Friday, 8 March 2013

How To Refinish a Dresser

How to Refinish a Dresser by Cicely Ingleside
My refinished dresser!

This dresser was my first real furniture purchase, and I bought it at least 10 or 12 years ago. It was a kind of honey colour, and became pretty much outdated. A couple of years ago, my husband and I were talking about maybe buying a new bedroom set, but frankly, that's expensive and wasn't a priority. So, I thought, maybe I should try repainting or restaining the old furniture.

Now, to be clear, I knew n-o-t-h-i-n-g about refinishing furniture. I barely knew what sandpaper was for. But yay, the internet!  Tells you all you need to know (generally). And so did the woman at the hardware store.

My husband was very apprehensive about a DIY approach to our furniture. I pointed out that we were thinking about getting rid of the furniture anyway, so if I ruined it, we were no worse off.

By Cicely Ingleside

I didn't take a Before picture, but you can kind of see the old colour of the dresser in this shot from when our last house was on the market. It's the one in the right hand corner, under the framed pictures on the wall.

I kept one of the old knobs, which shows its former colour, and here it is on top of the refinished dresser.

How to Refinish a Dresser by Cicely Ingleside

So, I am very happy with the results. And if I can do it, anyone else can, so here is a brief how-to:


Mask so you don't inhale the sawdust!
Stain. I used Saman Water-Based stain.
Tack cloth
Brush for the varnish

1. Sand it

I got a $25 circular sander and this is a small investment for a big benefit. Or borrow or rent a sander. But even the inexpensive one I have is easy to use.

The grit of sandpaper you will need depends on your surface. The lower the number, the stronger the sandpaper. For this project, I used 150 grit sandpaper to take off the old stain, and 240 to smooth things over.

So, I used the 150 grit sandpaper to sand off the old stain. This takes some patience, but is also satisfying when you get going. It is easier to do on the flat surfaces. You'll notice I really sanded off the old stain well on the flat top, but was a little less patient with the drawers, and so some of the old stain is still showing through. I kind of like the variegation it gives though.

When done with the initial sandpaper, use the tack cloth to clean off the little sawdust bits and smooth things down. Finish by sanding again with the 240 to smooth things, and then use the tack cloth again.

By the way, do the sanding outside or in a garage. I live on the Canadian east coast where it is either cold or rainy most of the time, so I tried to sand in the basement once - not a good idea!  There was a sawdust coating everywhere.

2. Stain it

Put on your gloves, and cut some cheesecloth, then use it to apply the stain. I used a white stain. Make sure to spread it around as soon as you apply it. Apply two or three coats, letting dry in between according to the instructions on your bottle.

3. Varnish it

Once the stain is dry, apply varnish with a brush. The nice woman at the hardware store advised me to do two coats of varnish, and three coats on the places which will get the most use, like the top.

Let dry and you're done!

I replaced the dresser drawer knobs with some new ones I bought at Anthropologie (when I was in a city with an Anthropologie). Here's another pic for good measure!

How to Refinish a Dresser by Cicely Ingleside

I think I won my husband over too. He let me refinish his dresser as well (in a more masculine colour - I'll post at another time), and put a new sander in my stocking at Christmas. That's an endorsement if I ever had one!


  1. Wow, very impressive! And it does sound relatively easy. I look forward to seeing these items in person in a few months!

  2. I agree - a palm sander is the best investment ever!! I use mine a lot more than I ever thought I would.


Pin It button on image hover