DIY Refinished Wood Dresser Top

Love & Specs
by Love & Specs
11 Materials
4 Hours

The life gives you accidentally spilled nail polish remover on the top of your favorite dresser of all time, you make... a beautifully refinished dresser top to give it a second life! And bonus: you do it as easily as humanly possible! This dresser that we love so much has actually been given several new lives. First, I accidentally spilled nail polish remover on top of it when I tripped in my bedroom. So I stripped the top then and painted it in a sort of silvery charcoal color. Then, we wanted to redo our master bedroom and the paint color on top of this dresser didn't really mesh with the new vibe. So, we decided to refinish it again and give it yet another life! Luckily, this DIY refinished wood dresser top was so easy to execute. What laid underneath the paint on this dresser top was beautiful wood butcher block, so we decided that we'd strip the paint completely again, sand it down to its natural state and give it a light, natural stain to go with the cottage-like neutral, natural theme of our master bedroom. And we couldn't love the end result more. No use crying over spilled... nail polish remover!

All of the supplies you'll need to refinish really any painted wood furniture piece if you plan on staining in the end.

The dresser top before we got to work when it had that silvery-charcoal paint on it.

First things first - prep. Any time you're using paint stripper and anytime you're only refinishing a portion of a piece of furniture, prepping with precision and care is so, so important. First up, make sure your piece is sitting on some sort of tarp or canvas to cover and protect whatever surface is beneath it. And you can see exactly how we tarped and taped off the dresser to leave the top exposed with the rest of it covered in the pics, and that's the exact method I used to prep both times we stripped this dresser top and it worked like a charm both times. Basically we took the plastic tarp roll and wrapped it around the dresser like a skirt. And I'd be lying if I said that it wasn't easier with two people -- C wrapped the tarp while I taped the top with total precision as we went. We started on one back corner of the dresser and wrapped it around until we met that corner again and used the tape all the way around at the top of the tarp. 

Next up? Paint stripper prep and safety. Any time you use paint stripper, I always say that you should take it seriously. Paint stripper is really nasty, toxic, yucky stuff that is absolutely NOT to be used anywhere but outside in the open air. Seriously guys, do not use paint stripper inside your house or anywhere where it's not well ventilated. We're learning more and more every day about the damage this stuff can cause if inhaled and it's really, really bad. So bad, guys! But if taking the proper precautions, it can be perfectly OK to use and actually pretty useful for projects like this. As you can see, we stripped this dresser top in our backyard in the open air, but we also used  respirator masks to protect us further. Another precaution you absolutely must take? Chemical-resistant gloves. Paint stripper will burn your skin immediately if it touches it, and there's no more probable place the paint stripper will touch than your hands. And in all honestly, the gloves we used for this aren't the right gloves for the job -- it's just what we had on hand. Paint stripper will eat through disposable gloves pretty quickly, so it's best to use something more heavy duty that’s specifically chemical resistant. So to recap: open air, mask, gloves and even maybe some safety glasses to protect your eyes from splatter. It's just the way it is, guys! Don't fight the prep.

And now, we strip! No no no, not that kind of stripping (though that would have been interesting). We stripped that silvery paint off of the top of the dresser to get down to that pretty butcher block wood top. Pour your paint stripper onto your surface liberally, distribute evenly across the surface with any large, thick paintbrush and let sit for 10 to 15 minutes. The thicker you lay the stripper on and the longer you let it sit, the more paint it will eat away, so give it the full 10 to 15 minutes before you start scraping. No less, no more. Less and it won't be as easy to scrape off, more and you risk doing damage to your wood. And yes, I'm always still *irrationally* scared that paint stripper will eat through painter's tape or tarp, even though that’s never happened to me. It won't, so don't panic if a little bit spills over onto your painter's tape. Nevertheless, respect that paint stripper is powerful stuff so try to be as precise with it to avoid any disasters. After 15 minutes it should look like the paint has sort of bubbled up and become wet. That's a good sign! Now, you're ready to scrape. Another full disclosure, this part is definitely easier with two people, but can totally be tackled solo, too. Using a metal or plastic paint scraper (we used metal because again, that's what we had on hand, but you do risk damaging the wood with a metal scraper. Plastic won't give you that problem) scrape the goopy paint in the same direction as the grain of the wood off of the surface and into a metal bucket. Keep scraping row by row, off of the edge of the surface and down into the bucket. You may have to go back over the same spots two or three times with your scraper to get more paint, but that's OK. As long as the paint is coming off, that's what you want. 

Once you've gotten all of your paint and paint stripper goop off of your surface, assess and decide if you need one more round of stripper. Since we were going for a raw wood look and staining the wood after this, we really wanted to get as much of that silvery paint off of the dresser top as humanly possible, so we went one more round on the stripper. And it worked really quickly since there was only a small amount of paint that remained. Wipe your wood off with a damp cloth. This is just to remove any remaining paint stripper from the surface and prep the surface to sand.

Sand your surface with a finishing sander using 150-grit sandpaper in the direction of the grain. Since we were going for a sort of natural, stained wood look we had to make sure that the sandpaper would even out our surface and get any remaining paint off without making any visible marks, so sanding in the direction of the grain in our situation was really important. Sanding will also help prep the surface for staining so the stain soaks in evenly, so it was important for us not to skip this step. If there is any paint leftover on the wood, the stain won't work as intended. 

After sanding wipe the surface off with a clean, damp cloth again and let air dry, or dry with a clean dry cloth. 

Now we can apply our stain! This part wasn't planned for us. We went back and forth between just leaving it raw and putting a clear coat over it until I remembered that I had a tiny can of stain in the shed that might be really subtle, look great on this wood and tone down the yellow slightly. Took a flier on that one, and we're so happy we did. We applied the stain, in the direction of the grain, with a clean dry cloth very subtly, meaning we didn't use a lot of stain on the cloth when applying it. Also, right after I applied the stain to each section of our surface, Chris would immediately wipe it off virogously with another clean, dry cloth. So it was a wipe-wipe process and the result was even better than we'd hoped for! What we ended up with was a very subtle, sunbleached look which was exactly what we wanted. 

And the finished product in all its glory! We absolutely love the way the new dresser top looks and couldn't be happier with the stain. The wood grain comes through so perfectly and we adore the slightly whitewashed, rustic look.

A close up of the top of the dresser after we finished. Such a perfect look for our cottage-farmhouse home!

We love the way it perfectly meshes with the rest of the bedroom decor now, too!

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Love & Specs
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  3 questions
  • Sunny Sunny on Sep 28, 2019

    Very nice, but love the color on the bottom, too. Do you have that color, too? Thanks!

  • Applegrandma Applegrandma on Oct 16, 2019

    As a professional furniture refinisher I have a question. What you gonna do 15 yr. from now when the "gray trend" goes out of style or you start to hate the color?

  • Mary Mary on Oct 24, 2019

    Beautiful job!!

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