DIY Tutorial: How to Refinish an Old Dresser

Thank you for all the love from my before and after dresser reveal!

This dresser I got from my grandparents was in pretty good shape – except the original finish was dark, cloudy and crackly.

And after 50+ years of use it was showing its age.

I took everything outside and used a palm sander. This was by far the hardest and most time consuming. I probably spent a solid 6 hours sanding over the course of two days.

I started with 150 grit, and worked my way up to 300 grit. (150 to 200 to 250 to 300 – don’t skip any!)

The finish was so old it took a very long time to get through. It kept building up in clumps on the sandpaper. I just picked it off with a razor blade every 10 minutes and kept going!

In a few small stubborn spots I did use chemical strippers – I used a spray can of KleanStrip and scraped it off with a paint scraper after 15 minutes and continued sanding.

It was worth all the hard work! Check out the difference – see how black the original finish was!?

Now the new top is nice and smooth.

To stain I used 2 coats of Mixwax Dark Walnut. I brushed it on with a foam brush and let it sit about five minutes. Then I wiped it down with an old cloth. After 20 minutes I put another coat of stain on.

Then I brushed on a coat of Cabot Semi-Gloss Fast Drying (HAH!) Poly with a foam brush.

Because it is SO hot and humid out, I needed to wait three days before I could do the next layer of poly.

I am not a patience project person. It was not easy for me to wait!

Another 3 days later and we were good to go!

Before, between and after each coat of poly I took a fine sanding “sponge” and lightly sanded. This will ensure a finish that is smooth to the touch. And don’t shake the can of poly! It will fill it with bubbles and your dresser finish will feel like it has a rash. I learned this the hard way.

After a week of poly-drying, it was finally ready to go upstairs!

Check out that beauteous wood grain!! Bye-bye cloudy black finish!

I bought 12 of these Clear Melon Glass Cabinet Knobs Drawer Pulls from Bonanza.com for $50. It was a little steep for this thrifty gal (my DIY attempts failed me), but this was the only cost I encountered with the dresser. You can only be so stingy, you know.


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I chose these knobs because this dressy is sexy and sophisticated! With the sleek dark stain and lots of curves, it was begging for some swanky hardware.

Glass is timeless, and the floral cut added a bit of girliness. The antique brass centers bought out the warmness of the wood. At least that’s what I was thinking when I purchased them… and I think I was right!

I must say, I am very happy with the result.

There is still a mirror and mirror attachment that go on top – I have yet to start those! Someday I’ll get there.

Until then, I’m enjoying this dresser being in our bedroom. I love how it looks with the cool gray walls.

I will absolutely give refinishing furniture another try – it was totally worth the end result. And while the sanding was painful and the poly-drying took forever, I know this is a piece we will keep for a very long time.

Do you have any furniture lying around waiting to be refinished?

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26 comments

  1. I don’t know how I found you but what wonderful timing! I have a buffet and dining table (yellowish wood) that I need to paint or stain. This makes me want to stain! Now I just need to find the time!

  2. I have recently acquired my grandparents dresser set and will be refinishing it soon. thanks so much for all the helpful insight. love your dresser and the color is absolutely gorgeous.

  3. Thank you for this post! I have been meaning to re-finish a couple 100+ yr old vanity sets and this really helped! Could you recommend a sanding technique for a painted vanity? (obviously wear a mask) I’ve been telling myself I’m putting off this project because I’m worried about harming the wood. Thank you! ~Cassidy

  4. Becca says:

    it’s beautiful! i just told my husband that it was tine to polyurethane a table we built- and he insisted it wasn’t done staining. thank goodness one of us is a perfectionist! thanks for sharing- it’s lovely!

  5. kmfry333 says:

    I’ve got a dresser and a cedar chest I need to refinish for my new house. i’m definitely pinning this for later use 🙂 helpful and to the point (some bloggers go on and on and on…and on…)

  6. Gregorio says:

    Hello! I know this is somewhat off topic but I was wondering if you
    knew where I could get a captcha plugin for my comment form?
    I’m using the same blog platform as yours and I’m having trouble finding one?

    Thanks a lot!

    • Hello! I don’t actually use a plug in for that. I am still WordPress hosted so I’m not allowed to use any plug-ins. I believe I turned it on in the dashboard settings for comments. Good luck!

  7. Odalys says:

    This post came in so handy since I’m in the process of doing the same. Quick question; how do you go about the inside of drawer? Are these also sanded & stained? Thanks!!

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