

10 years ago


  1. A work of art, Jen! It’s done beautifully and over time I’m sure Kale will understand the significance of your hard work. Maybe he can help with your next project?

  2. Looks good! I’ve done a lot of pieces and my one tip would be leave the stripper on a bit longer. Scrape, and wipe on paper towels but DO NOT bag together in your house. (Fire hazard!)
    As it ages, you might choose to hand rub some wax on the wood. Never EVER use a spray dust on wood… but you already know that.

    Now go kiss Mommy Kale!

  3. It looks awesome. Very Nice, your dad would be proud. It’s fun to do that stuff. You did a really fine job. I am impressed.

  4. Very nice work, Jen! I noted that you were looking for something to cover up the old locking mechanism. Have you taken a look at the Lee Valley hardware catalog? They have many, many options for things like this.

  5. Well done! Turned out to be a real beauty. I might have to get myself a winter project. Thanks for the inspiration!

  6. I love it! You did a fabulous job. Thanks so much for this post, too – you’re very careful to note everything you did and would change, which is such a great help to anyone else embarking on a similar project. Which, might be me…some day. 😀

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