Refinished Vintage Dresser

Andrea S
by Andrea S
3 Days
I picked up this dresser from the side of the road on garbage day. I loved the shape of it, but it was water damaged as well as it had tobacco smell. I left it in the garage for 8 months to air it out. Once the weather was warm enough to work in the garage, I started to work on it. The tobacco smell was pretty much gone but it still had that old musty museum piece smell.
Before picture. Water damage on the legs, a few coats of paint peeling and veneer under paint is peeling on the top. Drawers are falling apart.
Veneer is damaged on the top and it is peeling.
I removed the paint from the top and the drawers to see what kind of wood I was dealing with.
I used Circa 1850 to remove the paint layers from the top and from the fronts of the drawers. This part is child's play. My 9 year old son helped me scrape off the paint.
I primed with Kilz primer and sealer inside and out. I like to have the insides white so I can see what hides there when I am cleaning.
I sanded the top and the front of the drawers. No amount of sanding was going to save the veneer on the top and one of the drawers also had water damage so the veneer was discoloured and also peeling. I didn't want to spend time with removing old veneer to discover that the wood underneath was probably not that great either. I decided to try a new veneer. I painted the sides and the front with high gloss paint. This dresser is going into my son's room so I used dark blue which I didn't have to buy because I had it in the garage. I was inspired by other painted wood furniture projects that used bold colours and it made me brave enough to paint at least the sides.
The damaged drawer veneer.
I painted the sides of the drawers blue and the insides white so it would be suitable to keep socks and underwear.
I glued on ash veneer with contact cement (not water based). The first run was a disaster. It isn't a forgiving material. It cracks, it rips, it is flimsy and unstable. I had to remove it, sand it again and glue a new sheet on. It is a hard material to work with, not as easy as the youtube videos make it sound and I didn't find anyone working with a large surface. All the training videos were demonstrating small items that used the thin strip of veneer. This one was 2 feet wide and 6 feet long and ripped as soon as I opened the package.
I used a heavy thick glass to weigh it down and left it on overnight.
On the drawers I used sand to put pressure on the veneer. Sand moulded well to the curved surface.
The next day I cut the veneer to size. This is a careful job too, otherwise the veneer rips on the grain and it can ruin the job.
The cut veneer. The veneer cutter didn't work. I used an exacto knife. Once it was cut, I lightly sanded the new surfaces. Before staining I wiped on wood conditioner.
I brushed on 2 coats of Minwax walnut stain. Lightly sanded between coats and let each coat to dry for at least 8 hours. It was raining so it took longer than 8 hours to dry. I cut off the old water damaged legs and replaced it with Alexandria moulding hardwood early American legs from Home Depot.
I liked the original vintage knobs so I put them back as they were. I like the contrast. The drawer edges on the sides had too many coats of paint and stuck, so they needed to be sanded down so the drawers would fit and slide easily. It will air for a couple of days more before we can put my son's clothes in it.
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  • Jennifer Godwin Jennifer Godwin on Jun 14, 2014
    I love your detailed description if everything you did to rehab this dresser but where are the after pics?

    • Andrea S Andrea S on Jun 14, 2014
      @Jennifer Godwin the after picture is the one before the last in the post. The picture was taken in the bedroom. There are 15 pictures all together so if they are not showing there should be a link on the bottom of the post to tell how many more pictures there are. Try that link.