Tag Archives: heirloom dresser

DIY Tutorial: Stripping a Painted Dresser

DIY Tutorial: Stripping a Painted Dresser¬† 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.

DIY Tutorial: Stripping a Painted Dresser

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!

DIY Tutorial: Stripping a Painted Dresser

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:

DIY Tutorial: Stripping a Painted Dresser

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.

DIY Tutorial: Stripping a Painted Dresser

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.

DIY Tutorial: Stripping a Painted Dresser
I even found an old sticker underneath the paint.

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.

DIY Tutorial: Stripping a Painted Dresser

After my first afternoon I was able to take it down to this point:

DIY Tutorial: Stripping a Painted Dresser

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:

DIY Tutorial: Stripping a Painted DresserCitri-Strip Paint and Varnish Stripping Gel

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!

DIY Tutorial: Stripping a Painted Dresservia Home Depot

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.

DIY Tutorial: Stripping a Painted Dresser

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!!

DIY Tutorial: Stripping a Painted Dresser

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!

DIY Tutorial: Stripping a Painted Dresser

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!

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?