I’ve inherited another family dresser!
My first refinishing project was a dark stained wood dresser that came from my Grandparent’s bedroom. Although I kept it a dark stain, it took quite a bit of work to get it there! Read more about that here.
We are kind of bureau-starved in this house, so my Mom was kind enough to haul this dresser out of her basement.
Fun Fact: This was the dresser from my Mom’s bedroom growing up (aw!) and one of the drawers is still lined with her childhood bedroom wallpaper!
The first question to ask yourself when refinishing any piece of furniture: is it worth refinishing?
Both my family dressers are solid hardwood, structurally sturdy and were built with the all-important dovetailed corners.
In my opinion, if a dresser doesn’t have dovetailed corners, I wouldn’t bother putting all the work into refinishing it. It’s a mark of good craftsmanship.
Evidence of dovetailed corners seen here:
I started this project in the fall and it’s only half-way done! It got WAY too cold for me to keep working on it in the garage – so that’s where it sits. Soon I should be able to finish it though, it’s starting to warm up!
In this post, I’ll talk about stripping the dresser of paint, which is a different beast than stripped a stained dresser.
I started with this Klean-Strip chemical paint stripper and a plastic scraper.
First, WEAR GLOVES. Then, in a well-ventilated area, brush the stripper on to the painted areas. I used a foam brush so I could just throw it away at the end.
Then wait 15-25 minutes. It will look bubbly like this when it’s ready to be scraped: I quickly learned that the plastic scraper was a waste of time and got out an old metal scraper. (Note: I ruined this scraper, just letting you know.)
Scrape the surface (being careful not to gouge the wood with the corners of the scraper) and discard directly into a trash bag.
Repeat. Again and Again. The lengthiness of this part of the process will depend on a lot of things – Was there varnish over the paint? How many layers of paint? What’s the temperature outside? etc.
After my first afternoon I was able to take it down to this point:
A weekend or two later I returned to attack the dresser body. To no avail. This is where my problems started! First, I ran out of stripper so I ordered a new type – this kind:
I applied, waited and… nothing. Now I know – ALWAYS refinish furniture in the summer when it’s warm and you can be outside! Not in a 15 degree garage.
Note: Chemical Stripper won’t work if it’s too cold!
We brought the space heater into the garage to warm up the air and let the stripper work away at the paint – it’s important for you to LEAVE the garage at this point and not inhale all the fumes. This stripper smells like oranges and it’s easy to forget you are dealing with toxic chemicals.
The space heater helped some. So I reapplied and scraped several more times.
Then I brought the big gun out – that would be, the heat gun – I should have done this earlier!
To use a heat gun, just plug it in, turn it on and hold about 4-5 inches away from the surface. It will start to bubble (similar looking to the paint stripper). Then you can scrap it off with your metal scraper just like with the chemical stripper. It’s just like a hair dryer.
Then the sky opened up and angels sang.
I have no photos of this portion because when my hands weren’t covered in chemical goop, I had a scraper in one hand and a heat gun in the other.
Using the heat gun allowed me to get to this point – now we’re getting somewhere!!
Unfortunately, there are a LOT of gouges in the top that were minimized by the billion layers of paint on this dresser. But I will deal with that when it’s not so cold. Hopefully soon now that it’s feeling spring-y.
I’m eagerly awaiting my dresser upgrade!
The natural wood is a warm reddish hue.
As you can see, stripping a painted dresser is not difficult, it just takes some time.
This particular dresser had 5-6 coats of paint on it, so it took me a bit longer for that reason too.
My only suggestions:
If you’re going to put the effort into stripping a dresser, make sure it’s a solid piece of furniture (look for dovetailed corners).
Also (this is JUST me) but I wouldn’t start with a very curvaceous dresser – flat surfaces are much easier to scrap/sand down!
Next steps: Sanding this monster smooth!
Have you ever stripped a piece of furniture?
Did you have wallpaper in your room growing up?
I went through three different wallpapers over the course of my youth – two different yellow striped wallpapers and one wallpaper with pink/blue flowers!