From Broken Down Dresser/Hutch to Amazing Bench!
Last year a good friend of mine gave me an old dresser/hutch. She said it had been her mom's and was purchased about 50 years ago when my friend was in high school. She has had it stored for years and it had been exposed to weather. She was relieved that I took it because she didn't know how to make it usable again. In fact, since she didn't know what to do with it, she had taken it out to her burn pile. The condition was not good. Many of the pieces that had been glued together had come apart, the finish was either peeling or already gone, the doors had come off the hinges, and all the hardware was missing. It was a hot mess!
I didn't have time to work on this project when I got the dresser, so we stored it in our shed over the winter. Now that it was getting close to winter again, I needed to get started on it! My first step was to bring the dresser & shelf unit from the shed to the garage. Once I had it in the garage, it was time to start! The first step in the project was deconstruction beginning with the removal of the top of the dresser and the structure that held in the upper drawers & doors. My plan was to move the small drawers from the top of the dresser and have them sit on top of the large drawer.
The back piece of the dresser top was already dislocated. I was pleased to see that the remaining top had been attached with screws. I removed the 6 screws that remained and the top lifted off easily.
Once the top was removed, I took out the T-shaped frame that held in the small drawers and the two doors. This frame was held in place with wooden dowels. Since the dresser had been in the weather and was falling apart, it was easy to pop this piece out of the sides of the dresser. The small drawers had been attached to the top of the dresser and the back piece that held them in place was broken. I would need to rebuild the frame that holds the drawers. It would be a little more work than just making the bench without them but I wanted to add the extra storage space and also use as much of the original dresser/hutch as I could.
I used a 1" x 2" board and cut it to the width of the bench, then cut 3 blocks to support it. Using the board that had been the back of the frame, I cut 4 cross pieces to attach the new back piece to the original front piece of the frame. These pieces would also be used to support the new bench seat. When the frame was complete and I slid the draws into it, I found that they didn't fit well. Using a small trim knife, I shaved off a little of the wood from the board that the drawers glide on. Once the drawers fit better, I attached the frame to the bench with screws to secure the bottom boards of the frame into the existing board above the large drawer and then angle irons to secure it to the sides of the bench.
I planned to use the two top pieces that I removed from the dresser, along with one of the shelves to create a bench seat. I could have used the 3rd piece of wood that was part of the original top but after doing a dry fit, decided to keep that board for another part of the bench. The next step was to glue the seat boards together.
I also glued together the boards that were the top of the large drawer because they had fallen apart in the weather.
The wood on this dresser is nice and solid, so adding extra to the sides was not necessary. However, as I mentioned earlier, I wanted to use as much of the wood from the unit as possible....so, I decided to use the wavy pieces and the last piece of the top of the dresser to create that feature. I also needed to remove the back of the shelving unit so I could use it for the back of the bench. Since that backing is only 1/4" thick, to add strength (and also utilize even more of the original piece) I decided to use the doors of the dresser along the back of the bench. When I measured the area, I found that I had to cut off the trim from one side of each door. I used my miter saw to do this.
While the bench seat and top piece to the large drawer were drying, I moved onto other repairs that needed to be done. Because I will be using the wavy sides of the shelving unit in my new bench one side needed gluing back together, the large drawer trim needed to be glued, the front of the large drawer needed gluing, both doors needed to be glued and the front trim on the dresser needed repairing. I bought 24" clamps to help with these repairs, but I needed some anyway :)
The lower piece of the front trim was missing on both sides. I used the supports from the shelving unit to create two new 'feet'. Luckily, the supports were already curved on one end, so they blended well with the design of the trim. To create the notch each piece needed, I used my oscillating tool.
Some of the finish on the dresser was long gone, some was peeling and some was still adhering well. For the finish that was peeling, I used a putty knife & a 9 in 1 tool to scrape it off. Once the finish had been scraped, I used an orbital sander and sanding blocks to buff the wood smooth.
For the pieces where the finish was either still intact or gone, I used the sander to remove it. I started with 150 grit and moved to 220. For the corners, I used a mouse sander.
