Antique Dresser Makeover - See How I Removed Veneer

7 Materials
2 Hours

I purchased this antique dresser from a friend who lives down the street from me. Isn’t she a beauty? The mirror was in excellent shape, no scratches or anything, which is very rare.

Antique Dresser Before

The dresser had some severe veneer damage. On the drawer fronts as well as the top. It appeared it may have been in a fire and suffered a little smoke damage. But nothing that could not be fixed of course.  The bottom had veneer damage, but I decided not to repair it. My goal here was not to make the dresser look brand new. I wanted to leave some of its damaged character in place.


Damaged Veneer

The very first thing I did was remove all the drawers, hardware, and mirror. I removed the original casters and soaked them in vinegar and water to remove all the gunk. Even if some of the rust remained, it was okay with me.

It was important to me to maintain as much of the “worn” look at possible. After thoroughly inspecting where the veneer was damaged, I decided that the veneer needed to be removed from the top and drawer fronts. This would be a project that I had never conquered, so I as a bit hesitant and scared. But I as excited about what liked underneath. Some of the areas were just too large to patch with wood filler. I have read horror stories where veneer had been removed and the wood was in awful shape, so I was skeptical and kept my fingers crossed that there would be gorgeous wood underneath all that worn out veneer. It was time to break down the veneer barrier!


After doing a lot of research, I decided to use the heat-gun method (I got mine from Lowes).

It worked like a charm on the drawer fronts. I worked in small sections, applying the heat gun directly on the section of drawer, but not so close to leave a burn mark, for about 5-10 seconds. Then using a paint scraper, I would gently place the scraper under the veneer that was hot, and lift it up. Careful here folks, it does get hot! Look at that GORGEOUS wood! I was so excited!

Gorgeous Wood Underneath Veneer

After removing the veneer from all four drawers successfully, yay, it was onto the top. The top was not so easy. After trying to use the heat gun on a small area, there was this green, thick stuff under the veneer! If anyone knows what this is please comment or send me an email and tell me! It was not coming up. I did not want to damage the top of the dresser. I decide to go into one of the Facebook Groups that I am a member of and ask for advice. I am so glad I did! A fellow DIYer told me she used the “wet towel” method to remove veneer from a large area. I was a little skeptical at first. But after so much frustration with the heat gun, I decided to give it a try.


Her instructions were simple. Place a “drippy”, not soaking, wet towel on top of the dresser covering the entire top. Allow it to sit for 2-3 hours. After about 2 hours I couldn’t stand it, I had to go and see if the method was working. I removed the towel and placed my scraper underneath the veneer on one of the corners. Bam, the veneer and the green adhesive lifted right up as soon as I placed the scraper underneath. I was so stoked! (I was so excited at how easy the veneer lifted off, I forgot to take a picture, sorry!).


It did take some time, there were certain spots that were a little more challenging. I had to apply the drippy towel to these areas and allow to soak for about a half hour or so. Lookie at the beautiful wood underneath! This was so WORTH the work!

Beautiful Wood Top!

I gave the top and the drawer fronts a good sanding with 120 grit sandpaper. I then followed up with 220 grit for a smooth finish. I decided I wanted the two-toned look for the dresser. I have seen so many of these on Pinterest and absolutely LOVE the raw wood being exposed.  The wood was just too beautiful to cover up with paint especially after all that hard work. You can see my  antique washstand transformation here. 


I had a jar of Dixie Belle Caviar that I had not used. A deep, rich black.  I knew this would be a perfect color to really make the wood pop! I painted the dresser, the trim of the drawers and the mirror frame. I then distressed HEAVILY with 120 grit sandpaper to give it old, worn out look.

I decided to use a clear wax to seal the piece. I used Dixie Belle’s Best Dang Wax over all the black painted areas. On the exposed wood, I used a light coat of Polyacrylic. 


I found this gorgeous hardware at Hobby Lobby for 50% off. It really complimented the raw wood and the antique character of the dresser.  

I am super happy with the way it turned out. If you have a project that requires removing veneer, don’t be scared, go for it! It’s from our mistakes that we learn and grow. And no worries, if the wood is not what you thought it would be, one can always paint over it.  Check out my blog and follow along with all my DIY Repurposed Projects!

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Want more details about this and other DIY projects? Check out my blog post!


Have a question about this project?

3 of 23 questions
  • Kathy Kellis Mack
    on Nov 25, 2019

    I was gifted an American Drew wood dresser and would like to paint it a lighter color since it would literally be the only brown wood piece in my home (it's an older piece). I washed it but have not sanded it - I'm not sure what veneer is, is it wood with a finish on it or is veneer a type of material placed on the wood itself?

    • Kathy Kellis Mack
      on Nov 25, 2019

      I'm not at home so I can't right now, but I know it doesn't have any layers on top of it. It might just be stained so that will be easier to work with. Thanks for your help!

  • Sherry
    on Dec 9, 2019

    I just found an old piece. The veneer (which I now realize was in very ragged shape) has been painted over with a flat black and then heavily distressed. I didn't see all the lumps and bumps until I got some good lighting. Can I still remove the veneer even with a couple of coats of paint? thanks

  • Clara
    on Dec 14, 2019

    Love your project. It has inspired me to take a more serious look at an old dresser that I have.

    • GMS
      on Jan 15, 2020

      LOVE THIS - makes me want to rush home and work on one of my older veneer dressers that is dire need of a makeover :)

Join the conversation

3 of 454 comments
  • Heidi
    on Jan 23, 2020

    So excited to see this! I have two very similar pieces that were my grandparents. The veneer is in very bad shape and I was afraid to paint over the wood as so many people were questioning this. Can’t wait to try this out.

  • HandyGirl
    on Jan 26, 2020

    Stunning makeover! I have a cabinet that had been painted who knows how many times. I stripped and stained it, but the top has some damaged veneer. I was afraid to remove it but now I’m going to take another look.

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