Refinishing a 1890’s Dresser

Hey guys! Phew, why is it Monday already? Anyone else need a day in between Saturday and Sunday? I feel like I never have enough time to adult and to enjoy the simple things in life.

Today, I wanted to share our little makeover of this beauty of a dresser. I had desperately been on a hunt for a funky, chippy, farmhouse fresh dresser to finish off the guest bedroom. After hunting high and low, I came across this little gem on {of all places} The Facebook Marketplace. Anyone ever use Marketplace? I had NEVER thought to use it honestly. Randomly, one day after exhausting all my normal honey holes I decided “what the hell!” Here pops up this little guy. I messaged the seller, who promptly messaged back. The size was perfect! So off we went. 

When we got there, we quickly realized it was in rough shape! Like, terrible. The rails to the bottom drawers were missing {not broken, just not there!}, many were missing or broken, the drawers pushed too far in, the wheels were rusted beyond “patina” and the side was warped. Oye! I had rehabbed a lot of pieces of furniture but never this bad. This baby probably lived in a barn or shed without consistent temperature control and was most likely exposed to moisture. Ugh! Well, after some negotiation, the price became reasonable. It was dovetailed and the right size. Mostly, we had like 4 days before my friend arrived and needed something in that room! So for $80 and a lot of anxiety over purchase remorse {what kind of project did I just got myself into… I did mention we were under a major time crunch right?}, we exchanged the cash and loaded the bad boy into the truck.

Well, here he is, in all his broken, warped, and scratched glory. I first grabbed some scrap wood I had and started building rails for the drawers and stoppers to keep the drawers from pushing in too far. Please, note I’m NOT a professional. I don’t recommend any of these methods; I’m just sharing my personal process for refinishing this dresser. What a chore. We had to nail all the drawers to keep them from falling apart! Good news is I wanted beat up, chippy, and funky. This bad boy had it. Even the drawer pulls disintegrated as I pulled them off. Quickly, I dismissed them and decided we could easily replace them.

Once fully rebuilt and all the drawers now functional to my satisfaction, onto the fun part. The refinishing! {Sorta. Anyone actually tried to strip an entire dresser?} We coated the entire thing with stripper and let it sit. Now I’ve stripped most the tops of my furniture. No biggy. But this beast was different. However, when I mean sludge… I mean the worst, stickiest, nasty tar like finish started coming off. It was almost impossible to scrape off the wood surface.

{Note, I said I WAS NOT A PROFESSIONAL}. So, for the sake of time and the fact that it was Easter Sunday and we had someplace to be later on in the afternoon, Eric convinced me to pull out the power washer. Now, I knew this wasn’t a grand idea. I knew that it would damage the wood, since it was so old and fragile. I wanted to not be stripping this dresser in the dark at midnight and I needed it finished. So, he convinced me to give it a go. We did a sample spot and it took the sludge off without damaging the wood. Sold!

With that said, it’s still chilly here. Poor Eric was power washing this silly dresser for 1.5 hours. Soaking wet and working diligently on not damaging the wood but getting the tar off the damn thing. That’s true love right there folks! Any man who doesn’t mind your crazy ideas for home décor and furniture building/refinishing, snatch him up. Cause this girl lives for this stuff, I’m thankful he jumps onboard with all my crazy ideas.

Post power washing; this gem was a little rough around the edges. I wouldn’t recommend power washing a piece of furniture. Especially if you want a smooth finish or have a veneer surface. Some of the wood was a little damaged. Since what I was looking for was a natural wood piece that was significantly old and weathered, this didn’t bother me. We then took 120 grit and then 400 grit sandpaper to the piece to soften the edges and to make the finish as smooth as possible. It was work trust me!

Now, replacing those pesky drawer pulls, pssshh! Never will I ever assume replacing drawer pulls on a vintage dresser is an “easy” task ever again. I’ve been to vintage shops, salvage stores, tried ebay and etsy, and cannot find ones that are style appropriate and in the right size! The most difficult part is the holes are predrilled. You’re married to a size of a pull. Finding a vintage pull style appropriate for your piece, reasonably priced, in the quantity you need, AND in the size you need… is almost impossible. For now, I’ve just returned the original hardware to the piece, missing the two pulls off the bottom drawer. One day I’m sure I’ll find some that will work, eventually.

I cannot begin to tell you how much I LOVE this piece now. I wasn’t sure when we bought it that I would ever love it. I wasn’t sure it would turn into the beautiful natural wood color I wanted. I wasn’t sure I would ever make be able to reconstruct it. But here it is, functional and all.

The lesson from this dresser experience was sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith! Sometimes projects teach you what you don’t know. It’s through the challenges of these projects I’ve learned so many new skills.

I always try to reflect on a project to determine what I learned from to process. So with each DIY post I’ll try to incorporate a “lessons learned” segment.


Lessons Learned:

So from this project, my lessons learned are as follows:

  • Don’t start a project without adequate time! Be realistic.
  • Don’t power wash furniture {I still might but know that damage will occur. I’m stubborn.} But if I were looking for that rough finish it would be an option.
  • I won’t ever utter the words “we will just replace the hardware, that’s easy.”… like ever.
  • Rebuilding a piece of furniture isn’t as hard as assumed, just takes some problem solving skills
  • Furniture wax solves every sticky drawer situation
  • And lastly … sometimes you just have to have faith that everything will work out as it should!

After all the work and some anxiety, I think this gem works beautifully in its space! Like it was meant to be. Thankfully, we got the room put together just in time for our guest! We were only 15 minutes late picking her up! Oops. {In our defense she landed early}. But we got the dresser together, the photos hung, and the house cleaned! Perfect.

Cannot wait to reveal the full guest bedroom to you guys! I have a few things to work out and photos to take. It’s such a beautiful space. So please, stay tuned!

Well, off to do the 9-5 thing. Hope everyone had a fantastic start to their week!



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