Now that all the wood was sanded & glued as needed, it was time to make sure it all fit before moving on. Using several clamps, I positioned the sides and back pieces (doors) to see how it all looked and fit. At first, I was going to install the doors with the knob holes on the sides but when I set them in place, I changed my mind. A bonus was that the trim on the doors fit perfectly in the groove on the back piece of the seat and allowed the doors to lean slightly backward as a result!
I noticed that I would need some trim to go along the sides of the bench to cover raw areas and gaps. I also thought a piece between the doors would help finish off that area. I had a piece of trim that I thought would work. I had bought for another project but didn't end up using it. Since the trim was light wood, I needed to get some stain. I found some at Habitat that looked like it would match and for $1.25, I took the chance. It matches perfectly! I stained the trim then cut it with my miter saw once it was dry.
With all the repairs done, the glue dried and everything sanded, it was time to apply polyurethane. I wanted the beauty and uniqueness of the wood to shine, so I didn't plan to stain it. Using a new brush (all my other ones were ragged) I applied 3 coats of poly, allowing each coat time to dry.
Time to put it all together! I have to admit, even though I did dry fits, I was nervous that it wouldn't all come together as I had hoped. The first piece to attach was the seat. Using painters tape & a level, I marked the bottom of the seat. Using my drill, I drilled pilot holes for each screw. I then used a 1/2" drill bit to create the hole where the wood buttons that would cover the screw heads would go. Next up were the sides. I clamped them in place before drilling the holes. For the top screws, I used the existing holes from the dowels. When the holes were done, I installed the screws then used a dab of wood glue to install the buttons.
To secure the doors that would create the back of the seat, I used a piece of corner molding. I attached it to the seat & the back of the doors with screws. The last piece to attach was 1/4" board for the back. I used my nail gun with brads for this section. Working from side to side, I placed brads about 5" apart from top to bottom of the sides. I followed that same method along the top of the board, catching the top of the doors in the process. I then added an additional row of brads horizontally along the back of the seat and also the support at the bottom of the large drawer.
Time for the finishing touches. Using wood glue and small nails in my nail gun, I attached a piece of trim to each side along the front and along the top. I also added a piece of trim between the doors on the back of the bench. The last pieces of trim were installed at the bottom of the sides where they meet the seat. These trim pieces are the ones I trimmed from the doors. I can't believe how perfectly they fit here!
After the trim was installed, I filled in the holes with wood putty. I bought some that was the same color as the wood. After a light sanding, I touched up the areas with polyurethane. To cover the holes where the doors used to be installed, I found little metal pieces. Unfortunately, there were only two. For the lower set of holes, I installed a couple of interesting screws that were used on the original dresser.
The hardware was gone long before the dresser was given to me and I couldn't find the same style that had been on the drawers. You can see the outline on the drawer. But, I found some great drawer pulls at Hobby Lobby! They are heavy metal. They feel like cast iron but I doubt they are since they were only $2 each. After I brought them home and they were installed, I did find some like the original ones at the hardware store in our little town. I decided to stick with the new ones though.
I could not be more pleased with how this bench turned out! I am honored that she trusted me with a family heirloom and grateful that I was able to transform it into something so beautiful; a piece that she can not only treasure but one that also houses memories of her mother. I had all of the tools and most of the supplies on hand so the amount to do this transformation is based on the few things I needed to buy (I did not include the cost of the large clamps and I will be using those in the future). I worked on this for 8 days (working daily to finish before the weather turned too cold) for an average of 5 hours a day.
Now for the fun part, delivering the bench to my dear friend! She had asked about the dresser a few months ago, wondering if I had started on it and if I had decided what I would be doing. I told her that I had an idea of what I'd do but wasn't sure it was possible so I hadn't started yet. She didn't know that I planned to give this back to her. When the project was finished, after a quick photoshoot, hubby and I loaded it into the truck. It was considerably heavier than when we got it. We had a blanket below it and covered it with another one.
We drove to my friend's house with the bench. To say the least, she was surprised and overwhelmed! I was thrilled that she loved it! It now resides with its rightful owner at the foot of her bed.
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Heather Ruiz on Nov 05, 2020
What a good friend you are. You made an amazing piece that will make her happy for years to come and hopefully other generations. You are awesome. Thanks for sharing💜
Lil Refshauge on Nov 14, 2020
Wow! It’s gorgeous! I’ll definitely be trying this in the future. Thank you
This is fabulous!!!