before and after

before & after: refinished dresser

by Kate Pruitt

In many ways, “makeunders” are much more difficult than makeovers. I’ve passed up many a promising chair or table simply because I cowered at the thought of all the stripping and sanding required to bring the piece back to life. I admire those determined individuals who follow through on a refinishing project, and I love seeing the beautiful results. This dresser looks so much better after all the love and effort that Vanessa put into it. This project must delight all you wood purists out there; I would never have guessed that the wood grain on this piece was so stunning. I think I’m fully convinced that my next project should finally be a refinishing one. Great job, Vanessa! — Kate

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Read the full post after the jump . . .

Time: 12–16 hours

Cost: $100 ($75 for the dresser, $25 for paintbrush, sandpaper, stripper and clear Minwax finish)

Basic Steps: I found the piece at the William Temple House Thrift Store in Portland, Oregon. Although it doesn’t show up in the before picture, it was really a greenish color. The finish had cracked, and as my neighbor mentioned, it looked like alligator skin. I believe that it is birch, just a veneer, and not really a fantastic piece of furniture, but it has a nice shape.

I started stripping the old finish using that nice smelling orange stuff but was not making much headway. So I went back to the store for that really stinky paint stripper, but unfortunately, I still didn’t get much relief. The whole thing needed to be stripped three times (my technique is probably not quite right). Also, although I know I’m not supposed to, I took the hose to it a couple times to get the stripper off. Scraping was causing its own damage, and sanding was taking forever.

Luckily it’s warm here right now in Portland, so I got it to dry completely out in the sunshine before I did my final sanding. After that, I put the Minwax on it, two to three coats, and those wild stripes showed up. I lucked out with the handles, which are a beautiful brass, and my copper polish did the trick to bring out their luster.

My advice is to do this outdoors: Having access to a workspace is imperative. The process made quite a mess and smelled bad. Also, it was suggested to me that I give it one more sanding with a 770-grade paper and finish it again with a wax finish. Even though it looks pretty, it is not smooth to the touch, and that is the nice part of having wooden things around — they feel good. So I think I will definitely do that! — Vanessa

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  • This is FABULOUS! I love the update on the natural wood… it gives it that modern look with a hint at that sexy Danish style and a wink at the Mission style as well. Great job!

  • OH! I nearly forgot why I loved this idea so much… I inherited a vintage dresser from my grandmother. It has the same greenish tint that the BEFORE dresser had. Thing is a bit rickety and needs some tightening of the joints, but I would love to redo that dresser in the same style to match the oak headboard my grandfather handmade for me. This idea is not only fabulous — but really hits a sentimental soft-sport with me as it’s been a dream of mine to do the very same thing!

  • Thank you. This is the best thing I have seen so far in the makeovers department. It was very attractive to begin with and now is even better. Anyone can paint, but this took courage. I am so impressed with this piece.

  • Yes! Can I also nominate someone for the tutorial ? Would love to try this but never had had the guts! :)

  • I have refinished many wood pieces (yes, I have used the hose trick, time is of the essence!) and my favorite ‘smoother’ is the finest steel wool you can buy – gently go with the grain of the wood after varnishing/polyurethane and it will feel silky-smooth.

  • I kept looking through the post and comments trying to figure out what stain you used. DUH! It’s the wood its self. Beautiful! I once was a person that would paint everything. I have a dresser that my mom convinced me not to paint. Thank goodness! The grain of the wood looks very similar to the pictures. I hope mine turns out just as gorgeous.

  • This is one of the most gorgeous furniture refinish jobs I have ever seen. This is what should be done to nice vintage furniture. People need to back off on the stupid painting. This is what they are covering. It is incredible craftsmanship that goes into the way they placed and worked with these veneers to get them to make these beautiful patterns. Unfortunately this was done on many vintage pieces and then covered with that ugly tinted lacquer. I have no idea why they did that or why it was considered fashionable. All they needed was a good oiling or waxing. No stain, no paint, nothing but cleat oil or wax.
    BTW, this is not birch it is Mahogany, ribbon mahogany, called that for the straight lines of different shades in the grain. This is what allows them to create these beautiful patterns. Beautiful job refinishing this lovely piece. Save the top of that cabinet to use somewhere else.

    • I forgot to add these pieces that are lacquered can be stripped with rubbing alcohol, either 91%, or 99% aka denatured available in pharmacies for the former and hardware stores for the latter. These are not toxic removers, so that is a bonus. You can brush it on & scrape off the top layer with a very thin scraper and remove the rest with steel wool & more alcohol or just use steel wool & the alcohol for all of it until it is clean. This also works for oil finishes that have been damaged and need refurbishing.

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